SARATOGA SPRINGS — Putting artistic quality first has paid off for Opera Saratoga with record-breaking attendance and a 252 percent increase in individual support, said Lawrence Edelson, artistic and general director.
“I inherited a company with financial problems,” said Edelson, who is entering his fourth year with the regional opera company, in an interview on Monday. “I spoke to the board about putting artistic quality first. It is a reversal of thinking ... but if you work with the highest artistic quality, the money will follow.”
During the opera company’s annual meeting on Sunday, Rosemarie Rosen, board president, said the company, under Edelson’s direction, has seen three consecutive years in the black and the company has reduced its accumulated deficit significantly.
“Over the past three years, Opera Saratoga has seen an increase in ticket sales revenue of 62 percent and a remarkable increase in individual support,” she reported, adding that total revenue in the 2017 fiscal year was $1.43 million and expenses were $1.38 million, which left a surplus of $48,000. A portion of the surplus will go toward 2018 programming and a portion will be applied to the accumulated debt.
Three years ago, Edelson set out to revive the heartbeat of the opera company.
“What we are now doing harkens back to the company under David Lloyd,” he said.
Lloyd was artistic director and general manager when it was still the Lake George Opera in the 1960s and ‘70s, and Lloyd, similar to Edelson, brought contemporary American operas to the area.
The Lake George Opera began in 1962, playing to an audience of about 230. Today as Opera Saratoga, the company performs for more than 25,000 in the region, both at their playhouse in Saratoga Spa State Park and performances in several counties in the region.
“My job is to give people something to be excited about,” Edelson said. “Every year, my goal is to put together a season that reflects the incredible power of opera and to tell vivid and compelling stories through music in very different ways.”
Edelson attributes the company’s success to several things, including bringing internationally acclaimed artists to Saratoga Springs, a deepening commitment to education and extensive community outreach.
“We have an obligation to make sure we touch the lives of people in the region regardless of income level,” he said. “We are really grateful we’ve had success. ... We exist to serve the community.”
Over the past three seasons, the company has launched a series of programs to increase accessibility of opera and classical vocal programs. They have traveled to galleries, bars and pubs to perform.
“We even did a performance out in the snow,” Edelson said, referring to an outdoor production of Schubert’s “Wintereisse” at Spa State Park.
Opera Saratoga’s program for seniors brings opera to senior centers, assisted-living facilities and memory centers in the region, and the “Opera To Go” program provides access to opera for 15,000 elementary school children each year.
According to Edelson, the upcoming summer season offers variety, excitement and a world premiere.
Summer opens with “The Merry Widow,” followed by “The Consul.”
“ ‘The Consul’ won a Pulitzer Prize — addressing issues of immigration and the bureaucracy of government. It is really beautiful and fascinating,” he said. “It is a political thriller.”
Rounding out the summer season is the double-bill of “Rocking Horse Winner,” about horse racing, and a new chamber version of “Vinkensport,” or “The Finch Opera.”
“It’s a lot like ‘Best in Show,’ but with birds,” Edelson said.
Additionally, the opera company will tour a production of the “The Ugly Duckling.” There will be 50 in-school performances of the Hans Christian Anderson fairy tale and the company will also present a series of free public performances at libraries, community centers and museums between Feb. 26 and March 30.
“Four years ago, Opera Saratoga set upon a new strategic direction by hiring Lawrence Edelson, and the 2016-17 season was a remarkable testament to the progress we have made,” said board chairman Robert C. Miller in a news release.