New York City Opera Plans to Leave Lincoln Center, Cut Staff

Friday, May 20, 2011

In what amounts to an earthquake in the city's musical landscape, New York City Opera has announced plans to abandon Lincoln Center and perform in one or several smaller venues around New York starting next season. In doing so, the company will leap free of an immensely expensive David H. Koch Theater and attempt to strengthen its financial footing with a leaner budget, company officials said Friday.

The company’s board also agreed on a plan for five operas and three concerts starting in October. Plans are underway to significantly reduce the company’s staff and to eliminate guarantees for its unionized singers, dancers, chorus members and stage managers. It will pay them on a freelance basis instead.

The moves come after a day-and-a-half of tense meetings.

Specific details about which operas will be performed next season, at what venues with which singers are all up in the air. Typically, a new season is announced in March or April but City Opera – which is now swimming in a $5 million sea of debt -- has delayed any such announcement.

Abandoning the David H. Koch Theater will save $4.5 million in yearly costs, company officials told The New York Times. The company's budget for the fiscal year 2010 was $31 million.

The board of directors received a letter yesterday from AGMA, the singers union, demanding that trustees pressure general manager George Steel into more marketable programming. "George Steel's artistic vision may be brilliant, but it doesn't fill the seats," said the letter, alluding to the fact that only about 40 percent of available seats were filled this past season.

“They have the wrong programming,” said Alan S. Gordon, the National Executive Director of AGMA in an interview. “They don’t program popular operas. No one goes to see what they do program. The members would be capable of doing standard operas – Boheme, Butterfly, and Traviata – even with little rehearsal.”

City Opera's contracts with AGMA and Local 802 of the American Federation of Musicians, representing the orchestra, expired on April 29.

“I don’t see how they can survive doing what they’re going to do,” Gordon added. The just-completed season consisted of five main productions -- A Quiet Place, Intermezzo, L'elisir d'amore, Monodramas and Seance on a Wet Afternoon. Only L'elisir d'amore was considered standard repertoire.

A spokesman for New York City Opera did not respond to several requests for comment on Friday.

City Opera has attempted to jump ship in the past. Immediately after 9/11 it sought to get a new theater built at ground zero. In 2006, it came close to a deal to build a 1,800-seat concert hall in the base of a new apartment building planned for the former American Red Cross site near Lincoln Center. The latter did not proceed because of an inability to reach an agreement with the developer that owns the site.

Founded in 1943 and called "The People's Opera" by then-mayor Fiorello LaGuardia, the company has hosted some of the genre's greatest performers, such as José Carreras, Plácido Domingo and Beverly Sills.

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Comments [4]

Peter Weis from New York

$200-400 a ticket is why the seats are not filled. I understand the cost and value of the production but the prices are just to much, especially for a form of entertainment younger generations are just not educated about. Some one who has yet to discover the joys of the opera world is not going to take a chance on a $500 evening out with their spouse.

May. 21 2011 11:22 PM
Derek Jeter from Bronx

I bet they'll use Skirball Center for at least smaller events. For bigger productions, there's always BAM, of course. Or a Broadway theater. It has to be a venue with the backstage resources, of which there aren't too many in New York.

May. 21 2011 02:51 PM
Ira Ehrenkranz from morristown new jersey

I have been going to the operas since they were in City Center - 60 years ago. The best productions are the production of the standards.
Tix don't sell for the new oprera performances and they cost a fortune to mount. I agree going back to the City Center with a regularly season that is scheduled may work. Do operas for $35. @ tix - open it up to students, seniors, etc. Do movie theater satelite HD like the Met does. This Company can't be left to die on the vine ! This is a wonderful part of NYC's heritage !
New Jersey Commissioner of Film and TV Developement Commission.

May. 21 2011 10:09 AM
David from Flushing

That the City Opera is leaving Lincoln Center sounds like the end of the world--oh wait, my calendar says it is.

The question is where are they going? My guess it is either back to City Center or perhaps the Beacon Theater. A more economic venue might be Central Park. It would be novel to hear Boris in the snow or Porgy on a steamy August day.

May. 21 2011 07:43 AM

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