San Diego Opera: Memories and a Turning Point

“There will come a time when you believe everything is finished; that will be the beginning.” – Louis L’amour

It’s been almost three years since I lived in San Diego, but this week it was almost as if I were transported back to the beach, back to the Civic Theater, right back into my memories of San Diego Opera by the outpouring of emotions following the announcement that SDO would be no more after this season. I know the sadness I feel is likely not at the level of those who have been part of SDO for many, many years or those of my friends who performed in the Verdi Requiem this past Thursday… But my heart is with you all.

I couldn’t help but reminisce about  my first production with SDO. Madame Butterfly, sung by Patricia Racette. How that was my first up-close experience with opera. How I was at a point in my life when I was truly questioning what I was doing with my life (working and not singing). How I desperately wanted to pursue music again. How I wanted to start voice lessons again. How I was cast as a super, and during a rehearsal found the courage to strike up a conversation with a chorister who referred me to a teacher.

That teacher, Dianna, would then introduce me Enrique, who hugely impacted my life and saw me off to graduate school. It was while studying with Enrique that I was hired for the SDO chorus for Turandot with Lise Lindstrom. That was my first experience singing in an opera. I still remember how nervous I was walking across the plaza from the parking garage to the rehearsal space. How excited I was to sign in on the chorister sign-in sheet. How unsure I was as to where I was supposed to sit and then the relief that there a seating chart. How magical it was to be part of that group, making that music together. How I loved every moment, didn’t mind the long rehearsals, couldn’t wait to do it again. How I was actually sick during one of the performance weekends and was on some crazy cough suppressant that made me a bit loopy. How my dressing room partner read my Tarot cards, and how I was so antsy about getting into grad school and wondering what life held in store for me.

I never had a concrete plan for moving back to San Diego, but I always hoped that I would have the chance to sing as part of the SDO family again. It is surreal that this hazy dream/assumption might not ever have a real shot at happening. Over the past few days, I’ve observed my friends and colleagues react to this shocking announcement and work through their emotions. There were expressions of deep sadness, a sense of loss, grief, bewilderment, denial, and yes, there was also disbelief and anger… and then I witnessed a turning point when beyond the anger was a seed of defiance, an unwillingness to just sit back and let this happen.

Times are changing. Every opera singer, every classical musician, everyone involved in the performing arts knows that keeping an opera company afloat is a challenge and that most companies are struggling. I’m watching my friends mourn the end of SDO while I try to reconcile myself to the idea of a San Diego withouth San Diego Opera. But I also see the ideas being thrown around, the passion this has stirred, the fight that my friends still have left in them.

To anyway who is reading this, to all my friends in San Diego, to all those who at one point thought about going to San Diego to be involved in opera – don’t give up this city, on music, on opera. When one door closes another opens. I have the feeling that something amazing will rise from these ashes.


La Jolla Cove. La Jolla, 2012.


4 responses to “San Diego Opera: Memories and a Turning Point

  1. Dear Joyce, When I saw the headline in the San Diego U-T and read Jim Chute’s front page article, I thought of you. But I didn’t know your personal connections with the San Diego Opera until I received your weblog post. I have only known you through the La Jolla Symphony and Chorus, and now I know how much deeper a connection you had with the musical arts in San Diego. How much greater, then, is your sense of loss. I wish all musicians of the world well in these challenging times, especially those who, like you, have set their professional goals so high. Your friend Bill

    • Hi Bill,

      The past few days have been quite surreal. I suppose few people go about their lives thinking that the tragedy they have read about in the papers (or online these days) will happen to them, which makes something like this that much more difficult to swallow. Other opera companies, other symphonies/orchestras have been folding… But for it to happen to SDO? Truly shocking. I am somewhat isolated, being so far away in NYC.. But I know there are many broken hearts and many tears in SD and across the country.

      I hope all is well with LJSC… It is even more vital for LJSC to continue its programming with SDO making an exit. All my best wishes to you, Ida, and the LJSC family.

  2. This is such a lovely post Joyce, but such a shame that such a disappointing turn of events prompted your post in the first place.
    My thoughts and best wishes are also with the artists of San Diego Opera. You have such a specific and personal connection to the company.
    I read that Boston Opera came back (with a new name) after closure. I hope that the optimism you have expressed here will come to fruition and that opera will return to San Diego.

    • Thank you, Simon. There has definitely been talk of how to prevent the closure as well as the possibility of a new company coming out of this… I truly can’t imagine all those artists packing away the tools of their trade and resigning themselves to a city with no opera. Nor can I imagine that all those artists would pick up and leave SD. All that talent and passion needs to be put to use somehow, so I’m very interested to see how things develop over the next few months and years.

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