After a year of upheaval within the company, the Portland Opera has decided to postpone the first half of its 2020-21 season.
The decision follows the cancellation of the final three shows of its current season, which would have taken place between May and July. Now, company has postponed the rest of its productions for this year—Frida and Tosca, two of the five shows next season.
"Every time the governor has a press conference," general director Sue Dixon tells WW, "I get this sinking feeling of, 'What else is going to happen to our industry?'"
Though the opera is hardly the only Portland institution forced to cancel programing and sustain heavy losses, the opera was just beginning to emerge from years of much-publicized financial problems.
"It adds to the losses from our recent cancellation, and it really amplifies our financial challenges," Dixon says of the postponement. "We've been really open and transparent about our financial challenges."
Last fall, the company released a multiyear strategic plan intended to stabilize the company and expand its reach.
Dixon says the company hasn't scrapped the plan, but it has had to reevaluate its implementation. Initially, the opera's immediate goal was to become financially solvent. But that's no longer possible now that the company has had to postpone shows for which it had already contracted artists and developed marketing plans—investments for which the opera has no idea when it will see a return.
"We're hoping that we can move all of those agreements to another date to be determined," says Dixon, "but we're still having those conversations."
Instead, the company is now "jumping ahead to year three" of the plan, "which is really about commissioning new works and collaborations and maybe co-producing with other opera companies."
For now, that means fast-tracking commissions, including works for the social distancing era that take into account the acoustic effect of keeping singers and musicians 6 feet apart.
"Normal doesn't exists anymore," says Dixon. "So really this is a time for experimentation."
Still, the chance to stir things up isn't much of a bright side.
"It's been heartbreaking all around," says Dixon. "For our staff, for our artists that we engaged."
Correction: An earlier version of this article stated that Portland Opera had postponed its entire season. WW regrets this error.