Harrison steps down as head of opera company

The Baltimore Sun

Michael Harrison, general director of the Baltimore Opera Company for the past 20 years, has relinquished administrative duties and assumed the title of artistic director. The change was made "in order to allow him to devote more time to his son, who is critically ill," according a statement released yesterday by the company. Deborah Goetz, senior director of marketing and communications, said Harrison's job change was voluntary.

James Handakas has been named acting general director and will be responsible for the administrative and fiscal side of the organization. He previously served as the company's director of the annual fund, raising money from individual donors.

The Baltimore Opera season will continue with a production of Norma, opening Nov. 15 at the Lyric Opera House, and two more productions in the spring are expected to proceed. Singers have been contracted for the 2009-1010 season, Goetz said.

The company has acknowledged cash flow problems this season, which opened last month with a production of Aida that resulted in a $200,000 shortfall. "Single ticket sales declined when the stock market did and just never came back up," Goetz said. But a $500,000 challenge grant launched in late September is 65 percent matched, and plans to raise additional cash have been made, including the sale of the company's warehouse.

Other opera companies across the nation have been affected by the economic downtown. This week, Opera Pacific, in Southern California, canceled the remainder of its season and put assets up for sale. And word came yesterday that Washington National Opera will postpone its much-anticipated production of the complete Ring cycle by Wagner next year at the Kennedy Center because of costs, despite strong advance ticket sales.

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