New York City Opera Board Plans for Bankruptcy

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Like the heroine of its season-opening production of Anna Nicole, New York City Opera is desperately in need of a rich sugar daddy – or several – to survive. But that prospect looks increasingly dim.

City Opera’s board voted on Thursday to start bankruptcy proceedings next week if the company fails to meet a $7 million fundraising goal by Monday night. The company has raised just $1.5 million since it made an emergency appeal on Sept. 12, according to Risa Heller, a company spokesperson. A Kickstarter campaign so far has raised $156,000.

The company opened its season last week with the U.S. premiere of Mark-Anthony Turnage's operatic tale of Anna Nicole Smith at the Brooklyn Academy of Music. Two more performances are scheduled through Saturday. The rest of the four-opera season could then be cancelled.

The collapse of City Opera would leave the Metropolitan Opera as New York City's only major opera company. Founded in 1944, City Opera has helped launch the careers of Placido Domingo, Beverly Sills and Renee Fleming.

In an interview with WQXR on Tuesday, Domingo said bankruptcy would be "a great, great loss." He added: "It's impossible to think that New Yorkers won't support an opera house that has given so many great artists and has done so much for American operas."

New York City Opera has experienced a series of financial hardships over the past decade. It has gone from presenting 12 to 16 operas with a peak of about 130 performances in a season, to four stagings and 16 performances in each of the past two seasons. Its endowment has dwindled from $48 million in 2008 to $5.07 million at the end of June 2012, according to tax records, and its staff has been pared to 25.

"If we don’t raise the money we will have run out of options,” George Steel, the company’s general manager and artistic director, said in a statement. "It is impossible for the company to produce opera without a way to fund it."