Los Angeles Opera Theater




Johanna Dordick
Founder & General Director

A Tale of Two Cities: L.A. and Chicago

Salt Lake City

by Dorothy Stowe
Deseret News Music Critic

Sunday, Dec. 22, 1985

This is a tale of two cities, and more specifically of two women - Johanna Dordick and Ardis Krainik - who direct (or directed) opera companies there. And perhaps there is a generality to be drawn from their experiences.

An interesting commentary on the arts in Los Angeles, actually a little drama of sorts, has been played out in that sprawling metropolis during the past year.

In April Johanna Dordick, the longsuffering and surprisingly effective founder and artistic director of the Los Angeles Opera Theater, finally submitted her resignation. She had risen above all odds to present five seasons of quality opera in a city notorious for its inability to successfully create and sustain dance and opera companies of permanent continuity. Nonetheless she was unseated, and Henry Holt appointed as artistic director in her stead.

Which would have been reasonably acceptable if things had gone well, since Holt is a respected music director who had success in Seattle and is now music director of the Baton Rouge Opera and co-director of opera at the University of Southern California.


However, it took Holt and his board little more than six months to throw in the sponge. Having lost its watchdog, the company moved from the perfectly respectable Ebell Theater to the more flashy Wiltern Theater. These expenses, coupled with over-budget set construction and stagehand costs, prompted Holt to declare that the LAOT “has neither the funds nor any reasonable prospect of raising sufficient funds to continue.”

Competition from the Los Angeles Music Center, which has also begun producing opera, was a factor in eroding fundraising capacity. Yet one has a hunch that gutsy Johanna Dordick, who had proved her effectiveness in a tough arena before, would have taken on the Music Center and won. After all, a city charging up on No. 1 population status in the country should be able to support more than one professional opera company.

Quite another story comes from Chicago, where Ardis Krainik took over the Chicago Lyric Opera in 1981. Five years ago the company was mired in debt and artistically stale, said Michael Conlon of Reuters. Today, in its 31st season, it is robust financially and musically and off on a $25 million expansion drive.

Which leads one to speculate - if Dordick had been given the same sort of support that Krainik has received, might there have been a comparable success story in Los Angeles? It’s a town that seems preoccupied with killing and devouring its artistic white knights.