In January 1921, operatic diva Mary Garden was appointed music director (or “Directa” as she styled it) and the recently divorced McCormick promised to pay that year's difference exceeding $100,000, the previous high being $300,000. He planned on this being his last season, and he called in Mary Garden to finish the company with style. The subsequent blow-out season was finished with the hugely expensive world premiere of Sergei Prokofiev's“A Love for Three Oranges,” which had been commissioned by the Opera Association. This, and other extravagances on Mary Garden’s part, ended the season with a deficit of $1,100,000, most of which was paid for by the McCormick fund. Mary Garden as “Directa” for one season cost $750,000 more than any single season of opera in Chicago at that time. Coming as it did during a business recession, these deficits bankrupted the company.
The bankrupt Chicago Opera Association was soon succeeded by a successor company, the Chicago Civic Opera, under the direction of utilities magnate Samuel Insull. Sixteen of the eighteen directors were carried over from the old company.