Lyric Opera of Chicago in the black for 2011/12 season.
Anthony Freud, general director of Lyric Opera of Chicago, announced today that the company is reporting a breakeven operating performance for fiscal year 2012. Lyric has operated in the black for 24 of the past 25 years—a record among the country’s major not-for-profit music and performing-arts companies.
The company surpassed its $20.6 million fundraising goal. As planned, Lyric used reserve funds from its Campaign for Excellence—approximately $3.8 million as compared with
$4.3 million in the previous season—to reach a balanced budget.
Lyric’s operating expenses for 2011/12 were $57.4 million. Ticket revenue for the season
(72 regular performances, plus two student-matinee performances and one subscriber-appreciation concert) was $25 million—$1.3 million higher than for the previous season. The company raised more than $21.1 million in annual contributions—$3 million more than in the previous season. Fully audited financial statements will be issued in August.
A grand total of 233,113 tickets were sold for the season, slightly more than the 229,775 sold in the previous year. Lyric sold 88% of its seating capacity for the 2011/12 season, which included 72 performances of eight productions.
Anthony Freud, who became general director of Lyric Opera on October 1, 2011, said that he “was delighted that the company has ended the year in the black. Thanks to the generosity of our many donors, and extraordinary Board commitment under the inspired leadership of President and CEO Kenneth G. Pigott, contributed income reached its second-highest level in the company’s history, second only to Lyric’s 50th anniversary season in 2004/05.”
But Freud also stressed that the challenges facing opera companies, including Lyric, are significant. “The economic environment in which we operate remains volatile,” Freud said. “Our subscription sales continue to be the best on the continent, but the percentage of the revenue budget they cover is not what it used to be. Extraordinary additional marketing efforts were needed to reach our excellent individual ticket sale number this year, and clearly this is the wave of the future. Fortunately, Lyric also had the foresight to establish its Campaign for Excellence, under the leadership of Richard P. Kiphart, Lyric’s immediate past president and current chairman. This fund has been indispensible to Lyric’s financial stability over the past several years, but it will not last forever. In light of this, the Board and administrative leadership of Lyric are currently developing a new strategic plan that will chart the course for this great company’s future. The goal is to generate new revenue streams from both operating and contributed income, ensuring that Lyric remains artistically exhilarating, becomes an even greater resource to the community, and builds an even firmer financial foundation.”
Lyric’s 2011/12 season featured The Tales of Hoffmann, Lucia di Lammermoor, Boris Godunov, Ariadne auf Naxos, The Magic Flute, Aida, Show Boat, and Rinaldo; plus two student matinees of The Magic Flute and a subscriber-appreciation concert starring soprano Renée Fleming, Dmitri Hvorostovsky, and the Lyric Opera Orchestra conducted by Sir Andrew Davis. A free concert at Millennium Park began the season on September 10, 2011.
Freud pointed out that the majority of individual donors contribute because of the artistic excellence they hear and see onstage. “In 2011/12, our varied season of marvelous opera featuring a galaxy of great artists was enthusiastically received by our audiences,” Freud said.
“I am particularly pleased by the enormously positive response to Show Boat, Lyric’s new venture into the American musical-theater genre. The thirteen performances generated terrific excitement, sold at 95% capacity, and brought in new audiences. Close to 50% of the people who purchased individual tickets for Show Boat were experiencing Lyric Opera for the very first time.”
Freud praised the many contributions of Lyric’s creative consultant, Renée Fleming. “When Renée took on this new position, she said her goals were to curate a world premiere, expand Lyric’s educational and community-engagement programming, foster new community partnerships, and initiate new marketing efforts for Lyric. She accomplished all these things this season. A new partnership with the Merit School of Music is thriving; she was instrumental in Lyric’s new branding campaign, which generated impressive buzz for Lyric within the media and the community; she joined with CSO creative consultant Yo-Yo Ma for work in the education sector as well as in a surprise ‘pop-up’ concert in the State of Illinois’s James R. Thompson Center; and in February 2012, Lyric announced its first world premiere since 2004/05. With Fleming as curator, Lyric will present Bel Canto, by composer Jimmy López and librettist Nilo Cruz, in its 2015/16 season. The new opera is based on the prizewinning American novel by Ann Patchett. Sir Andrew Davis will conduct, Stephen Wadsworth will direct, and Danielle de Niese will star.”
Freud also reported that because of the extension of Lyric’s fiscal year and an increase in activities, total operating expenses for fiscal year 2013 are projected to increase to $65.7 million. The fundraising goal is increased to $22.9 million. Much of the increase in operating expenses can be attributed to the extension of the fiscal year from twelve to fourteen months in 2012/13. Lyric’s fiscal year moves from April 30 to June 30 to accommodate sixteen performances of a new production of Rodgers & Hammerstein’s Oklahoma! in May 2013. The addition of four performances of a ninth production, A Streetcar Named Desire starring Renée Fleming, also factors in the operating-expense increase.
Freud said that one of his greatest joys in being Lyric’s general director “is having the opportunity to work with the remarkable Sir Andrew Davis, one of the world’s great conductors and Lyric’s music director since 2000.
“Sir Andrew’s current contract as music director was set to expire at the end of the 2014/15 season. I am therefore thrilled to announce that he has signed a new contract that extends his tenure as music director through the 2020/21 season. Sir Andrew’s contribution to Lyric Opera has been inestimable. As he and I make artistic plans for the future, his ongoing commitment to our company is of fundamental importance to Lyric’s strength and success.”
Freud concluded by saying that “on a personal level, I could not be more enthusiastic about the wonderful partnership that Andrew and I have developed—one that I know will last for years to come.”
Commenting on his contract extension, Sir Andrew said, “the fact that I’m committing myself so far ahead is an indication of the love I have for Lyric Opera and the pride I have in our work. I have very much enjoyed my first year of collaboration with Anthony Freud, and am also very thankful to Board president Ken Pigott. With this leadership team in place, and the continued strong support of our subscriber and donor family, I am absolutely confident of Lyric’s positive financial future, which of course ensures our ability to continue producing grand opera at the highest international level.”
Kenneth G. Pigott, Lyric Opera of Chicago president and chief executive officer, thanked all the subscribers and donors who had supported Lyric over the past season, with special recognition for the Women’s Board, whose tenth Wine Auction proved to be one of the most successful fundraising events in Lyric history.
Pigott praised Anthony Freud, who he said “has brought incredible new energy and ideas to the storied opera company. In his first season, Anthony has already demonstrated that he is a leader with the drive, the intelligence, and the vision to move the company forward in these challenging times.”
Pigott also stated that “Lyric as an organization is clearly committed to bringing in new audiences and raising more contributed income. Our presentation of Oklahoma! next May, which is the launch of our new American Musical Theater Initiative, is already important progress in this regard.”
Pigott also reported that union negotiations were proceeding as planned with the CFM (Chicago Federation of Musicians) and AGMA (American Guild of Musical Artists). Contracts with both unions expired on April 30 2012. “Our union members are a major source of artistic excellence and pride to the company,” Pigott said. “As we proceed with negotiations, I am optimistic that they will continue to partner with us to ensure a strong and viable financial future for Lyric.”
Lyric’s Annual Meeting Dinner took place May 14 at the Four Seasons Hotel and was cosponsored by William Blair & Company LLC and PricewaterhouseCoopers LLP. The Annual Meeting Dinner is a project of the Women’s Board. Annual Meeting chairman: Elinor Addington Jannotta. Women’s Board President: Mrs. J. Christopher Reyes.