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Hartford Arts Companies Offer Free Tickets To CT Opera Subscribers

FRANK RIZZO

February 12, 2009

In light of the announcement this week that Connecticut Opera is out of business and not refunding money to its subscribers, Hartford arts executives are responding to their own subscribers' concerns and, at the same time, rallying in support of disenfranchised and angry opera fans.

TheaterWorks, the Bushnell Center for the Performing Arts, Hartford Symphony Orchestra, Hartford Stage and Connecticut Concert Opera are offering special deals for Connecticut Opera subscribers who paid for two shows that they will not see.

Ticket-for-ticket swaps are being offered for: "Noises Off," April 16-May 17 at Hartford Stage; "Greater Tuna," May 26-31 at the Bushnell; and a choice among two Pops! concerts, (the March 7 one features Bloomfield's singer/actress Anika Noni Rose), and three Masterworks concerts by the HSO at the Bushnell.

TheaterWorks has committed to offer tickets to select performances at its theater over the next 23 months.

Connecticut Concert Opera will offer a free ticket with any paid one starting with its fall programming.

David Fay, president and chief executive officer of the Bushnell, says leading arts organizations in Hartford "are in good long-term shape" and "have a strong balance sheet" and many, like the Bushnell, Hartford Stage and HSO, have reserves and endowments to draw upon.

Kenneth Kahn, executive director of the Greater Hartford Arts Council says "loyalty and faith" among each group's subscribers and supporters "are probably going to be tested. But, knowing what we know about these arts institutions, we don't see any other kind of failures such as the opera which would lead to the abandonment of subscribers. On the contrary, we've heard many words of reassurance over the past few months."

Kristen Phillips, executive director of the HSO, will be speaking to her audiences on stage this weekend at concerts at the Bushnell, assuring them of her organization's solvency. She says, though the HSO is not directly affected by the loss of Connecticut Opera shows, HSO musicians who play for the opera will lose work in about a dozen canceled performances this year.

Michael Stotts, managing director of Hartford Stage, says he will remind his subscribers over the next few weeks that the theater is financially sound. "Everyone is being affected by this economy but I'm cautiously optimistic. I am hoping that [subscribers] will stick with us."

Kahn says the Connecticut Opera took a "huge risk" by spending its subscription funds and he worries about a backlash. "It's too early to tell if boards, which have a fiduciary responsibility, will respond by feeling obliged to make their leadership more [fiscally] conservative" in what they determine to be 'working capital.'"

Fay is among those looking to see what will emerge post-Connecticut Opera.

"There is a strong opera audience in Hartford and we certainly want to pick up the ball," he says. "But there will be opera at the Bushnell."

He says one immediate possibility is a major tour of "Porgy and Bess" for the 2009-'10 season. "And I've already been on the phone with other opera companies who want to come here."

Steve Campo, executive director of TheaterWorks, says he is considering a revival of the theater's production of the opera-centric "Master Class" to help satisfy that audience.

Area arts leaders generally agree that economic realities and market conditions are changing the way groups present and produce shows, forcing them into collaborations with other groups and cities.

"The idea of an independent opera company, in light of the costs now, is difficult to sustain," says Fay.

Kahn notes that it is Charles Darwin's birthday, adding, "Talk about evolution and adaptation. It's been going on in the arts world for some time and we'll just have to wait and see how other organizations Hartford Symphony, other colleges and universities, for example adapt in order to bring opera back into the mix. The art form, too, may have to adapt to today's conditions as well. This may be just a new opportunity."

Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant. To view other stories on this topic, search the Hartford Courant Archives at http://www.courant.com/archives.
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