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updated: 10/17/2013 10:47 AM

Elgin Opera ceases operations

Donations, ticket sales aren't enough to keep it afloat

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  • Soloists with Elgin Opera team up with the New Millennium Orchestra and the Elgin Choral Union for the concert "Elgin Opera Goes Hollywood!" in 2011 at the Hemmens Cultural Center in Elgin.

    Soloists with Elgin Opera team up with the New Millennium Orchestra and the Elgin Choral Union for the concert "Elgin Opera Goes Hollywood!" in 2011 at the Hemmens Cultural Center in Elgin.
    File Photo


Citing "financial constraints and prior obligations beyond its control," the nonprofit Elgin Opera Wednesday announced its closing, effective immediately.

Donations have been dwindling and ticket sales don't generate enough to cover operational costs, officials said.

Without a facility of its own, the group has rented theaters -- Kimball Street Theatre and Sears Gallery -- at Elgin Academy for several years to mount productions.

"The overhead was just too much to sustain," Executive Producer Kimberly Albrecht said. "With the economy the way it is, even though we had a very loyal following, it's just very hard to keep the organization sustainable."

Opera board President John Patton said the organization's accounting books were in disarray when he joined the board in June.

"The way that the company was being operated, it didn't really have an annual budget," Patton said. "We went from performance to performance. We also didn't know where we were getting our money from for the last couple of years."

Operational costs -- to rent an office at Elgin Academy staffed with a secretary and equipped with a telephone, fax machine and copier -- range between $600 and $700 per month, he said.

"It's a little expensive to maintain," Patton said. "It's very clear to me that there is just not enough money coming into the company to afford all of those expenses."

Elgin Opera does not have a steady revenue stream. Funds from grants received in years past have dried up and donations also have trailed off in the last couple of years, Patton said.

Meager ticket sales also did not cover production costs, such as paying for professional singers, pianists and performance directors, which officials could not quantify.

A majority of the labor was donated by volunteers who did mailings, set up props for shows, sold tickets and helped spread the word, Albrecht said.

"Depending on the project that we were doing, we would have a couple of dozen people volunteering," said Albrecht, a soprano performing with the opera since 2007.

Some amateur performers also volunteered their time.

Albrecht said students from Channing Elementary School in Elgin, along with other students of all grade levels, performed in shows.

Over the years, several community organizations supported Elgin Opera with donations, including the Illinois Arts Council, Palmer Foundation, the city of Elgin, The Pauls Foundation, First Congregational Church of Elgin, Villa Verone Ristorante of Geneva, and L'Eiffel Bistrot & Creperie of South Barrington.

Artistic Director Susan Dennis said officials organized a major benefit each spring generating several thousand dollars and would solicit donations during shows.

"We didn't do anything until we raised the money," said Dennis, who teaches music at Elmhurst and Harper colleges. "It's kind of a sad affair in our country that the finer arts really struggle to survive. Some of the grants, you couldn't even apply for them unless you had a budget of $100,000."

Dennis and Albrecht, both lyric coloratura sopranos, said they plan to continue their creative partnership as Bravissimo, a vocal performance organization.

Upcoming projects include restaurant appearances and a Dec. 21 Christmas show at a venue to be determined.

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