Impassioned Pleas Make the Case for Saving New York City Opera

Tuesday, June 07, 2011

A growing chorus of industry experts and influential musicians is speaking up about the current travails of New York City Opera.

The company’s plans to move out of Lincoln Center for undetermined locations in New York City next season comes as it struggles to close a $5 million deficit, a shrinking endowment and declining ticket sales.

The conductor Julius Rudel, who made his debut at City Opera in 1944, and served as its general director from 1957-1979, wrote an Op-Ed in The New York Times arguing against leaving of Lincoln Center. Among his main points: "The location has become a scapegoat for the hardships of a company that has suffered from inconsistent leadership by its board and a failure to engage in the smart programming and strategic planning that companies need to survive in hard times.”

In MusicalAmerica.com, George Loomis, a prominent music journalist, publishes an open letter to Michael Bloomberg in which he pleads for mayoral intervention.

Noting that it was Mayor Fiorello La Guardia who played a key role in creating the company, Loomis asks for Bloomberg’s help in identifying potential new donors, brokering a leadership transition, and getting Lincoln Center to play a larger role in saving the company.

“New York’s artistic reputation is at stake,” Loomis writes. “For the good of the city, I urge you to follow Major La Guardia’s model of active involvement.”

Finally, the opera critic Manuela Hoelterhoff writes a column in Bloomberg News in which she shares her favorite memories of City Opera. She closes by arguing that Joseph Volpe, the ex-general manager of the Metropolitan Opera, should be enlisted in the cause. "Volpe, as I recall, actually offered to help NYCO not so long ago, only to be turned down. Now is a good time to step forward."

What do you think of these columns? What's needed next for City Opera? Please share your thoughts below:

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Comments [3]

Ray Evans Harrell from New York City

If you want an audience you have to develop it and New York, as wonderful as it is, is not enough to sustain a genuine national artistic identity. You need to bring along the whole country.

Today, New York City can’t even figure out what to do with an “extra” opera company at Lincoln Center. Today, we have as many classical music stations in NYCity as there were in Tulsa when I went to college there in the 1950s. When I came in 1970 there were three classical stations. In many ways NYCity is becoming culturally destitute.

One example is that fact that there is no serious Chamber Opera Theater in New York. Chamber Operas are found all over England and Europe but America doesn’t understand the value of Chamber Opera like the Big Apple Circus and Cirque Du Soleil has to the circus. Same principles. Small, less expensive but just as spectacular and up close and in your face great theater as opposed to the alienating six story and 80 feet from the stage of most “Grand Opera” systems. New York City has NO professional Chamber Opera companies or theaters.

All you have is a magnificent Leviathan consuming everything and drawing everything into itself. And you have a wannabe Leviathan that is now leaving the field in disgrace. Where is the imagination here folks? Art begins with Truth and progresses to beauty. You first have to justify your existence and then tell why it isn’t working.

In the same way that some famous dance sponsors deny climate change as the world is consumed, so do we have a massive denial of the serious problems that plague us and are destroying America’s artistic life. Time to begin to change that or give in to the latent provincialism that has always been a curse of the nation.

Jun. 08 2011 05:17 PM
Ray Evans Harrell from New York City

One of two
The problem for City Opera is not hard to find. No large ensemble in America makes more than 60% of their income on sales. It's impossible. Not even the Metropolitan Opera comes close. What is required, in every case, is a stunning support base of wealthy contributors and government tax deductions for every ensemble to exist. What is always said is that the Koch family donated 100 million to the NYState theater. What is NOT said is how much of that 100 million the American taxpayers gave back to the Kochs as a tax deduction. It takes both the super wealthy and the U.S. taxpayer to make every large ensemble in America a viable artistic entity.

On the one hand you have an opera company, the Metropolitan Opera, that spends more almost by twice than any other opera company in the world, and more than all of the American Opera companies combined in its yearly budget. Also with a tremendous endowment and management system that sends its video products out into the rest of the country rather than stimulating local live operatic products. The same thing the movies did to local theater after 1929.

On the other hand you have a dance company that would rather have a pure dance theater at Lincoln Center. Perhaps they are correct. Perhaps only dance companies should share the State Theater.

What would happen if NYCity Opera opted to share the Met facility with the Metropolitan, had differing seasons and didn't compete and take each other's audiences? They could help each other survive. What would happen if both companies bonded in an outreach program to strengthen regional companies through generic high quality sharing of technology and productions. (And I don’t mean between just four huge theaters like today’s “shared” productions.) Make a genuine opera theater system like the major leagues do for baseball with necessary “farm teams.”

Make a generic standard of quality for all theaters and spread the wealth around so that American audiences can learn about the great art forms from the ground up.

Once upon a time there was great opera all over America and New Orleans was a rival to San Francisco and New York. It was said that you could see all of the cultures of European opera within a subway ride in New York City.
Then we cheapened and dumbed down.

Jun. 08 2011 05:17 PM
David from Flushing

These are evil days for opera in both cultural and economic terms. What is most needed is for the NYCO to find its financial footing again. This might require several seasons of "popular" operas using existing scenery and costumes. This is obviously not new and exciting artisically, but economic reality must take center stage at this point.

Recently, there have been a number of articles noting the 30th anniversary of the discovery of AIDS. Back in the 1970s, one would see a large number of male couples at NYCO, the rest of Lincoln Center, and the Metropolitan Museum. Today, one sees few and they tend to be under age 45. This is one aspect of audience decline that cannot be ignored.

Jun. 07 2011 08:54 PM

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