More Tough Times for New York City Opera

Friday, April 08, 2011

New York City Opera finds itself in financial trouble again, postponing announcement of its next season until it completes a full review of its finances and irons out a balanced budget.

The company currently faces a $5 million deficit. City Opera’s new chairman, Charles R. Wall, has donated $2.5 million of his own money to help stem the deficit. Wall took the chairman position of City Opera in January 2011, following a 2001-2008 run as a member of the company's board.

Under the guidance of general manager and artistic director George Steel, City Opera has sought to differentiate itself from the Metropolitan Opera as well as the smaller, upstart opera companies in New York by presenting a diverse collection of lesser-known works.

“George has had an enormous challenge in trying to reduce the size of the budget and therefore the level of activity that they’re doing and still keeping the artistic ambitions high,” commented New York Magazine classical music critic Justin Davidson. “If the company is perceived as doing things on the cheap or doing things that are not that interesting, then they’re whole reason for existence goes out the window.”

This season at City Opera brought Leonard Bernstein’s A Quiet Place and Strauss’s Intermezzo, neither of which packed the house. For spring 2011, the company prepared L’Elisir d’Amore by Donizetti, Monodramas, one-acts by John Zorn, Morton Feldman and Schoenberg and Séance on a Wet Afternoon by Stephen Schwartz. New York City Opera has struggled with both financial uncertainty and leadership hurdles in recent years following the sudden appointment and then departure of Gerard Mortier to the general manager position in 2008. Steel arrived shortly thereafter.

Ticket sales are not the salve to sooth City Opera’s financial needs, Steel noted. “The way to plug that hole is not from selling tickets. You want to sell tickets, and create audience excitement, but mostly that’s how the donations come in. All these things are circular. People are not going to give money to a company that is either too safe or too far out.”

City Opera’s neighbor, the Metropolitan Opera, announced its coming season earlier this year. The Met will present seven new productions, including a complete Ring cycle, in the 2011-2012 season.

“The Met is squeezing City Opera in a way that it didn’t used to,” Davidson said. “They’re honing in on productions that are more adventurous.

City Opera officials were not immediately available for comment, but one staff member who wished to remain anonymous said the financial review will not compromise the company’s artistic vision for the future.

But money is on the mind at City Opera. The company is currently advertising for only one position on its website: a fundraising gig. “The Development Officer will be responsible for maintaining and soliciting a portfolio of 75 to 100 donors and prospects contributing $10,000 and more annually, and will work with Board leadership to grow the major giving program,” the advertisement read.

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Comments [3]

Jane from East Village

I'm close to 70 and unable to donate so not the demographic that can save City Opera anyway. I do appreciate their fresher, younger voices, interesting operas, and the small size of the house compared to the Met. However, now that David Koch has bought the naming rights, I can't enter the theater. It feels the same as crossing a picket line.

Apr. 10 2011 12:17 PM
David from Flushing

City Opera has always had the disadvantage of sharing an acoustically poor theater with a ballet company. In some respects, they are victims of their own success in bringing in new audiences---they subsequently gravitate to the better performers found at the Met. One also cannot ignore the great loss of audience members because of the AIDS epidemic.

I very much fear that we are in a 20 year countdown to the end of what many of us cherish in classical music. I do not expect to be around for the bitter end, but can relate to the song in "Gigi," "I'm glad I'm not young anymore."

Apr. 08 2011 06:37 PM
Kenneth Bennett Lane from M

I can appreciate the dilemma facing the NYCO with an economy faltering and a diminished audience due to a nearly complete lack of non-commercial support from TV, radio, and the school systems. Also, the sparsity of outstanding teachers for the vocal students.
If the government is shut down, our country will lose much more than our cultural institutions. Public broadcasting and the universities along with most of what we need as civilized citizens of the world will be lost to us for who knows how long. it is important to have, especially in singing, the best of instruction. The Scandinavian countries do realize that fact. I have had the advantage of studying voice with the MET OPERA's Wagnerian superstars Friedrich Schorr, Alexander Kipnis, Margarete Matzenauer, Karin Branzell and Martial Singher, studying with them at Juilliard, New York College of Music or As the Met Opera continues to become more and more relevant and extends its reach, we may hope for a new Renaissance of opera lovers and performers.

Apr. 08 2011 04:20 PM

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