Lyric Opera breaks even again with $4.4 million assist from reserves

Tue May 24, 2011 at 12:36 am

By Lawrence A. Johnson

The Lyric Opera of Chicago managed to break even once again for the 2010-11 season but had to raid its reserve fund for $4.4 million to do so.

At the company’s annual board meeting Monday night outgoing general director William Mason said that the Lyric sold 91% of its seating capacity for the 2010-11 season, up five percent from last year. The company also surpassed its fund-raising goal of $17.2 million.

“Arts organizations all over the country are facing a new reality that includes significant economic, cultural, and demographic challenges,” said Mason in a statement released Monday before the meeting. “But I believe that Lyric Opera is in a better position than most to face those challenges as we go forward.”

Lyric’s operating expenses of $53.7 million for 2010-11 were roughly even with last year’s ($52.4 million). Ticket revenue for the season was $23.8 million, down slightly from $24.3 million, due to fewer scheduled performances. Fully audited financial statements will be issued in August.

The Lyric Opera has operated in the black for 23 of the past 24 years, a record, the company points out, among the country’s major not-for-profit performing arts companies.

“Marrying artistic excellence with fiscal prudence has always been the company’s hallmark,” says Mason. “We have a strong audience and donor base. We have tailored the length of our season to match current audience demand. We continue to employ new strategies to maximize ticket sales, and we are meeting our annual fundraising goals. We are one of the few major opera companies in the country without an accumulated deficit.

“That said, Lyric’s economic reality is now much more complicated,” he continued. “Subscription sales, while strong, are not at the level they have been in the past. Fortunately, several years ago, our board had the foresight to establish the Campaign for Excellence, and for the second year, it has been necessary to use those funds to balance the budget.

Mason reported that total operating expenses for fiscal year 2012 are projected at $57.4 million, with the fundraising goal increased to $20.6 million.

Lyric’s board of directors unanimously elected Kenneth G. Pigott as its new president and chief executive officer. Previously, Pigott served as executive vice president of Lyric’s board and chairman of Lyric’s production sponsorship committee for 11 years. He chaired the eight-month international search that resulted in Lyric hiring Anthony Freud as general director, replacing Mason, who is retiring.

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3 Responses to “Lyric Opera breaks even again with $4.4 million assist from reserves”

  1. Posted May 24, 2011 at 12:04 pm by Sharon

    I used to be a subscriber at Lyric but I got tired of seeing the same old operas over and over (and I used to like the nose bleed seats because of the $ savings). For the past few years, I would have liked to subscribe to a 4 or 5 operas package, but now I prefer main floor seats and it never fails – even with the trade one option, the section I want to sit in is never available as an option for the operas I want to see! I wish Lyric had a bit more flexability with seating options for the various subscription packages. I don’t have the same problem with the Chicago Symphony.

  2. Posted Jun 01, 2011 at 1:37 pm by Andy

    I bet 8 concert subscribers are seated first in the queue, and they probably snatch up the best seats in the house and the most inexpensive ones first. That is how it works. Lyric has been very flexible with trade one and will even trade two if you ask. That being said, you can’t be guaranteed the same seats because they seat the pre-packaged series individuals first. The Lyric also has much less concerts on the roster than the Chicago Symphony. Other arts organizations across the country are losing subscribers and money by offering small flex packages. We are lucky to have strong classical arts groups here that don’t have to compromise too much in this economic climate.

  3. Posted Jun 08, 2011 at 10:10 am by Benjamin

    Is a budget shortfall of $4.4 Million which is then covered from reserves really breaking even? How depleted are the reserves at this point and are these reserves part of unrestricted endowment funds?

    As I recall in past seasons only $1-2 million was required from reserves to “break even.”

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