Annual Report

Annapolis Opera Company

State of the Company Address

Welcome to our annual meeting. We have reached the end of our 45th season and therefore it is time to look forward. What’s next? But before we do that, we really should look back over this season and even further back to make sure that we don’t lose sight of the critical lessons we have learned. It is indeed a great accomplishment that the Annapolis Opera has successfully weathered 45 seasons and not just survived, but produced and presented artistically excellent vocal artistry. This required the amazing dedication of many individuals and the support of many donors and advocates. We are thankful.

We have, in our past, experienced financial strain and been forced to wonder what our community would look like without the Annapolis Opera. In times where the art form of opera is under strain with many opera companies being forced to reduce their offerings and some even to close, we need to be proud of how our past leadership steered us through very difficult financial times and set us up to not only survive, but to expand, to vision, to set our sights on new endeavors, and to set an example of success.

This past season is our second consecutive season of moving to two fully staged operas. We produced Little Women in the fall and La Traviata this spring.  Both productions received great critical acclaim continuing our string of artistically phenomenal productions. These successes were laudable, but also came with some challenges, the biggest of which was audience size for Little Women.

When this season was selected, 3 years back, the Artistic Committee knew that selling tickets for Little Women would be a challenge. Since we had substantial reserves and wanted to try more modern opera, the board approved this selection. Many efforts were put forth to fill seats. The composer, Mark Adamo, came to town. Our Ginger Cove Insight Series lectures brought many experts on the era of Little Women, including a Pulitzer Prize-winning author, to Annapolis to enlighten us. We teamed up with the Anne Arundel County Public Library System to publicize the event and even had lectures and book clubs within the libraries. This netted us right around 300 brand new, never been to the opera, audience members. However, despite all the efforts, the paid tickets were below budget and our FY17-18 overall budget will show a deficit of around $25,000.

The question is: what lessons should be learned from this? We know that the “Warhorses” as Dick Krimm likes to call the most popular traditional operas, will always sell well, but the organization feels that staying relevant and attracting new and younger audiences requires a certain amount of boldness.  This balance can be achieved with proper fiscal management and a cold hard realistic assessment of what Annapolis Opera can afford and with what frequency. The board is confidant that the lessons learned from the past are being taken into account.

On the bright side, this past year showcased many new or expanded offerings.

  1. We accompanied both of our staged productions with our Ginger Cove Insight Lecture Series, which has been well received and I guess we could say, “sell-outs”. The total number of attendees was well over 500, far more than ever before. We even had the unenviable task of having to turn some would be attendees away. Lecturers included Maestro Ron Gretz; St. John’s tutor, Tom May; Pulitzer Prize-winning author, John Matteson; composer Mark Adamo, Dr. Martin Wasserman, Nancie Kennedy, and Terry Eberhardt.
  2. In January, in partnership with Towson University, we presented the Children’s Opera, Billy Goats Gruff, to over 3500 students in six school-day performances and one Family concert. Over half of these students were from Title One schools and attended the performance at no cost. All participating schools received a comprehensive packet of vocal music instructional material and background information specific to the opera. In addition, director Courtney Kalbacker gave a post-performance talk to middle school students, which was a master class in how to connect with a middle school audience.

In recognition of the success of our partnership with Towson University, we received the first-ever Baltimore Towson University Partnership Award, referred to as the BTU Award.

  1. In February, in partnership with Asbury United Methodist Church and the Coalition for African Americans in the Performing Arts, we presented Arias and Shanties, a concert featuring aria favorites and Negro spirituals. This was a ground-breaking performance for us. Performed before a full house at Asbury, Arias and Shanties was deeply enjoyable and expanded the musical horizons of nearly all in attendance.

This year we were invited to participate in The Standards of Excellence Program put on by the Maryland Association of Non-profit Organizations. The comprehensive curriculum covered everything from financials, board governance, volunteer management, fundraising, operations, program management, and on and on. Literally anything a stellar non-profit would be routinely accomplishing. The Annapolis Opera will complete the program and be recognized as a Standard of Excellence bearing Arts Organization.

This year also saw us take the first steps towards creating more capacity within the office. Kathy and V.B. are tireless in their efforts to complete all the work that is necessary to put on all our programming and we are also very appreciative of all our volunteer help, but this is indeed not enough. This year we brought on an outsourced bookkeeper, a grant researcher, and outsourced event planning help.

We also experimented with new forms of marketing. We advertised on Maryland Public Television, in Upstart Magazine, and have a 2-page spread in the Landmarks of the Chesapeake Hotel book, as well as in the Landmarks Lifestyles of Annapolis and The Eastern Shore magazine.

This was the 30th year for our Vocal Competition and we took the occasion to honor Dr. William Ray who has been involved with the competition for those thirty years in a variety of roles including judge, judge recruiter, and other volunteer tasks. Supporters of the Annapolis Opera and the Vocal Competition raised money to award the winner with a prize in Dr. Ray’s name. This turned out to be the highest prize we have ever given out. We also invited back, past winners and four were gracious enough to attend, which included the winner of the very first vocal competition.

There is much more, but I think it is time to look forward. This was Maestro Ron Gretz’s 35 year with the Annapolis Opera. The opera owes both him and Braxton Peters a huge debt for much of our success.  Ron has announced his retirement and will step away in two years. These are large shoes to fill. Our Succession Planning Committee headed up by Previous Past President Tom DeKornfeld, is in the middle of working through an exhaustive process to find Ron’s replacement. They are quite happy with the number and quality of applicants and fully expect to hire a high-level Artistic Director to lead us into the future.

The Opera’s Artistic Committee is busy working towards a goal of determining our programming for 5 years out. This will allow us to better book singers and to publicize our offerings on a grander scale.

We also plan on continuing to expand the staff by putting into place a robust internship program.

In July, we will hold our board retreat and finalize our Vision Statement. Once complete, we will begin strategic planning in earnest. In looking back on our current strategic plan, it is clear that we have accomplished almost all of what we set out to do. I like to say that the stressors that we currently feel are stressors of success. We have created our need for more capacity, more donors, and greater programming by consistently stretching our boundaries and vision and MOSTLY by producing exceptional, artistically excellent vocal arts offerings. We could take our foot off the gas and settle into a pattern that would relieve some of these self-made stressors, but your board, as a unit, doesn’t want to go this direction. We want to push forward, up the ante, and see what new heights we can reach.  With all your help we will surely achieve these aspirations. Thank you!

Respectfully submitted June 4, 2018

Patrick M. Lee, Jr.