- Associated Press - Thursday, January 20, 2011

WASHINGTON (AP) — The Kennedy Center announced Thursday it will take over most operations of the Washington National Opera because of the music company’s financial troubles.

Under an affiliation agreement, the opera will remain a separate nonprofit with its own board of trustees. However, the Kennedy Center will take over its business, fundraising and marketing functions. The arrangement beginning July 1 ensures the opera’s survival amid several years of financial shortfalls.

“For me it’s not just a question of stabilizing them,” said Kennedy Center President Michael Kaiser. “One of my goals is to build back their season. They’re down to five operas a year, and we’re hoping to do more in the future.”

Artistic programs will be developed jointly by Kaiser and the opera staff.

Placido Domingo, who has served as the opera’s general director since 2003, previously announced he will leave this season. He said in a statement Thursday that he supports the new arrangement.

Kaiser said he has talked casually with Domingo about a continuing role with the opera. The Kennedy Center plans to select an artistic director or adviser to help guide the company.

The new arrangement is similar to the National Symphony Orchestra, which has been a Kennedy Center affiliate since 1986.

One stipulation of the merger, which has been negotiated since March, was that the opera company transition to the Kennedy Center with no debt and no deficit. Kaiser said much of the opera’s resources would be used to pay off its debts.

Still, he said he expects the Kennedy Center to have to spend some resources to help turn around the opera company. Kaiser said there is no set limit, though he expects the cost to be less than $2 million a year. His goal is to build more revenue from ticket sales and donations to cover the opera’s costs.

Kaiser has built a reputation as a turnaround expert for arts organizations. He said strengthening the opera company will be a challenge — but one he will enjoy.

One new possibility is staging some opera productions in smaller theaters at the center, along with productions in the large opera house.

“I think there’s a lot of interesting work you can do in the smaller venues,” Kaiser said. “It’s something that can distinguish the Washington National Opera from other companies.”

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Online:

John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts: https://www.kennedy-center.org

Washington National Opera: https://www.dc-opera.org/

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