Opera Venues in New York City: A Scorecard

Friday, May 27, 2011

New York City Opera has announced it is leaving the 2,550-seat David H. Koch Theater at Lincoln Center for other venues starting next season. It has yet to say where it will go, or what operas it will present. The organization did suggest some parameters: three of the operas will be suitable for a larger house, and two for smaller spaces. Where do you think City Opera should go? Read about some possible candidates and share your opinions in the comments box below.

Gerald W. Lynch Theater at John Jay College

Seating capacity: 605 seats

What’s good: The space has a large stage and proscenium (36'w x 19'h) and an ample orchestra pit. It has generous wings for sets and stage machinery. Gotham Chamber Opera has presented several productions here and according to managing director David Bennett, it is "very satisfied" with the space.

Potential drawbacks: Located at 59th Street and 10th Avenue, it's convenient to other arts institutions but, conversely, it is closely identified with Lincoln Center.


City Center

Seating capacity: 2,255

What’s good: It has a proven track record as an opera and theater venue, being the theater in which City Opera was founded. The entire neo-Moorish building is currently undergoing a renovation, with plans for new and reconfigured seating in the main auditorium, better sightlines, renovated lobbies and various back-of-house improvements. A reopening is slated for Oct. 25.

Potential Drawbacks: New York City Opera left here for Lincoln Center in 1964 and to some it might suggest a step backwards. With a 45' by 43' proscenium, the space has been called cavernous and quirky.


BAM Harvey Theater & Howard Gilman Opera House

Seating capacity: 874 (Harvey) and 2,090 (Howard Gilman)

What’s good: Regularly used for BAM’s opera and theater productions, it has an established brand name and subscriber base. Its identity is closely aligned with the kind of adventurous and unusual productions that George Steel has sought to champion at City Opera.

Potential drawbacks: Some Manhattan audiences balk at the notion of traveling to Fort Greene, Brooklyn. As union houses, insiders note that the two venues wouldn’t be much cheaper than the David H. Koch Theater.


Park Avenue Armory Drill Hall

Seating capacity: N/A

What’s good: At 38,000 square feet, it is one of the city’s largest column-free spaces and has been used for some major performing arts spectacles.

Potential drawbacks: A blank slate, it lacks some of the basic ingredients of an opera house including a seating area, a stage and backstage.

Photo: A computer rendering of the full-scale replica of the Stratford-upon-Avon theater to be constructed in the Park Avenue Armory (gothamist.com)

The Playhouse, Abrons Arts Center (Henry Street Settlement)

Seating capacity: 300

What’s good: An intimate space (stage: 25' x 25'), it’s well-suited for Baroque operas and chamber productions. The computer-controlled lighting and sound systems are thoroughly modern. Gotham Chamber Opera has staged productions here.

Potential drawbacks: The pit can only accommodate about 20 musicians. Some may find the Lower East Side location remote and lacking in glitz.


Jack H. Skirball Center for the Performing Arts, NYU

Seating capacity: 860

What’s good: New York City Opera has an established relationship with this medium-sized space, having staged its spring VOX Festival programs here. At 860 seats, it is fully-equipped for opera but isn’t overwhelming in scale. The Greenwich Village location is very central.

Potential drawbacks: Because the theater sits largely below ground, it can be an added challenge to load equipment and sets. Being part of a university, the theater maintains a busy schedule of producers and rentals. Michael Harrington, Skirball's senior director writes in an e-mail: "The technical support space is not as grand as it may be in other venues around town... but I think we hold our own for a facility our size in the NYC market. Acoustically, the hall's strength is clarity."

Apollo Theater

Seating capacity: 1475

What’s good: Located in the heart of Harlem, it would enable City Opera to reach out to a non-traditional constituency and display its populist credentials. It's a theater with a storied history.

Potential drawbacks: Some audiences may balk at the location.


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Comments [8]

Ben from NYC

Hey Brunhillde, Patelson's closed because they never had what anyone wanted, and the staff went well out of their way to make shoppes feel like complete jerks for being in the store. I would shop there as a teen, and they always made me feel bad about myself. Also, all my teachers, some of them very well known NYC musicians said that the staff treated them with the same disrespect. That place did not go out of business because NYC doesn't respect culture. Rather, musicians stopped shopping there because they were sick of their act.

Jul. 20 2011 04:42 PM
Brunhillde from NYC

As an opera singer, both here in NY and in Europe, I am glad the problem of having adequate theaters is finally coming to the fore! It is shameful that NY does not have at least one theater where small opera companies could put productions on - instead of using a high school auditorium, church basement, etc. These are the proving grounds for budding opera singers. I often wanted to transform the "Metro" on the upper west side, and even years ago, the "David" which I believe was a gay theater. I was hoping someone with vision could have transformed the large theater on 8th Ave. in the 50's which was empty for years until the Gray Line NY Sightseeing Tours took over. (They could have housed themselves in a storefront office building - why destroy a theater with a stage and seating???) I truly feel badly for NYCO, and it brings chills to me when I think of them and just to name two musical "stalwarts" - the wonderful G. Shirmer store on E. 48th that is no longer and Patelson's on W. 56th that is no longer. This great cultural (?) city of NY seems not to care about cultural at all, nurturing its arts. NY also used to have cold water flats where theater folk and artists could live VERY cheaply (no hot water) and Alphabet City, when I grew up, house many, many artists and students who were able to survive in the city and didn't mind a bathtub in the kitchen and the WC shared with the whole floor down the hall. Good luck, NYCO. If you can't find a space, New Yorkers will just have to see and hear opera on TV (who can afford to go to the Met) or rent those oldie opera videos.

Jun. 03 2011 11:03 AM
Ray Evans Harrell

In 2003-04 as a part of the American Masters Arts Festival in NYCity, honoring Ned Rorem's 80 birthday year, we produced an “Interactive Management” conference that examined many of the same issues that the City Opera is now dealing with.

The question being analyzed concerned the viability of multiple venues in American Arts Centers with repertory ensembles in residence. We examined and a strategic design on how to create performing arts structures based in a “resident repertory company model” with orchestra and multiple theaters under 1000 seats.

Our panel included professional singers and instrumentalists, representatives from government, the music business, System’s Scientist John N Warfield and economist William Baumol - was moderated by Interactive Management team Dr. Benjamin Broome and Dr. Roxana Cardenas and was led and assembled by myself and John N. Warfield. We held the conference in a suburb of Washington, D.C. at the Enterprise Integration (EI), Inc. headquarters and was sponsored by EI President Dr. Tom Gulledge.

The conference found that 1.) IF the initial capitalization was there and 2. IF there was a top of the line generic theatrical instrument from one venue to another, THEN productions could flow from venue to venue at minimal cost and even profit, compared to the “one of kind” NFP extravaganzas America has as an opera life. The key was multiple performances, generic design, live performance and artistic quality.

We found that there are many successful models in American life that can be drawn on for building the audiences.

Two problems were pointed out in the conference problematique: 1. a lack of vision about the ultimate meaning of opera itself as work rather than leisure. 2. the inability to initially capitalize such a long term venture from the current American private sector with the government essentially unavailable, due to political issues.

Ray Evans Harrell, Artistic Director
The Magic Circle Opera Repertory Ensemble, Inc.
The American Masters Arts Festival, Biennial
The Magic Circle Training
200 West 70th Street, New York City 10023

May. 28 2011 09:26 PM

It's terribly sad to see that the Art capital of the America, with international pretensions, with the most expensive opera company on earth by about twice, cannot afford a genuine national company that develops American works and American Artists. The big mistake was attaching David Koch's name to anything having to do with the Arts. It should have remained the New York State Theater for real New Yorkers and not the Kansas rich folks.

What we all need is another Beverly Sills and Julius Rudel.

Lincoln Center has become the artistic equivalent of America's multi-national corporations (with no loyalty anywhere) and a desire to destroy local ensembles with video performances that are aurally below par while making opera a recorded "canned" visual experience rather than the total experience that it is supposed to be. (Think Bayreuth as your ideal. America's Bayreuth is Broadway which succeeds for the same economic reasons.)

What a pitiful place New York has become compared to George Templeton Strong's New York where you could find every type of world opera performance playing every night of the week. All of those opera houses are now replaced with two at Lincoln Center, one Brooklyn and one in Harlem. And sorrowfully, one classical music station as well. God bless America and Capitalism "works." Just ask David Koch who would kill the Arts with a flat tax while building a theater that killed the great New York City Opera.

May. 28 2011 03:04 PM
David from Flushing

The use of the Park Avenue Armory as a concert venue was given a second try for the May Music Festival of 1882. Even with sound reflectors hung above the stage, and fabric elsewhere to absorb echoes, the voices of soloists could not be heard beyond the closest part of the seating. On the occasion of Handel's "Israel in Egypt," the exodus of dismayed patrons was so great that the performance had to be halted to allow their departure. (NYT 6 May 1882)

Fortunately, the bad acoustics of the armory gave rise to a movement for the construction of a large concert hall. We know this today as Carnegie Hall.

May. 27 2011 07:17 PM
Esther Schweizer from Westchester county

Nobody at NYCO considers loyal people coming from Westchester and CT who attend performances? Right now Lincoln Center is more convenient to catch the subway/shuttle and to run for the train in Grand Central. I can't image the transportation nightmare for the considered new theater locations! I think NYCO will loose a great many patrons from the Tri-state Area if this move is going to happen. I love NCYO but will subscribe to the MET.

May. 27 2011 06:04 PM

Opera Night at the Apollo!
It would take some planning, but I like the idea of an opera company doing full productions at venues in all boroughs.

May. 27 2011 02:34 PM
Robert Crockett from Savannah, GA

As someone who lived way uptown in Washington Heights for over fifteen years, I love the concept of opera in the Apollo!

May. 27 2011 02:05 PM

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