Today was the opening performance of Puccini's La Boheme at the San Francisco War Memorial Opera House. The opera was quite good and I highly recommend it.
Before the show, director David Gockley came on stage with an announcement that the turbulence in the rest of the economy is affecting the San Francisco Opera Company as well. He reassured us that certain standards would not be compromised, but advised the audience of uncertain times ahead in terms of its finances.
Now, this announcement must sound pretty strange to anyone going to operas there for the past few years. I was there at the performance of Madama Butterfly two years ago when he announced a $30 million gift, and since then even that was superceded by a $35 million donation. You would think that kind of money might last them a couple years. But at the performance today (I wish I had a written script of it) he mentioned problems with the "liquidity" of general funds, and access to capital. He sounded genuinely distressed, rather than the usual perfunctory plea for our donations. Nearly every opera I go to is full so ticket sales should not be a problem, which he confirmed was the case.
So what did they do with $65 million in donations... go out and try to flip houses in Sacramento? If that is the case, I say they can just burn opera scripts to stay warm. Or might certain endowments be (and none were mentioned by name) securities packages based on "mark-to-fantasy" (AKA mark-to-model) values that are really nearly worthless, such that the benefactors can write them off as charitable contributions?
Given how much press there was about the donations, hopefully more information on this matter will be revealed over time.