Lyric Opera breaks even with help from its reserves

Mon May 24, 2010 at 10:31 pm

By Lawrence A. Johnson

The Lyric Opera of Chicago managed to break even in the 2009-2010 season, with a little help from its reserve funds.

The Lyric balanced the budget by drawing $2.7 million from its Campaign for Excellence Fund, which was established in 2005.

Lyric’s operating expenses for the 2009-10 season were $53 million. The company sold 86% of its seating capacity for ticket revenue of $24.3 million, and the company raised more than $16.6 million in contributions.

In a statement released Monday night, general director William Mason said, the recession had “a significant and
lasting effect” especially in subscription sales, which dropped by 12 percent from 2008-2009.

William Mason, general director, Lyric Opera of Chicago

“While the company had its third-best year ever in individual-ticket sales, these results did not make up for the lower subscription level,” said Mason. “Fortunately, we are in a strong financial position. We were able to cover revenue shortfall with Campaign for Excellence funds, and members of our various Boards were particularly generous in this very difficult environment.”

Mason stated that controlling expenses and watching the bottom line were essential to maintaining the company’s artistic excellence. This has included reducing next season to 68 performances from 77  in 2009-2010.

The company also has instituted layoffs for the first time, as well as continuing to leave vacant positions unfilled. Also salaries have been frozen again next year and nonpaid furloughs have been instituted for all staff. Top administrative staff salaries have been reduced by 15% including Mason’s.

The Lyric has operated in the black for 22 of the past 23 years—a record among the country’s major not-for-profit music and performing-arts companies.

Mason reported that total operating expenses for fiscal year 2011 are projected at $52.4 million, with the fundraising goal increased to $17.2 million.

In other Lyric news, James L. Alexander, Vice-President of the Lyric Board of Directors, and Co-Trustee of The Elizabeth Morse Charitable Trust and The Elizabeth Morse received Lyric’s highest honor, the Carol Fox Award.

Lyric’s season opens on October 1 with a new production of Verdi’s Macbeth, starring Thomas Hampson and Nadja Michael.

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