Cash Crisis Threatens New York City Opera Season

Sunday, September 08, 2013 - 04:00 PM

New York City Opera will be forced to cancel most of its current season and all of next season if it does not raise $20 million by the end of the year, company officials said on Sunday.

The company revealed the steep shortfall just before its season opens on Sept. 17 with the American premiere of Mark-Anthony Turnage’s opera Anna Nicole, a co-production with the Brooklyn Academy of Music. That highly-anticipated production has enough funds to proceed, City Opera said in a statement, but the rest of the season will be scrapped if it cannot raise $7 million by Sept. 30.

Specifically at stake are three productions: J.C. Bach's Endimione, Bartok’s Bluebeard’s Castle and Mozart’s Marriage of Figaro. The entire 2014-15 season will be cancelled as well if an additional $13 million isn't raised by the end of this year.

"We have reached a crossroads," said George Steel, City Opera’s general manager and artistic director in the statement. "Simply put, we need capitalization, both for the rest of this season and for the company to continue forward on solid financial footing.”

The emergency fundraising appeal comes as the company appeared to be returning to some measure of stability. In an Operavore interview in April, Steel said the company was on track to its second straight balanced budget. But the current problems came to a head two weeks ago, after some pledges expected over the summer fell through, Steel told the Wall Street Journal.

In 2011, City Opera embarked on a painful – and controversial – period of downsizing after a financial crisis. It moved out of its longtime home at Lincoln Center and became a touring outfit. It renegotiated musicians' contracts (cutting salaries by some 80 percent), laid off staff and auctioned off decades' worth of old sets and costumes in order to trim costs. It is currently presenting four shows a year, down from as many as 16 a decade ago.

City Opera has launched an online Kickstarter campaign to raise $1 million of its $7 million goal for September.

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Comments [9]

Kenneth Bennett Lane, Lake Hiawaha, NJ from Richard Wagner Music Drama, Institute, Boonton, NJ


Let's not forget that the first general manager and chief conductor of the New York City Opera was LASZLO
HALASZ, appoInted by Mayor Fiorello La Guardia. Halasz integrated the orchestra with a female black tympanist, Broadway stage directors and set and costume designers and commissioned and performed works by American composers including Leonard Bernstein. I studied my operatic roles, Wagner, Verdi, Puccini,Richard Strauss, Rossini, Donizetti, and Meyerbeer with Maestro Halasz for 30 years. I am a Wagnerian heldentenor, opera composer and director of the Richard Wagner Music Drama Institute. Our country's emphasis on approbation and supporting the widest possible audience, allowing for the lack in the school systems for teaching the humanities, art and music, so that the general public knows NOTHING of the great cultural achievements and masterpieces, accounts for the non-interest in opera and classical music by the masses. If an insufficient number of the public buys tickets, NO POTENTIAL FINANCIAL SUSTENANCE will take up the slack.

Nov. 23 2013 12:00 PM
David from Flushing

I always liked the NYCO for the unusual operas they did such as those by Handel. Indeed, I think they are perhaps responsible for opening up the Met to works of this type.

Unfortunately, I fear that we are seeing yet more evidence of the decline of classical music in the US. First, it was small regional groups, but now the decay has struck larger organizations. When you have audiences with few under age 70, the future cannot be bright. As the song in Gigi goes, "I'm glad I'm not young anymore."

Sep. 10 2013 09:28 PM
HYH from Freeport, LI

What a pity. Growing up in NYC in the 70s when I first became interested in opera as a junior high and high school student, NYCO was accessible and stock full of talent, many who went on to huge careers. It was in Lincoln Center, at the time the center of the universe for me. A real shame. Maybe I do not understand all the fiscal and business facts but George Steele failed and was allowed to fail. Why in the world was he giving interviews claiming fiscal balance? Talk about hubris. After all the cost cutting, salary slashing, selling off of assets, and walking away from the State Theatre, was he only relying on those 'pledges'to keep them afloat? That is incredibly irresponsible and a big business No-No. The board has to take responsibility as well to let this happen. Sounds like the original plan to 'save' NYCO was flawed from the get-go and should have never been allowed to proceed. I'm all for opera companies taking on the mantle of producing contemporary works (very important for the future), but when a company is financially failing, seems a ridiculous arrogance. NYC without a second, major opera company. NYC!!! Very, very sad.

Sep. 09 2013 12:17 PM
HYH from Freeport, LI

What a pity. Growing up in NYC in the 70s when I first became interested in opera as a junior high and high school student, NYCO was accessible and stock full of talent, many who went on to huge careers. It was in Lincoln Center, at the time the center of the universe for me. A real shame. Maybe I do not understand all the fiscal and business facts but George Steele failed and was allowed to fail. Why in the world was he giving interviews claiming fiscal balance? Talk about hubris. After all the cost cutting, salary slashing, selling off of assets, and walking away from the State Theatre, was he only relying on those 'pledges'to keep them afloat? That is incredibly irresponsible and a big business No-No. The board has to take responsibility as well to let this happen. Sounds like the original plan to 'save' NYCO was flawed from the get-go and should have never been allowed to proceed. I'm all for opera companies taking on the mantle of producing contemporary works (very important for the future), but when a company is financially failing, seems a ridiculous arrogance. NYC without a second, major opera company. NYC!!! Very, very sad.

Sep. 09 2013 12:17 PM
floria from NYCity

If City opera is going cheap on the productions - - videos (moses in egypt) and other operas in contemporary clothing - suits and shirts....WHERE'S THE MONEY GOING? The orchestra is paid per performance. There's no longer a chorus. Rent? (don't know about that). Yet they have tons of scenery and costumes...so much they're selling them...I don't understand. Why can't they do productions using that scenery and costumes? Who suggested going into the endowment they had??? That's a no-no and I'm certainly not a money person. It's really sad.

Sep. 09 2013 08:52 AM
Brunnhilde from nyc

Shawn says it all. Doesn't NYCO realize that those avant garde (which, I guess, is the best way to describe them) productions are destroying the company? Steele's quest to be modern and creative and "edgy," creating the slow demise of interest in NYCO, proves that he doesn't know what he's doing! Opera is one of the greatest art forms - and it's creativity constantly changes .... with old sets and/or new sets adhering to the composer's story and wishes - that creativity comes in the singing - (the voice itself), the interpretations - singer, conductor, stage director - and that combination changes constantly which is why people can see 3 Butterfly's in a season, 3 Figaro's, etc....at least that's what it used to be until avant garde productions took over and the thought "once is enough!" prevailed. I and many of my friends saw "Powder Her Face" and have no desire to ever see it again. And you can bet your bippe, none of the little start-up companies, or opera scene workshops will ever "do that opera" and whether the administration doesen't care about that fact is dangerous...those little companies, singers and supporters are some of the backbone of future generations of support and talent. Good luck to the music teacher who takes his class on an opera field trip to see it - for it says nothing - nothing, that is, about the art form. That seems to be inconsequential to NYCO. Bring in an administrator who understands opera, singing and the opera lovers who patronize and pay money to see it. See it even more than once a season!

When I think of how many people I know who wish to see an opera, but can't afford it, it makes my stomach turn.

Sep. 09 2013 08:34 AM
Karen from Hamburg

The fact that opera scores contain much fine music doesn't in itself justify staging operas in the way they are usually. In most operas the narrative, the sets, costumes, lights, all of it is essentially redundant or at least secondary to the music.

I really think there is something incontinent, and uneconomical in both monetary and other senses, in an artform that takes the length of time, the resources, the people, the money, to tell its stories. Those enormous, ugly sets to distract from the acting, or to convince the audience that there is anything remotely of merit aside from the actual music itself which is where the REAL DRAMA happens.

Sep. 08 2013 10:53 PM
Shawn from Kingston, NY

George Steel, whether good intentioned or not, needs to accept responsibility for this. The Met doesn't even launch Bluebeard's Castle or Endimione as their main productions, because those productions cater to such a small, exclusive group of opera-goers, not the masses that City Opera was known for. I know it is going to irk Mr. Steel to no end to have to say this: to get their fan base back they needed to stick to the classic sellers: Carmen, Barber of Seville, etc. Perhaps, Steel also failed to concentrate on up and coming NY or American talent, so the masses can cheer on. That is the whole premise: Popular opera and rising talent for the masses. Instead we got avant-garde for the few.

Sep. 08 2013 08:14 PM
Sanford Rothenberg from Brooklyn

It would seem that history is repeating itself with NYCO and its continuing financial version of the "Perils of Pauline".Obviously,the combination of fiscal mismanagement,squandered endowment funds,and "soft" pledges which were not paid to the company have brought NYCO once again to the precipice.

Sep. 08 2013 06:00 PM

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