Brian Wise covers the classical music business for WQXR, including aspects of performance, technology, philanthropy and institutional trends. He produces the Café Concerts series and the podcast/show Conducting Business. He manages the station's homepage and makes sure what you hear on air is what you see online. Follow him on Twitter at @Briancwise.
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.
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."
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.