S.F. Opera ends fiscal ’06 with surplus

Once performing with millions of dollars in deficit, the San Francisco Opera ended this fiscal year more than $500,000 in the black, thanks to new management and a heavy focus on marketing and cost-cutting.

Opera leaders say they hope the $557,376 surplus from the operating budget of $60,401,983 is a sign of increased revenue, attendance and popularity to come.

Executive Director and Chief Financial Officer Keith Cerny said the change comes as a result of continued restructuring under General Director David Gockley and cuts in administrative positions, health and pension costs and some production sizes.

The last time the opera was “in the black” was 2004, when they finished with a surplus of just $27,000. That came after hard years in 2002 and 2003, which had respective deficits of $7 million and $4 million.

In addition, the opera began tracking ticket sales and attendance closely, to find out which types of audience was coming to each event, and if tickets were being sold to season-attendees or single-ticket buyers.

Operations revenue rose more than $5 million in the last fiscal year, and Cerny said he expects ticket sales alone in 2007 to surpass $21 million. Several performances, including those of “Carmen” and “Rigoletto,” were heavily attended, with most performances of the former reaching at least 90 percent attendance.

San Leandro truck driver Rob Hughes, who shares season tickets with his wife, said he was surprised by the quality of performances and the new ideas being put into play.

“We came into it with low expectations, but there were some real winners this year,” Hughes said.

One of his favorite additions was a two-CD set, sent out by Gockley at the beginning of the season, in which the director shared anecdotes and clips about upcoming performances.

“It was fun, Gockley seemed very accessible, and he seemed to have fun with it,” Hughes said.

Another important factor was aggressive marketing, starting with Gockley’s simulcast of “Madame Butterfly,” in the Civic Center Plaza for casual music or opera fans, which helped drum up interest and ticket sales for other events.

Opera President George Hume said one of the major factors in the 2006 success was donations from loyal sponsors and fans. More than half of the 10,000 donors increased their amounts in 2006, to bring in $31,093,004.

jgoldman@examiner.com

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