San Francisco Opera, On A Financial Cliff, Looks To Asia

The sharp reduction in San Francisco Opera’s new season—only six productions instead of the typical eight or 10—sends smoke signals of a deeper struggle. 

“We are going through a big period of challenge,” said San Francisco Opera Director Matthew Shilvock. “We’ve characterized it as a tale of two realities.” 

One positive reality: Increased box office enthusiasm, as made evident by 1,100 discounted tickets for performances of the Magic Flute that sold out in 45 minutes. (The program, sponsored by Dolby, offered $10 tickets for patrons who hadn’t attended an opera in three years.) 

The other, more sobering, reality: An increasingly difficult financial situation, in which rising operating expenses aren’t covered by ticket sales alone. While 60 years ago ticket sales constituted 60% of the San Francisco Opera’s revenue, Shilvock said, today it’s only 16%. This has led to some difficult decisions for the organization, like cutting administrative staffing by 20% and limiting the number of productions.     

Yet as the West’s oldest still-operational opera company faces a steep financial cliff, there’s another aria being sung across the Pacific Ocean—one SF Opera stands to benefit from. “If there was a big growth market for opera at the moment,” Shilvock said, “it is in China.” 

Art

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