WALNUT CREEK -- Festival Opera is caught in a classic conundrum.
Armed with two innovative new works, but faced with a cash crunch, the beauty of an art form harkening back to 16th-century Europe is threatened by the increasingly tenuous nature of running a nonprofit in the year 2014. Seeking salvation, an Indiegogo crowdfunding campaign is just one of the tactics opera Executive Director Sara Nealy says the Walnut Creek-based company is employing.
She lists $10,000 from special event sponsors, $8,500 from new memberships and donations, defrayed cost agreements, volunteered support and "in kind" donations as resources, and the potential for special web auctions and crowd funding to result in additional funds. That said, Nealy speaks words she never expected to utter: "The truth is that if Festival Opera cannot raise $100,000 by the end of May, we will most likely be forced to close."
Railing against her own dire admission, Nealy suggests that instead of "wallowing in the swamp of disaster and doom" -- her words as dramatic as an operatic libretto -- she suggests the media stop sensationalizing "the threatened and real demise of the arts."
How then, to get the word of Festival Opera's pressing need, onto a public platform?
"What we need now is cultural activism," Nealy said in an interview.
And while the Indiegogo campaign is the most external outreach effort the company is making, internal machinations are already transforming the company into a fleet force, fighting for survival -- a Silicon Valley-style startup arts organization.
In 2012, a "virtual office" replaced the bricks and mortar office. Soon after, staff and artists were hired for specific productions, instead of maintaining a resident company.
The opera's "only spend what we are fairly confident we can raise and earn" approach led the way to co-productions like Verdi's "Otello" with Palo Alto's West Bay Opera in 2013. Chamber operas -- shorter, smaller works with fewer musicians and sets scaled to fit more intimate venues -- replaced grander productions. Sadly, occasional cancellations occurred: "We were forced to cancel our planned production of Jules Massenet's 'Don Quixote,' " Nealy admitted.
Rallying the troops, with volunteers and professionals' generosity, Festival Opera's upcoming April 26 and 28 shows reflect its ongoing, leaner profile.
San Francisco composer Jake Heggie's "Another Sunrise" is based on the life of Krystyna Zywulska, a poet and World War II Polish resistance member.
In it, one singer (Metropolitan Opera singer Marie Plette) and five instrumentalists tell her story of survival.
The 30-minute opera isn't grand, but its exquisite spirit captured the approval of OPERA America, which recently announced it as a 2014 New Works Sampler selection.
Viktor Ullmann's "The Emperor of Atlantis," a 70-minute, one-act satire on dictatorship and oppression, features seven singers and a 13-member chamber ensemble. New York-based stage director Beth Greenberg, preparing the work for its first Bay Area presentation since The San Francisco Opera presented the American premiere in 1977, calls it "a subversive opera."
Nealy says Conductor Matilda Hofman -- who will conduct both works at their Bay Area premiere -- describes "Atlantis" as "fascinating in that it is full of musical memories: allusions to all sorts of musical styles, from ancient passacaglias to the blues.
Nealy says it's allegorical depictions of war and death give way to a parable of hope, rich in meaning for contemporary audiences.
Both productions will be performed April 26 and 28 at the Mt. Diablo Unitarian Universalist Church in Walnut Creek.
These and other fully-produced presentations may or may not save Festival Opera. Nealy says ticket revenue represents only 40 percent of an opera's cost, and with no civic funding (taxpayer subsidy support), she fears the trend represented by the recent closing of San Diego Opera will drift northward.
Nealy says opera is "part of the arts ecosystem," and hopes to bring back Opera in the Park, an event she says engages everyone from children to seasoned music lovers to local business owners.
Touting its benefits, she says "arts organizations rooted in the community can be depended on year after year to deliver professional performance experiences. "If people believe there is a place for Festival Opera in Walnut Creek, then the time to act is now, before it is too late."
Donations may be sent to Festival Opera, 1630 N. Main St. No. 61, Walnut Creek, CA 94596.