Published by
WQXR Features

City Opera Announces New Season While Performers Protest Move

Email a Friend

The financially-strapped New York City Opera announced on Tuesday its first season outside of Lincoln Center while musicians from the company staged a competing news conference nearby.

“For now, our home stage will be New York City itself, a glittering theater with eight million seats,” said George Steel, the company’s general manager and artistic director in a news conference at the Guggenheim Museum.

“There is tremendous artistic opportunity. We have a chance to match the repertoire we believe in with theaters that ideally suit that repertoire. We can make a custom fit.”

The company has previously stated that it will leave its longtime home at the David H. Koch Theater at Lincoln Center in an effort to cut costs. Last week, it was revealed that the company will travel to three different venues in 2011-12: the Brooklyn Academy of Music, the Gerald W. Lynch Theater at John Jay College and El Museo del Barrio.

But the move and the details of the performance schedule did little to subdue the anger of the unions representing the musicians and chorus singers, who staged a protest outside of the Guggenheim on Tuesday afternoon.

James Odom, the executive director of the American Guild of Musical Artists (AGMA) blasted the plans to leave Lincoln Center and renegotiate orchestra and chorus contracts. "AGMA and [Local] 802 understand that we have a vested interest in the fiscal viability of the company,” he said, referring to the two unions that represent orchestra and choral musicians at City Opera.

“We have done our part. We have made our sacrifices. Now we’re being asked to lay down and play dead and we will not do it.”

City Opera’s new season will open in February 2012 at the Brooklyn Academy of Music with productions of La Traviata, in a new staging by Jonathan Miller, followed by the New York premiere of Rufus Wainwright’s opera, Prima Donna. In March, the company will travel to John Jay College for Cosi fan tutte, led by director Christopher Alden.

In May, the company moves to the theater at El Museo del Barrio on 104th Street and Fifth Ave., where it will present Telemann’s rarely-heard Orpheus.

The company also announced a new partnership with the Public Theater to present operas based on Shakespeare plays at the Delacorte Theater in Central Park in the fall of 2012.

In announcing the season, Steel suggested that the company is looking at other venues for future seasons, including the Rose Theater at Columbus Circle and Broadway theaters. He left open the possibility of returning to its longtime home at the David H. Koch Theater (formerly New York State Theater) at Lincoln Center. “The door there is not closed to us,” he said. “We can return whenever it makes financial sense.”

Eileen McMahon, a spokesperson for Lincoln Center, said she was unaware of any agreement for City Opera to return to the arts complex in the future, adding, "we’re in discussion with potential users of the Koch Theater.”

The musicians’ agreement ran out with the company at the end of the 2010-11 season. Both sides predict a tough round of negotiations as they attempt to work out a new contract.

The musicians' protest was attended by several politicians, including New York State Senator Tom Duane, Assemblywoman Linda B. Rosenthal and City Councilwoman Gale A. Brewer, who demonstrated their support for the unions.

“We’re going to approach this as pragmatically as possible,” said Tino Gagliardi, the president of Local 802 of the American Federation of Musicians. "Hopefully at some point in time there can be a way to suggest a vision that would either maintain our presence at Lincoln Center or get us back there if we have to leave.”

In his prepared remarks, Steel noted that "the changes we’re seeking will be difficult for the people affected by them." Yet he maintained that the move from Lincoln Center, and the reduced schedule that will result, will save about $4.5 million. “We determined that if, in fact, we go rent other theaters, for a host of reasons they are much less expensive.”

Neither the Museo del Barrio or the Gerald W. Lynch Theater are union houses and therefore labor costs are considerably lower.

Steel said that City Opera has seen some “tangible” reactions to the plans from donors, including a $1 million pledge. “There’s tremendous support among our donor base for finding a financial model that’s stable,” he said. “The company has had a deficit for every year of the last decade.”

George Steel on leaving Lincoln Center:

AGMA Chief James Odom on the musicians' response: