MA 30 Profiles in Courage: Carol Lazier
San Diego Opera
Opera is full of heroic characters, but one of this year’s greatest heroes is a real person: Carol Lazier, who stepped into the spotlight last March and took extraordinary measures to keep San Diego Opera from shutting its doors forever.
On March 19, the company announced that it would cease all operations at the end of the 2014 season. According to longtime General and Artistic Director Ian Campbell, San Diego Opera, which had begun presenting performances as San Diego Opera Guild in 1950 before incorporating in 1965, had apparently exhausted all of its resources.
The decision, announced as a unanimous vote among board members, shocked insiders. San Diego has long been rated among the top ten companies in the nation, but suddenly it looked about to go the way of New York City Opera, Opera Boston, and Baltimore Opera.
In the days that followed, questions arose: the company had ended its most recent fiscal year debt-free and with a surplus, so why the closure? News reports soon revealed that Campbell and his ex-wife had received combined salaries of nearly $1 million in 2009—a disproportionate slice of the company’s $16.3 million operating budget. Even more curious was the news that only 33 of the company’s 58 board members were in attendance when that initial vote to close the company was taken.
Enter Lazier, a longtime board member who seemed determined to save the company. Elected the new board president in a tempestuous April 18 meeting in which 13 board members resigned, Lazier urged the remaining members to overturn the dissolution vote and consider alternatives. She launched a crowd-funding campaign, and pledged $1 million of her own money to keep the doors open. That turned the tide; donations began pouring in. On May 19, after raising more than $4.5 million, the reconstituted board rescinded the vote to cease operations and announced that the company would present a three-opera season in 2015.
Asked to describe Lazier, one of her colleagues on the board of directors called her someone who “walks quietly but carries a strong stick.” For her part, Lazier seemed eager to deflect attention away from herself and get on with the business of producing opera. “The public spoke, we listened, and we’re open for business,” she said.