San Diego Opera says its boss will get no payoff

San Diego Opera says its boss will get no payoff


norman lebrecht

March 27, 2014

The chair of San Diego Opera, which has shut down abruptly, has issued a strong statement denying that the closure was designed to protect the pension pots of its chief executive Ian Campbell and his ex-wife Ann. The Campbell couple earned $800,000 a year from the company, equal to five percent of its budget.

‘They will not get retirement funds,’ said Karen Cohn, and that includes medical coverage and severance. ‘There is no golden parachute. They are both devastated, their reputations are tarnished, there is talk of misappropriation of funds (entirely untrue)’. Ann Campbell, she specified, stops getting paid in April. Ian will be paid until the company is dissolved.

The reason the show had to stop, she added, is because the money San Diego received from Joan Kroc ran out. San Diego had been eating Big Macs all these years. If another restaurant widow turned up, Ms Cohn would be happy to restart.

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  • Mitt Clinton says:

    I’m sure they’ll be able to retire comfortably on the helf million salaries after spending the company resources wildly since the collapse of the economy in 2008 and driving it into the ground. Incompetence is no reason to feel sorry for these people who have destroyed an arts institution. Which story is right here? First we hear that the company is solvent and has no debts, and now we here that the handsomely paid couple are thrown into the cold, mean streets of San Diego without a crumb and no way to pay for medical care (excepting social security and medicare, of course, and the approximately 5 million made in the last few years). Which story is true?

    This really needs to be looked over by an auditor. Clearly someone is lying here.

  • Janey says:

    Joyce DiDonato & Thomas Hampson leading the charge to Save San Diego Opera (@SaveSDOpera). Petition below. It seems they don’t find the issue to be one of lack of funding.

    Why didn’t anyone attempt to do ANYTHING to save it before announcing its closure? Odd, isn’t it?

  • Nicolas Mansfield says:

    This sorry story has been on my mind all week. Whilst many european opera houses fight for survival with the passion that opera deserves, San Diego appears to throw in the towel before the fight has even started. I appreciate that Europe and America are two entirely different (economic) contexts, but the refusal to downsize, rethink, rebuild and once again flourish is a travesty. And if you can’t plan for the long term in our changing world, then you shouldn’t be in charge.

    • Anon says:

      Ha! And look what happened to Henson when his board asked him to do just that. When you can see the money will run out, then is the time to act. But your employees – the musicians and singers – tend not to believe it.

      • Amy says:

        What “happened to” Michael Henson was of his own doing, in concert with the union-busting agenda of some very powerful bankers and business owners.

        You’re right, in a way: When someone presents ONE set of numbers to the state and ANOTHER set of numbers to the board, then musicians (noted for their attention to tiny things like dots and dashes) do tend not to believe what that person says. Michael Henson’s word is useless.

      • MWnyc says:

        All Henson and his board had to do to get the musicians to negotiate was show them when and how the money was going to run out by opening the company’s accounting books. He consistently refused to do so. And since he and the board demonstrably lied to the public and the Minnesota state legislature about the condition of the company’s finances the year before the lockout, they – and the community – had every reason to double-check his numbers.

  • Major companies do around 150 to 200 performance per year. The SDO only did 15. Says something about the USA that that’s a big loss. The facade of fraud that is American opera.

  • Stephen H. Owades says:

    A later article by the same Karen Cohn in the San Diego Union-Tribune ( appears to back off on the assertion that the Campbells “will get no payoff” after the dissolution of the San Diego Opera. Reading her (new) words carefully, it appears that although their pensions are not specifically guaranteed (because “neither had a severance agreement that contemplated dissolving the organization”), the company’s obligations to them aren’t voided either. “By choosing to transfer our assets to an assignee for the benefit of creditors, we place the Campbells in the category of creditors — in line to negotiate obligations against the remaining assets. Anyone who thinks that is the outcome they sought is totally wrong.”

    It appears that the claim made by Cohn in the earlier piece was not quite correct, or at least the inference drawn from it in the headline here was inaccurate. And the Campbells do appear to have acted in a way that preserves at least the likelihood that they will be taken care of in the future, by shutting down the company while it still has substantial assets from which their pensions can be paid. Sleazy indeed, on the part of the Board as well as the Campbells.