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Austin Lyric Opera announces austerity measures

Jeanne Claire van Ryzin

Facing nearly $2 million in debt, Austin Lyric Opera on Wednesday revealed its newest austerity plans, which include cutting one-fourth of its performances and an aggressive fundraising effort that has already netted nearly $1 million.

The opera company will also discontinue handling its own box office functions and instead will team with the Long Center for the Performing Arts, which will handle all single-ticket and subscription sales for the opera.

Each of ALO's three productions this upcoming season will run for three shows rather than the usual four.

In addition, Kevin Smith, former president and chief executive of the Minnesota Opera for nearly 30 years, will begin as the ALO's interim director effective July 1. He will spend about two weeks in Austin each month and be available for consulting at other times. Smith will assist the board in a search for a general director.

Jo Anne Christian, president of the ALO board , said that the group hopes to have permanent director in place by the end of the year. She added that aggressive fundraising would continue and that nearly 100 percent of the board had stepped up to contribute.

Last month, ALO said its director of four years, Kevin Patterson , had departed amid reports of mounting debt.

Before the announcement in May, rumors swelled for months that the opera was considerably in arrears, with some insiders speculating that the organization would sell its building at 901 Barton Springs Road, across the street from the Long Center. In addition to administrative offices and a rehearsal hall, the building houses the opera's Armstrong Community Music School.

When asked about a possible sale of the building, Christian said that "everything was on the table."

"The economy dealt us the lowest blow," Christian said. "Our operas sold well, but if you don't have the contributed income, you can't make up the difference. We continue to look for ways to conserve money without cutting back on the quality of (our productions)."

jvanryzin@statesman.com; 445-3699