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Eugene Opera Cancels Remainder of Season

Eugene Opera Cancels Remainder of Season
The company wants to take a breath and start up again in the fall

Strapped for cash, Eugene Opera has canceled the remainder of its 2016-17 season, scrapping a planned March production of West Side Storyand a May production of Peter Brook's adaptation of Georges Bizet’s The Tragedy of Carmen.

The move is designed to give the company — which celebrated its 40th anniversary last fall — breathing room to regroup financially, check in with its supporters and return in the fall, says Mark Beudert, general director of the company for the past 10 years.

While it has almost always faced financial problems, Eugene Opera has never before canceled part of its season, he said. But the picture has worsened in recent years.

“We have been trailing debt in one form or another since Nixon,” he says, referring to the company’s musically and visually gorgeous but financially unrewarding production of the contemporary John Adams opera Nixon in China, which the opera staged here in 2012.

That production, which drew rave reviews but filled few seats at the Hult Center, was part of a deliberate shift by the opera company to perform more contemporary work in place of traditional European fare. “Companies around the country that relied on the old standards were not doing any better,” Beudert says. “In fact, they were going under. We were going to swim against the tide.”

Beudert declined to say how much money the company currently owes.

Photo by Bob Keefer

 

Opera is among the most expensive art forms to produce, requiring — in addition to the usual costs of theater production — a large number of trained singers and an orchestra. The audience for opera is passionate but not large, and it’s unusual for a city the size of Eugene to support a professional opera company.

When he took over in 2007, Eugene Opera had a deficit of about $90,000. A professional tenor with solid contacts in the opera world, Beudert saved the company from possible extinction when he directed a well attended production at the Hult Center of Gilbert and Sullivan’s popular Pirates of Penzance. Beudert had sung in the chorus in a 1980 Broadway production of the show alongside Linda Ronstadt and Kevin Klein.

But after producing Nixon in China in 2012, the company found itself $100,000 in debt. And two years ago it had a $90,000 shortfall at the end of its season.

This spring’s planned production of West Side Story — as an opera — seemed likely to sell well, given the musical’s great popularity. But mounting the show would have plunged the company even deeper into debt, at least temporarily, with its high upfront costs, from stiff royalties to the cost of hiring Eugene Ballet dancers for the dance scenes.

Beudert didn’t share numbers, but the two productions the opera has done so far this season, of Much Ado About Nothing in October and Trio, a mélange of excerpts from three different classical operas for its annual New Year’s Eve show, fell short. “The box office for Trio didn’t do anything like what we thought it would do,” he says.

The company will take the remarkable step this spring of conducting a series of town hall meetings in Eugene to find out, as well as can be determined, the answer to that impenetrable question: What do audiences really want?

“We want to explain what we’re about and we want people to tell us what they like and what they don’t,” he says.

He also anticipates more “balance” returning to the company’s repertoire. That means staging more standards and fewer contemporary works. “We’re going to open it up to tradition again,” he says.

Beudert, who has weathered repeated financial storms in his decade at the Eugene Opera, isn’t giving up.

“We’re not going anywhere,” Beudert says. “We’re coming back, better than ever.”