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UPDATED: L.A. Opera gets $14-million emergency loan

December 8, 2009 |  2:34 pm

WalkureLos Angeles Opera asked for and received a $14-million emergency loan from Los Angeles County today to allow it to stay afloat and keep paying its expenses through the middle of next year.

UPDATED: CLICK HERE FOR THE FULL STORY IN TODAY'S TIMES

The county Board of Supervisors approved the request by a vote of 4 to 1, with the dissenting vote coming from Mike Antonovich, who last July tried to short-circuit the opera’s upcoming Ring Festival on the grounds that it glorified an anti-Semitic composer, Richard Wagner, who had influenced Adolf Hitler. The festival is anchored by the Opera's $32-million "Ring" cycle, the performance of Wagner's four-opera "Der Ring des Nibelungen."

Stephen Rountree, chief executive of the Music Center and chief operating officer for L.A. Opera, appealed to the board for the loan, which will come from a pool of county bond money.

The loan “is needed now, literally next week,” Rountree told supervisors.

Zev Yaroslavsky, the board’s leading arts advocate, said the risk would be “very nominal, very minimal” and that letting the opera go under was unthinkable.

“It’s an important artistic organization for our county,” Yaroslavsky said. “For all they have built up ... this is almost no price for us to pay. We’ll make money on the interest rate, and we’ll save the opera. I’m not happy that we’re in this situation, but what’s our choice? This is one of our major tenants at the Music Center. This could set off a chain of events that takes down the Music Center.”

Supervisor Gloria Molina complained about the last-minute, emergency nature of the bailout request.
“The solution at this point in time is the solution, but I think the problem could have been presented earlier.”

The nonprofit opera company’s most recent available tax return, for the year ending June 30, 2008, shows that it already was experiencing difficulties before the economic meltdown that arrived that September, striking a blow to many arts organizations that rely on donated funds. To float the opera that year, its board members provided $19.6 million in interest-free loans, of which $5 million was forgiven. Ticket sales came to $18.2 million, just a fraction of the company’s $55.6 million budget. The opera filled the gap with $40.7 million in donations.  In 2006-07, fund-raising had fallen far short, leading to a deficit of nearly $6 million.

Antonovich said the opera had brought financial difficulties on itself by plunging $32 million into its production of the "Ring" Cycle by German director Achim Freyer, which included performances earlier this year three of the four operas, to be followed by the intensive festival performances, in which aficionados can see the entire "Ring" Cycle within a week. The opera's general director, Plácido Domingo, is singing the role of Siegmund in "Die Walküre," the second opera of the cycle.

“Many feel it’s going to be a loser, basically because of the person who is being honored,” Antonovich said, referring to Wagner.

Announced in November 2008, the 10-week "Ring" festival, April 15 to June 30, 2010, aims at involving some 100 arts organizations throughout the region, with L.A. Opera’s production at its hub. Arts philanthropist Eli Broad provided a $6 million gift from his foundation to underwrite the opera production. The hope is that it will be an international event and tourist draw for L.A.

-- Mike Boehm and Garrett Therolf

NOTE: An earlier version of the story omitted Stephen Rountree's title as chief operating officer for L.A. Opera, dropped a word so it was not clear the opera performed three of the four "Ring" operas and stated that 50, not 100, organizations are part of the "Ring" festival. 

Photo: Plácido Domingo and Linda Watson in "Die Walküre," Credit: Lawrence K. Ho / Los Angeles Times

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