The Kennedy Center and the Washington National Opera announced Thursday that they would become "affiliate" organizations, a decision made largely to save the opera company from financial ruin. The WNO's debt has grown to almost $12 million, according to various sources, even as its repertoire has dwindled to five performances per year. It's annual operating budget is about $27 million.

The merger with the Kennedy Center would allow the opera to eliminate its debt while maintaining its status as a separate nonprofit with its own board of trustees. Beginning July 1, the Kennedy Center will take over business, fundraising and marketing functions, which likely will lead to job losses from the opera's business staff.

"For me, it's not just a question of stabilizing [the WNO]," Kennedy Center President Michael Kaiser told the AP. "One of my goals is to build back their season. They're down to five operas a year, and we're hoping to do more in the future.

Kaiser, whose once ran London's Royal Opera House at Covent Garden, will also face the task of hiring a new general director to replace outgoing director Placido Domingo.

Nationwide, opera companies for years have been paring back performances and searching for new ways to raise money.

The Sacramento Opera, facing an $85,000 deficit, recently canceled the two remaining productions of its season. To deal with a 2009-10 deficit of more than $1 million, the San Francisco Opera mortgaged a building and trimmed its 2012-13 season from nine shows to eight.

Even New York's Metropolitan Opera opted for an unconventional money-grab: They've begun broadcasting operas live at movie theaters nationwide.

But while the financial picture may be bleak, District audiences likely will benefit from the Kennedy Center-Washington National Opera pairing, officials said.

"This affiliation will allow greater possibilities for opera productions in multiple venues throughout the [Kennedy] Center," Kaiser said.

Linda Levy Grossman, president and chief executive officer of the Helen Hayes Awards that honor the best of D.C. theater, said the move is "a tribute to the National Opera's viability."

"Any movement to keep the Washington, D.C., community as a vibrant center for the arts is a good move," Levy Grossman said.