After a dire financial crisis and a season roving the city's boroughs, New York City Opera will set down roots for its 2012-13 season, presenting two productions at City Center in midtown Manhattan, the company announced on Wednesday.
Along with returning to the very home it vacated in 1964 for Lincoln Center, the balance of the season will take place at the Brooklyn Academy of Music. The company has inked three-year deals with each venue.
Unlike the current season, which balanced both new and old, standard and obscure works, the coming season pushes forward with four brand-new productions of three rarities and one work on the fringes of standard rep. The announcement struck a tone of optimism for the company, both artistic and financial.
BAM, which was the site for this season’s opener of La traviata and follow-up in Prima Donna, will once again host the inaugural mainstage production for 2013, Thomas Adès’s Powder Her Face (Feb. 15-23). Written in 1995, Adès’s first opera, about the “dirty duchess” Margaret Campbell, was last seen in New York 15 years ago, also at BAM. Opening in February, Powder Her Face will follow on the heels of the Metropolitan Opera’s own production of Adès’s later work, The Tempest. Jay Scheib directs.
The following week (Feb. 24-March 2) will see a new production of Benjamin Britten's The Turn of the Screw (curiously, the Met’s coming season is bereft of Britten in this landmark centennial year). Sam Buntrock, responsible for the recent Broadway revival of Sondheim’s Sunday in the Park with George, directs this production. The conductor is Jayce Ogren (last seen conducting Prima Donna).
The company then returns to its original theater, the recently revamped New York City Center, in April for Rossini’s Moses in Egypt (April 14-20). Recently given a concert performance by the Collegiate Chorale at Carnegie Hall, this Moses will make use of the original score. As Steel commented at the announcement, it’s “safe to call them two separate operas.” This marks not only a return to rarities for the company, but also a nod to its bel canto roots established by Beverly Sills in her Tudor Queen trilogy, comprised of Donizetti's operas. Michael Counts, who directed City Opera's Monodramas in 2010, returns for this production, timed to coincide with Easter and Passover.
Closing the season is Offenbach's La Périchole (April 21-27), famous for its drunken mezzo aria "Ah quel diner" and focusing on the love triangle between a Peruvian street singer, her co-star and the local, corrupt viceroy. Christopher Alden returns to build on his reputation as an Offenbach director with works like Les Contes d’Hoffmann at Santa Fe Opera and various stagings for Opéra Français de New York.
Returning as well is the company’s American opera workshop VOX, which is slated for Nov. 8. This festival, which used to close the season, will now coincide with New Works Forum, an initiative by the service organization Opera America. With this, Steel hopes that more opera companies in town for Opera America activities will have the chance to see the workshops and in turn foster lives beyond VOX for the new works. An educational program continues with an abridged version of Unsuk Chin’s Alice in Wonderland.
Some key factors like casting have yet to be announced; instead Steel and NYCO board chairman Charles Wall’s trumpeted the fact that, for the first time in 12 years, the company is on track to ending the season with a balanced budget. Wall in turn noted that they were looking at a fully sold-out season for all performances (one, Telemann’s Orpheus, opens next month).
However, where that money comes from has begun to drastically shift: Responding to New York Times critic Anthony Tommasini’s question regarding ticket sales (a concern Tommasini stated in his review of Così fan tutte, where he noted that four sold-out nights at the Gerald W. Lynch theater didn’t add up to one sold-out night at the company’s former home at Lincoln Center), Steel compared the company’s continued mission of being an opera for the people to that of the Public Theater’s Shakespeare in the Park. "That’s why we’re tax-exempt,” he stated, noting as well that financial stability derived from ticket sales was “the wrong question for New York City Opera.”
With regards to Shakespeare in the Park, Steel noted that the company’s planned partnership with the Public Theater was still underway but would be happening in a subsequent summer. “We will expand on a sustainable basis,” he said to Superconductor’s Paul Pelkonen, envisioning ultimately a season with eight to ten productions a year that would once again make NYCO the second-largest company in the country (the company previously announced a Public Theater partnership to begin this summer).
The budget remains significantly reduced from its original operating costs at Lincoln Center, but for all the vitriol and criticisms lobbied at the company in the last year, its tentative steps towards recovery seem to be reaching the light at the end of the tunnel. To echo New York magazine’s Peter G. Davis, “after a long and rocky period beset by labor disputes, artistic miscalculations, money problems, and sheer bad luck, the landscape looks more settled.” He wrote that in 1984, when the company was under the directorship of Sills.