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Domingo's other opera company gets financial rescue from Los Angeles County

A week or so after Washington National Opera announced staff cuts and a reduction in productions next season to help keep the finances in order, the Los Angeles Opera, which also has superstar tenor Placido Domingo as general director, went with cup in hand to the local government. The Los Angeles County supervisors approved a $14 million loan loan Tuesday. The main reason for the bailout is said to be the cost of the LA Opera's "Ring" Cycle, which will be presented in the spring.

The LA Times reports: The loan "is needed now, literally next week," Stephen Rountree, chief executive of both the opera company and its landlord, the Music Center, told the Board of Supervisors at its Tuesday meeting. The company is $20 million in debt, Rountree said.

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I imagine somebody at the boards of directors of companies on both coasts may be asking a few questions about Domingo's stewardship. After all, if I may paraphrase Lady Bracknell,

to run into financial trouble with one company may be regarded as a misfortune; to run into financial trouble at both looks like carelessness.

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I was particularly struck by this line in the Times story: "The opera was being very ambitious artistically, pushing the edges," said Rountree, and its creative reach overtook its financial grasp.

Some folks were warning about that very thing in DC a long while ago. Strange that both organizations appear to have been heading down the same over-spending path, without anyone applying the brakes earlier.

At least it looks like WNO has stabilized, but that doesn't lessen the severity of the pullbacks at the company. Something of WNO's prestige and legacy will be lost with the reduced season. Something of DC's cultural status will take a slip, too (as was the case in Baltimore when Baltimore Opera collapsed). And the LA company may find it hard to shake the image of insecurity after this big slurp form the public trough.

I can't help but wonder if one problem at both places may be that folks have a hard time telling Domingo no, given that he's such a persuasive, hugely admired figure. At the same time, maybe a lot of folks just assume that he's a money magnet, that everything will be fine financially with him at the helm. Doesn't look that way in DC or LA. Something's not working right. Whatever the root cause, it's awfully discouraging to see two august institutions being shaken this way.

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