Chicago’s Lyric claims bleak, even

Chicago’s Lyric claims bleak, even


norman lebrecht

November 08, 2016

The company says it broke even last season. Local business reports say it made a big loss. Go figure.

Lyric reported $61.9 million in total revenue for the year, down substantially from $86.8 million the previous year.

Total expenses for the year climbed to $84.1 million, up from $79 million the previous year. Earned income dropped to $25.1 million from $34.7 million the previous year, while unearned income fell to $36.1 million million from $52.7 million the previous year.

Given these results, the math shows Lyric incurred a $22.2 million loss for FY2016, which ended June 30, 2016.

Lyric chief financial officer Lane suggested in a cover letter posted with the financial report that the success of Lyric’s Breaking New Ground campaign “afforded us the ability to present a breakeven 2015/16 season.”

More here.

lyric chicago-21

UPDATE: Response from Roberta Lane, Lyric Opera CFO:

Lewis Lazare’s piece was based on looking at a supplemental schedule at the back of Lyric’s audited Financial Statements.  The schedule, Statement of Activities, reflects all of the increases and decreases in Lyric’s net assets by fund.  There are 4 funds shown on the statement:  1.) Our operating fund (this really is the Income Statement reflecting the season’s revenue and expenses and the column to focus on when analyzing the results of operations,  2.) Other unrestricted funds (including activity in our investment reserves), 3.) Temporarily restricted (where we record contributions restricted to a particular purpose, such as Breaking New Ground contributions), 3.) Permanently restricted (which is our endowment).  Mr. Lazare was looking at all of the activity in all of the funds and, incorrectly, concluding that our operations generated a $22 million loss. In fact, our net assets decreased by $22 million, largely as a result of fluctuations in the market value of our investment portfolio (61% of that decrease is accounted for by stock market fluctuations).
As I stated in my letter, we supported our FY 2016 operations, in part, with an $8.6 million budgeted allocation from our Breaking new Ground fund.  Providing operating support for future years was precisely the purpose of the campaign when it was launched in FY 2012.


  • Sixtus Beckmesser says:

    Someone please correct me if I’m wrong, but the price of tickets at the Lyric has gone up substantially in recent years: for some performances approaching $100 for tickets in the top balcony. Although intended perhaps to address a budget shortfall, this move is in my view shortsighted because patrons of relatively modest means (me, for instance) will be less able to afford to attend at all. It wasn’t that many years ago that balcony seats could be had for $30-60.

  • Absolutely agree with SB. As an out-of towner, I used to plan one or two trips a year to Chicago, specifically to go to a couple of Lyric performances on a weekend. But ticket prices have skyrocketed, AND when they don’t sell the Lyric has a practice of putting them on sale for 50% off an more, but only just before the performance. As soon as that practice started, I stopped going. I will go to their Ring, and I expect that will be in the price range charged by Bayreuth and Berlin, perhaps more (which is fine in Bayreuth and Berlin, but completely excessive for any company in the USA). A profitable company is one that balances ticket prices (at different levels), with selling as many tickets as possible. I belong to Friends of Covent Garden. You can buy a standing place for $20, or an Orchestral Stalls for $250+. But at least there is a choice. And tickets at the lowest and highest levels sell out more often than not.

    • William Osborne says:

      Berlin has three full time opera houses and the tickets are generally much cheaper than in Chicago. The Deutsche Opera tickets range from 18 to to 170 Euros. (The dollar price is about the same or only slightly higher.) At a rough estimate, the average price seems to be about 50 dollars. A large series is reserved for families where children under 18 get in for only 10 Euros.

      And with three houses going full blast for 11 months a year, there are many offerings. Very different from Chicago which has trouble maintaining even a 5 month season. For performances per year, Chicago is way behind even many small European cities like Innsbruck, Poznan, Münster, Riga, Kassel, Lyon, Erfurt, Plzen, etc. Even ever heard of them? In terms of opera, broad shouldered Chicago is a 97 pound weakling. I say that as a challenge for America to try to grow up and develop the same effective public funding systems that Europeans have had for decades.

      • Guy says:

        Good idea. You should put that in a letter to the President Elect. I’m sure subsidised opera production is already close to the top of his list. Indeed, I’m sure he’ll get to it after he’s finished building the wall and deporting all the undesirables,