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Opera Philadelphia Announces Budget Cuts

Amidst plans to scale back its productions to save money, the company’s general director and president has also chosen to step down


Due to an unexpected decline in audience numbers following the COVID-19 pandemic, Opera Philadelphia will cut its current annual budget by 20% from its originally approved $13.3 million, plus reduce the staff by five positions.

Additionally, the company’s general director and president, David B. Devan has chosen not to renew his contract once it expires on May 31, 2023. Devan, 60, has worked with Opera Philadelphia for 18 years — including 12 years in his current role.

He explained that the company, post-pandemic, would require more significant changes and new leadership to boost its philanthropy and audiences.

“I knew I needed to make some changes in the short term for us to be sustainable,” he told the Philadelphia Voice. “But at that time, I really thought we would benefit from bringing in and inviting new leadership.”

The company’s decision to postpone the production of Joseph Bologne’s The Anonymous Lover by a year, and to discontinue its paid streaming platform, the Opera Philadelphia Channel, will save it $750,000 among the $2 million in budget cuts that include a 16% staff reduction. 

The 2023-24 budget will be $11.3 million, which is down from $11.9 million in the previous season, when ticket sales amounted to $1.57 million.

“Performing arts patronage and philanthropy has declined across the entire sector, to a level that we failed to anticipate, and will likely take years to return to pre-pandemic levels,” wrote the company’s board chair, Stephen Klasko in a letter to audiences. “In the short term, we must make changes to our business model to achieve long term financial sustainability and maintain our commitment to Philadelphia, creating an inclusive culture, and artistic excellence.”

Over the last two fiscal years, Opera Philadelphia suffered two $800,000 deficits, during which time opera has become more expensive to produce. One of the changes to its operations includes a potential merger or partnership with another institution.

As reported by the Philadelphia Inquirer, Opera Philadelphia is not alone in struggling for audiences. Only 15% of performing arts groups in Bucks, Chester, Delaware, Montgomery, and Philadelphia Counties reported that attendance for the most recent season was back to or exceeded that of pre-pandemic levels in 2019.

“I think the hardest thing for everybody in the field is the fatigue from managing through COVID is still present,” Devan stated in CBS News. “And then you couple into it all the predictive stuff you used before doesn’t work. What we’ve seen is definitely the people that used to come and buy a lot are not buying as much. They’re being more selective. We do see older people opting out entirely and we’ve also seen a surge of new customers.”

“I think you're going to be seeing this across the board; people just having to face the financial realities and make adjustments, but do so in a way that maintains their mission, their spirit and their vision. And I think we've done that…I think we’re just facing the future head on. And I think that can be empowering if you do it in the right way.”

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