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Opera launches $1 million drive after putting CEO on leave

As the San Diego Opera placed controversial CEO Ian Campbell and his ex-wife Ann Spira Campbell on administrative leave on Friday, Acting Board President Carol Lazier said the organization must raise $1 million over the next three weeks or run the risk of shutting down.

Lazier will discuss the opera's financial situation -- including possible plans for the 2015 season, if enough funds are raised -- at a meeting at 9 a.m. on Monday open to all members, followed by a meeting of the Board of Directors, which has shrunk sharply since the angry resignation of former president Karen Cohn.

Lazier says despite the opera's financial problems, its previously planned 2015 lineup -- which included such traditional fare as "La Boheme," "Don Giovanni" and "Tannhauser" along with the crowd-pleasing "Nixon in China" -- could be left "mostly intact," after implementing new business strategies, cutting costs and finding new stage venues and more innovative ways of presenting the performances.

But all that depends on whether the opera can raise $1 million by May 19, the deadline that the board has set for beginning to sell off assets and preparing for dissolution if it can find no viable way of moving forward.

This is usually the opera's peak season for collecting contributions. But after Cohn and Campbell last month spearheaded a drive to shut down the opera, contributions to the opera dried up and the organization's fundraising efforts came to a standstill.

Lazier -- who recently donated $1 million to help the opera develop a feasible business plan -- seemed optimistic that a large group of donors could pull together a similar amount over the next three weeks.

“The public support for San Diego Opera’s future has been overwhelming,” she said. “People could not accept their beloved opera was disappearing and took to the streets in protest."

Lazier said the fundraising drive "will not only depend on large gifts, but the community’s engagement and support. Every gift is needed: large, small and in between."

The opera has set up an online contribution site on its website, www.sdopera.com, to field the gifts.

That contrasts with the previous leadership, which focused mainly on $1 million-plus donations from wealthy individuals such as Conrad Prebys. Opera America, a nonprofit consulting firm that has been advising Lazier, warns that those big-ticket contributions occur far less often than they once did, meaning that operas have to diversify.

But if donations total less than $1 million by May 19, it could signal there is not enough public support to keep the opera running. If that happens, Lazier said, any donations made before that date would be returned to contributors. That could spell the end of the organization by as soon as June 30, although Lazier is currently working to find other alternatives that would not involve selling off essential assets or total dissolution.

In the meantime, the Campbells will continue to make full pay while on leave. As of the last tax filing in 2012, Ian Campbell was making $508,821, with Ann Spira Campbell earning $282,345.

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