2016 Financial Statement

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An open letter from David T. Ormesher, Chairman of the Board

Dear All,

As I reflect on our 2015/16 season, I am struck again by how far we have come in our first 61 years and, more specifically, by what has been achieved in the five years we have been led by our acclaimed general director – and now president & CEO – Anthony Freud.

Anthony came to Lyric with a vision to reimagine the artistic possibilities and operational needs of a grand opera company. Together, we have solidified Lyric’s reputation as one of the world’s premier opera companies, engaged with our community in new ways and taken additional steps to maximize our financial resources. There are many examples of our commitment to artistic excellence, relevance and fiscal stewardship:
  • Year after year, Lyric has delivered artistically thrilling performances, many that have challenged audiences to think about society in different ways. Our artists, led by Anthony, our music director Sir Andrew Davis, and creative consultant Renée Fleming, are among the best in the world, and we are proud to be a destination for world-class talent as we continue to build our repertoire of grand opera. We also remain enthusiastic about popular initiatives such as the American Musical Theater Initiative that help us to reach new audiences while also diversifying our revenue sources. 
  • Projects supported by our Lyric Unlimited community engagement and education initiative – which we launched just 5 years ago – reached nearly 100,000 people last year. These projects allow us to engage our community in fresh and relevant ways, build relationships with new partners who value our commitment to reaching beyond the traditional walls of the opera house, and to advance our artform. 
  • Funds raised through our Breaking New Ground campaign have allowed us to begin a longterm priority of modernizing our stage equipment and infrastructure. We have begun to modernize our lighting, rigging capabilities, hoists, motors, lifts, turntable and projectors to make our stage more adaptable to the demands of modern productions and enable us to share more productions with fellow companies. These near-term investments ensure we are able to present cutting-edge performances. Modernization of the stage will also allow us to ultimately lower production costs by eliminating the need for the time-consuming fixes and temporary work-arounds our stage crews have been implementing for years. 
Indeed, I am incredibly proud of everything the Lyric team – including our artists, Board members, staff, donors and partners – has achieved over the past year. I look forward to continuing to work closely with the team to build on this foundation to create an even stronger Lyric for the future.

With sincere gratitude to all who have contributed to our journey,

David Ormesher
David T. Ormesher
Chairman of the Board

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An open letter from Anthony Freud, Lyric’s General Director, President & CEO

Dear All,

Lyric, as a major opera company, has a dual core purpose: to provide a broad, deep and relevant cultural service to Chicago, and to advance the development of our art form. Our 61st season reflects our dedication to this purpose and an aspiration to secure for this company an artistically thrilling, socially relevant and financially sustainable future.

We opened our 2015/16 season with Barbara Gaines’s captivating new production of Mozart’s The Marriage of Figaro, to great critical and popular acclaim. The excitement remained high throughout the season with diverse repertoire, outstanding musical and theatrical qualities, and a remarkable array of Lyric Unlimited activities.

The promise that music director Sir Andrew Davis and I have made to our audiences is to give them thrilling, life-enhancing and thought-provoking performances, year over year. Sir Andrew’s own artistry is at the core of that commitment, and in 2015/16, his virtuosity and passion were once again on display as he led three works for the first time in his extraordinary career: Rossini’s Cinderella, in an irresistibly witty and sparkling interpretation; Berg’s Wozzeck, a devastatingly moving experience for our audience; and Jimmy López’s Bel Canto, to which Sir Andrew contributed memorably not only in the performances themselves, but also in the collaborative process that resulted in this triumphantly successful world-premiere production. Sir Andrew also made his own special contribution to Lyric’s celebration of the holiday season with his return to a work he has always relished, Lehár’s The Merry Widow.

The season saw hugely satisfying revivals of Verdi’s Nabucco, Strauss’s Der Rosenkavalier, and Gounod’s Romeo and Juliet. The company also continued our American Musical Theater Initiative with one of Rodgers and Hammerstein’s most captivating and beloved shows, The King and I. The overall Initiative continues to be extremely successful in providing both great art on stage and sharing it with many audiences that are new to Lyric.

Lyric Unlimited, one of the most dynamic and innovative facets of the company, was tremendously successful throughout 2015/16. It produced three impressive events connected with the world premiere of Bel Canto (a dialogue between Renée Fleming and novelist Ann Patchett; a program of chamber music selected by Jimmy López; and a panel discussion involving the production’s creative team and cast). The latest Lyric Unlimited commission, Second Nature, an opera for young people, with music and libretto by the phenomenally gifted Matthew Aucoin, was enormously well received. The season also included the launch of Lyric Unlimited’s most ambitious project to date, Chicago Voices, a groundbreaking, multi-year initiative celebrating Chicago’s vibrant, diverse vocal music culture.

In every way, Lyric Unlimited activities are giving resonance and context to our mainstage productions, while creating true community partnerships outside the walls of the Opera House. It is an outstanding achievement, and a tribute to this company’s ongoing success in community engagement, that approximately 100,000 people were reached through Lyric Unlimited activities in 2015/16.

Our work continues to be inspired by Renée Fleming’s ongoing presence as Lyric’s creative consultant. All of us at Lyric marvel at Renée’s passionate commitment to the company, her extraordinary intelligence, limitless resourcefulness, and energizing imagination. She is the guiding spirit behind Chicago Voices, bringing all of her experience and fresh ideas to a project that will continue to have impact on our community, far beyond its inaugural year.

At Lyric, we believe in the importance of arts and culture to our society, in the transformational power of great art, and in the value and relevance of a great opera company to our city. Simply stated -- Lyric exists to ignite transformation through art.

I am enormously grateful to our audiences, our donors, our five volunteer boards, our artists, and our staff, on whose commitment and generosity Lyric's success is built.

Long Live Passion,

Anthony Freud
Anthony Freud
General Director, President & CEO

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An open letter from Roberta Lane, Chief Financial Officer

Dear All,

When I joined Lyric nearly two years ago as Chief Financial Officer, I accepted a clear mandate: to support Lyric in fulfilling its artistic mission by ensuring we continue to be a responsible steward of our financial resources. 

Lyric has long benefited from the support of our loyal donors and subscribers and from the tireless efforts of our Boards. When I joined Lyric, there were a number of initiatives underway to reduce production and administrative costs without sacrificing quality. We have continued to build on these efforts. We have also continued to benefit from the success of our Breaking New Ground campaign, which afforded us the ability to present a breakeven 2015/16 season.

This is a significant accomplishment, especially within the context of the broader economic trends affecting cultural institutions around the country. It is important to understand that this breakeven year was only possible because of the innovative new programs introduced over the past few years and the tremendous generosity of our donors. 

Looking more closely at our results, I am pleased to report that Lyric’s operating revenue and support is up 4% compared to our 2015 fiscal year. The increase is driven by a 3% increase in revenue from ticket sales and a 4% increase in contributions. Our Board and leadership team are to be commended for their foresight in diversifying Lyric’s revenue stream by launching the American Musical Theater Initiative in 2013. Last year’s The King and I was very successful financially. We also enjoyed revenue contributions from our Lyric Unlimited programming and in the more frequent rental of our majestic spaces in the Civic Opera House.  

Over the course of the past year, Lyric implemented a comprehensive Operations and Financial Assessment process to look for opportunities to bring greater efficiencies to our administrative functions. This four-month process was led by a leading management consulting firm as a pro-bono project, with both the costs and the in-kind services (valued at $1.3 million) reflected on our income statement as both revenue and as administrative expense. The increase seen in administrative costs is primarily driven by this project, not out-of-pocket expenses, and is off-set by the in-kind revenue. It is very important for our supporters to know that we continue to be very focused on managing our overall costs – particularly those administrative expenses that do not directly appear on our stage.

The other key component of reported contributed revenue is an $8.6 million use of funds raised through our Breaking New Ground campaign. This $104 million campaign was conceived to strengthen the balance sheet, modernize our stage, fund new productions and provide general operating support. As a source of contributed revenue, it is used to supplement annual revenue to help fund annual general operating costs. That said, we are nearing the end of this campaign as evidenced by the decline of pledges receivable on the balance sheet. Many of the multi-year pledges to the campaign are being paid and new contributions to the campaign are slowing down, as anticipated.  We consider these trends to be consistent with the normal lifespan of a fundraising campaign in any non-profit organization. However, this trend presents us with the new challenge of contemplating our next major campaign.

In closing, I reiterate my confidence in Lyric’s future. I have been incredibly impressed by the commitment our Board, management team, artists and staff have shown in ensuring we maintain the right balance between artistic excellence, community relevance and fiscal responsibility. We are taking important steps to ensure Lyric continues to thrive and I look forward to building on this momentum to ensure Lyric remains a vibrant cultural institution for many generations to come.

Thanks to all of you who continue to support this mission. 

Roberta Lane
Roberta Lane
Chief Financial Officer

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View Lyric Opera of Chicago's full FY16 financial statement.