New York City Opera Board Plans for Bankruptcy

AUDIO: George Steel Speaks with Amy Eddings on WNYC's All Things Considered on Friday

Thursday, September 26, 2013 - 06:00 PM

Sarah Coomes, Robert Brubaker, Sarah Joy Miller in 'Anna Nicole' Sarah Coomes, Robert Brubaker, Sarah Joy Miller in 'Anna Nicole' (Stephanie Berger)

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."

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Comments [8]

Kenneth Bennett Lane, Lake Hiawatha, 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 11:54 AM
Tom from NYC

Now it is time to move onward and see if a new board will rebuild the NYCO with a new general director who has VISION and who can listen to what the patrons really want, those who will buy tickets. Study what made NYCO a success under Rudel and then under Beverly and use them as models. Be certain to choose a general director who LOVES opera and is not JUST a business person. Get advice from Placido and heads of European smaller houses. Consider Sam Ramey to head the company since he is beloved for all of his great performances there throughout many years and would be a terrific spokesperson to raise money and would have a sense of history. Ask singers as well as chorus members, orchestra members and coaches and conductors what they feel they need in a general director and what their complaints were about Steele. Return to the State Theater where NYCO belongs!!! Someone can save this company.

Oct. 02 2013 10:37 AM
Robert Perry from New York, NY

Producing "Anna Nicole" in what could be your last season pretty much says it all. Mr. Barr's comments are spot on! Mr. Steel and the board should all suffer the fate of Turandot as cried out by the Mandarino!

Oct. 01 2013 12:19 PM
Brunnhilde from NYC

Kenneth Barr says it all....Might I add, this City, which supported 2 opera companies, started (and maintained) many illustrious singing careers and gave the public who supported it, what it wanted....good singing and good operas, did not deserve what it got from New York City Opera.

Oct. 01 2013 12:06 PM

In keeping with some of Mr. Barr's comments, I have no doubt that there are wealthy New Yorkers who could provide the needed funding at the drop of a hat. But to what result?

Without a solid working plan, throwing money at City Opera will not solve the actual problem -- managing a company, with a solid working plan to try to build a future.

My $0.02

Sep. 28 2013 03:19 AM
Kenneth Barr from New York, NY

The only way New York City Opera can survive is for someone to come in and replace its feckless and incompetent management. The Board and George Steel decided that the People's Opera was a marketing tool, not its mission. They gave us salon opera, opera for the few. That is why contributions have dried up and audiences have gone elsewhere. For imaginative leadership that takes its audience's views into account, look no further than Opera Philadelphia. While there has been downsizing, such as fewer performances, there have also been aggressive and forward thinking programs such as flash-mobs at Reading Terminal, Geno's Philly Steak joint and singing the Hallelujah Chorus at Macy's on Market Street accompanied by the Wanamaker Organ. This and other audience friendly productions such as "Macbeth" with Lauren Flanigan and Gregg Baker, "Don Carlo," "The Pearl Fishers," "Turandot," "Tosca," "Aida" and tonight's debut of "Nabucco," allowed the company to rebuild after a disastrous production of "Carmen" in 2002. Lesser known operas have been staged at the Perelman Theatre at Kimmel Center rather than the Academy of Music. The audiences have enthusiastically embraced this and Opera Philly (formerly Opera Company of Philadelphia) has survived and grown. This flies in direct contrast to the elitist attitude of George Steel, who has been quoted as being concerned only with the views the patrons and critics, not his audience.

Sep. 27 2013 07:31 PM
Larry Stoler

I just listened to the interview with Naomi Lewin about the future of New York City Opera. This is very sad.

Obviously a combination of factors including a lack of direction, people who didn't understand how to manage an opera company and the financial situation in America going back to 2008 led to the possible collapse of this important institution.

If this happens, and it looks like it will, the result will be one remaining opera company operating from the biggest city in the world.

New York City Opera managed to continue for many years. While it is true that nothing lasts forever, the importance of this vital artistic institution and what it contributed to the world of classical music can not be understated.

New York City Opera will never be forgotten by all of us who enjoy this music.

Sep. 27 2013 12:06 PM
Les from Miami, Florida

I can say no more other than I second Placido Domingo's comment made on WQXR as quoted in this article.

Sep. 27 2013 09:44 AM

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