Courtesy Mark Matson
Austin Lyric OperaRichard Buckley conducted Austin Lyric Opera's "Tosca" in 2003 with Greer Grimsley (left) and Carol Vaness.
Arts nonprofit thrives after financial hardship
Just as the Austin Lyric Opera was in danger of dissolution, its board of directors made a series of decisions that helped bring the organization out of debt and become profitable again.
“It’s just an amazing, phoenix-rising-from-the-ashes sort of story,” ALO General Director Joseph Specter said.
In 2011, ALO had about $2 million in debt and a diminishing number of season ticket holders. Decisions made by ALO’s board of directors, including selling its primary asset—its office on Barton Springs Road—made the organization profitable again. ALO boosted its number of season ticket holders from 2,500 in the 2010–11 season to 3,200 by the 2012–13 season.
“Without the selling of that building, we wouldn’t be where we are today,” Specter said. “It gave us the ability to sort of rise again.”
The nonprofit moved into a building near US 183 and Burnet Road in April 2012. ALO renovated the former church and invested about $250,000 for rehearsal and office space. Its opera performances are still held at The Long Center for the Performing Arts.
Other decisions that led to the company’s success include hiring new management, decreasing the number of operas performed and separating its music school into its own 501(c)(3), Specter said. The Armstrong Community Music School teaches adults and children various music styles, including jazz, classical, blues and folk.
“That was certainly an emotional separation,” Specter said.
This year, ALO celebrates its 27th anniversary and its 10th year with Richard Buckley, art director and principal conductor. The nonprofit performs three operas per year, and the 2013–14 season began on Nov. 16 with Italian opera “Don Carlo.” The performance includes 54 musicians and 65 singers, which Buckley said is a large group for an opera.
ALO has only repeated two operas in nine years. “Tosca,” Buckley’s first opera with the company, is being performed again this season to celebrate his anniversary. To help raise funds, the opera company hosts elaborate, black tie-optional dinners and lectures before each performance. In February, an annual fundraiser is held that includes dinner, an auction and live entertainment featuring principal, or guest, singers that are to appear in ALO’s future performances.
A lyric opera is a performance with singers who have softer voices, making the performance sound more gentle, Specter said. Although the ALO has performed lyric types of opera, its name is not indicative of the type of opera it performs, he said.
Buckley said every opera experience is different because of artistic decisions.
“Opera might be the same music, might be the same story, but the individual singers that we as an organization present—the energy of those singers between each other, … all of that makes the experience different,” Buckley said.
ALO’s 2013–14 performances
• “Tosca,” Jan. 30–Feb. 2
• “The Elixir of Love,” May 1–4
All performances are held at the Long Center for the Performing Arts, 701 W. Riverside Drive. Matinee performances are held at 3 p.m., and evening shows are held at 7:30 p.m. 512-472-5927.www.austinlyricopera.org
Tickets can be purchased per show or per season, which includes all three operas. Season ticket holders receive about a 15 percent to 40 percent discount.
• Single shows: $24–$200
• Season tickets: $41–$555