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New York City Opera: trials and tribulations


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#1 abatt

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Posted 11 November 2008 - 12:33 PM

I'm sure many Ballet Talkers have read the sad debacle re NYC Opera during the past few days. Gerard Mortier, the incoming director, has abrubtly abandoned the sinking ship that is NYC Opera. His stated reason is that the Board of Directors could not come up with the financial support he was purportedly promised to stage various operas in the upcoming season. The future of NYC Opera, which has been losing money, is now in doubt. Ironically, these developments may be favorable to NYC's balletomanes. For many years, the great ballet companies of the world have bypassed visits to New York simply because there is no adequate theater for them to rent. If the"Koch" theater becomes available for most of the year, we New Yorkers might finally be able to see all those great companies that appear at the Kennedy Center and at other major US venues. Also, it is possible that ABT might want to appear at the Koch instead of the MET. (Kevin McKenzie indicated a potential interest in the State Theater in an interview he did a few years ago when City Opera was seeking to build a new theater.) Any thoughts?

#2 dirac

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Posted 11 November 2008 - 12:54 PM

Thanks, abatt. This article from The Wall Street Journal comments on the mess, making the sound point that the board should have known better. Right now the situation looks grim, but I wouldn't write off the organization just yet. (I wonder if his departure was that abrupt; word of his interest in the Bayreuth job was certainly a hint, I'd say. )

City Opera is an essential public institution with a valuable history; boards are supposed to take that trust seriously, but this one was blinded by a shiny new toy. Like financial engineers with an outsize appetite for risk but little real understanding of it, they are now left with the shell of a company. It's time for a change in governance, a bailout and a restructuring. Rescue is needed. City Opera is too valuable to lose.



#3 Helene

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Posted 11 November 2008 - 12:56 PM

I think it's a shame that NYCO is that close to demise. With the advent and acceptance of American-trained singers and the growth of non-star-oriented regional opera, the company is in a tricky position, and I don't know if there's the will of money to support a company dedicated to lesser-known works with a solid ensemble of local singers. The balance between the ballet and opera in the acoustical wars in the theater has never favored the opera.

I believe you are right, abatt, that this could free up much-needed space for visiting ballet companies. Not great news for City Center, but NYST's stage is so much better for larger companies. The Mariinsky would have looked much better in that venue, in my opinion.

#4 abatt

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Posted 11 November 2008 - 02:00 PM

The Mariinsky would have looked much better in that venue, in my opinion.
[/quote]


Yes,, the Mariinsky would have looked much better at the State "Koch" theater. Moreover, I suspect that they would have performed full length ballets if they were performing at the State "Koch". It is a shame that City Opera might fold for good. I, for one, was looking forward to seeing a number of operas that Mortier had scheduled for next season. Beverly Sills must be rolling in her grave!

#5 Dale

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Posted 11 November 2008 - 02:47 PM

I just got this:

November 11, 2008

Dear Friend of New York City Opera,

I write to you today to share some important news. As you probably are aware, last week New York City Opera and General Manager-Designate Gerard Mortier reached a decision to part ways. The economic climate in which we find ourselves today has caused us both to reconsider proceeding with our plans.

While New York City Opera's immediate plans have changed, our path and optimism for the future have not. With guidance from Michael Kaiser, one of America's leading arts management advisors, our board and staff are working to identify new leadership and to craft a plan for the 2009-2010 season and beyond—one that respects City Opera's past while initiating a creative and entrepreneurial vision for the future. We remain committed to our core values of innovation, accessibility, the nurturing of young singers and service to our community—values which have defined our company for 65 years.

I assure you City Opera remains poised for an exciting and adventurous future. The historic renovations to our theater are proceeding apace, and our citywide programming carries on as previously announced. January brings the much anticipated concert presentation of Samuel Barber's Antony and Cleopatra <http://www.tmsmail.u...B5249D69D&#38;> at Carnegie Hall, starring Lauren Flanigan and Teddy Tahu Rhodes. In May we celebrate the 10th Anniversary of VOX: Showcasing American Opera <http://www.tmsmail.u...B5249D69D&#38;> , heralded by The New York Times as an "invaluable contribution to the city's cultural life and the future of American opera." And our school programs continue to bring the power of opera to classrooms across the city.

It is you—our loyal patrons, subscribers, audiences, and friends—who have helped to make City Opera one of the nation's most forward-looking opera companies. With your continued support and understanding during this time of transition and renewal, New York City Opera will continue to play a vital role in the life of our great city.

I look forward to keeping you apprised of many developments in the days ahead.

With all best wishes and deepest thanks,



Susan L. Baker
Chairman, New York City Opera


I have to say, it bodes well they've turned to Kaiser, who's been in situations like this before and got out of them successfully.

#6 Paul Parish

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Posted 11 November 2008 - 03:03 PM

THe WSJ article is irrefutable -- it was mad to think that Mortier would change his stripes, and mad to think that the City Opera audience would change to suit him -- even if the financial good times had persisted. That audience was built by giving straightforward value -- any child could tell that Beverly Sills could sing Cleopatra, and sing it mesmerizingly. It was church, of a sort. Nothing sophisticated about it -- fabulous technique, larger-than-life personality -- but Baroque opera and bel canto opera were POPULAR in their own day and will be popular again whenever there are artists who care enough to sing like that.

What Mortier would bring is extremely sophisticated, and requires more urban neurosis than even New York City can muster to appreciate. The American singers mentioned above mostly cut their teeth in the smaller opera houses in Europe, where there is a lot of work for opera singers and a long, long, LONG tradition of gonig to the opera and children take it in with their mothers' milk -- and "new ways' of bringing hte old thing back are necessary. Mortier is being frank (well, almost) when he says he can't do his thing at an opera house that has a smaller budget than that of the smallest house in France.

But it is horrifying to see how exposed NYCO is at this point, with a whole year of NO productions, no contact with the audience, no income, and hemorrhaging money like General Motors. This looks like a job for Mayor Bloomberg.

#7 richard53dog

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Posted 11 November 2008 - 03:44 PM

But it is horrifying to see how exposed NYCO is at this point, with a whole year of NO productions, no contact with the audience, no income, and hemorrhaging money like General Motors. This looks like a job for Mayor Bloomberg.



Yes, the timing on all these NYCO/Mortier/St Theater renovations sequences was awful, due to the chaos in the financial world. Unfortunately NYC , being the financial
center of the US, is running really scared right now. I don't know just how much Bloomberg would be willing or able to do.

I suspect that the worst component in this whole NYCO mess is the decision to have a mostly dark season. Can an arts organization like this drop out of site of it's audiences and then expect them to pick up a year or so later. Whew, not a gamble I would have taken. And the timing is just awful.

Actually NYCO went dark for a season ( given that their perfoming year has two separate seasons or runs, similar to NYCB's setup in NYC) back in the 50s after a severe budget collapse. By coincidence, it was connected with a season of all modern works. But NYCO was then part of City Center of Music and Drama and much more under the welfare of NYC. They were able to resume operations with no real long term consequences back then.

I really wish the NYCO could have found a new home back earlier in the decade when there was more funding available. They have never truly belonged in the NYST.

#8 zerbinetta

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Posted 11 November 2008 - 03:56 PM

I'm surprised Mayor Bloomberg hasn't already weighed in on this, Paul. He cares about the state of cultural entities in the city and has been personally generous with donations.

It's a relief that they have turned to Michael Kaiser. He's been there and done that. He also might be able to get Placido Domingo to help. Domingo got his start at NYCO.

This topic actually started several days ago under Paris Opera Ballet. Any way these two threads could merge?

#9 bart

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Posted 12 November 2008 - 06:01 AM

Good idea, zerbinetta.

Here's the original thread: http://ballettalk.in...mp;#entry236001

#10 bart

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Posted 20 November 2008 - 03:12 PM

For those who missed it, here's the NY Times story about NYC Opera turning to Michael Kaiser ("turnaround specialist" and head of the Kennedy Center in Washington DC) for advice and assistance:

http://www.nytimes.c...r.html?ref=arts

Turnaround Specialist Talks of City Opera Plans
By DANIEL J. WAKIN
Even before the full board of New York City Opera learned that its proposed savior, Gerard Mortier, was saying goodbye, its chairwoman had turned to a man known in the arts as a turnaround specialist: Michael M. Kaiser, the president of the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington.

The move by the chairwoman, Susan L. Baker, reflected the sense of crisis at the opera, which just a year and a half ago had plunged into a radical transformation based on Mr. Mortier’s vision, including a large-scale renovation of its theater.

Mr. Kaiser said his role was “really simple.”

“I’ve been asked by Susan and the board of the opera to help them write a plan for going forward,” he said. “It’s very specific.” He said he was not being paid and was not a candidate for the job. “If they asked me, I’d say no.”



#11 Dale

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Posted 14 January 2009 - 02:37 PM

A new AD/GM has been found:

January 14, 2009

Dear Friend of City Opera,

Following an intensive selection process conducted by our search committee,it is my great pleasure to announce that the New York City Opera Board of Directors has named George Steel as the new General Manager and Artistic Director of New York City Opera.

George Steel's tenure with City Opera will begin on February 1st. The impact of his leadership will be felt almost immediately, as he shapes the company's forthcoming 2009-2010 season in the newly renovated David H. Koch Theater and paves the way for an extraordinary 2010-2011 season. I invite you to log on to the City Opera website for further information regarding the appointment and where you can view a video message from our new General Manager and Artistic Director.

George Steel is a respected, accomplished and innovative figure in the American performing arts and is best known for his outstanding eleven-year tenure as Executive Director of the Miller Theatre at Columbia University, from 1997 to 2008. Under his leadership, the theater became known as one of New York City's leading showcases for early and modern music and multi-disciplinary programming.

Highly regarded as one of New York's most progressive and successful arts leaders over the last decade, we are particularly excited by George's desire to continue City Opera's respected tradition of championing American singers, new works and lesser-known repertoire and presenting early opera and imaginative productions of classic repertoire. This dedication to City Opera's mission, along with his commitment to education and outreach, make him an excellent choice for the company. I hope you will join me in welcoming George Steel to City Opera, as he builds upon the company's core mission of innovation and accessibility.

Finally, on a personal note, I would like to thank each and every one of you for your continued support and words of encouragement during these challenging times. It is you who make our beloved company a true "people's opera," and for that, all of us at City Opera wish to express our deepest gratitude.


With best wishes,


Mark Newhouse

President and Chair of Search Committee

#12 Helene

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Posted 14 January 2009 - 03:11 PM

What the letter doesn't mention is that they just stole him out from under Dallas Opera, where he started as General Director last October, and was supposed to preside over the opening of the Winspear Opera House next season.

http://www.dallasope...al_director.php
http://www.dallasope...s/08gen_dir.pdf

It hasn't become a story yet on Dallas Morning News, but here's a link from their Arts blog:
http://www.dallasnew...ra.28331fb.html

#13 richard53dog

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Posted 14 January 2009 - 03:16 PM

What the letter doesn't mention is that they just stole him out from under Dallas Opera, where he started as General Director last October, and was supposed to preside over the opening of the Winspear Opera House next season.

It hasn't become a story yet on Dallas Morning News, but here's a link from their Arts blog:
http://www.dallasnew...ra.28331fb.html


Helene, you beat me to the punch! I noticed too that there was no mention of the Dallas Opera in the press release. What isn't mentioned is that Steel's only experience as an opera house administrator was his 3 month stint in Dallas.

It's a gamble but then so was Mortier and at this point it was imperative that NYCO name a chief.

#14 richard53dog

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Posted 14 January 2009 - 05:33 PM

Here's a link to the story in the NY Times:

http://www.nytimes.c...s...tml?_r=1

Reading through it, particularly in the section containing the comments from Francesca Zambello, I get the picture that the past few months have been filled with turmoil. Zambello's words suggest all kinds of dealings every which way possible.

My first opera performance, more years ago than I would like to think about, was at the NYCO and I really hope that things work out for the company. They are in a very precarious situation in very difficult times

#15 bart

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Posted 15 January 2009 - 06:30 AM

My first opera performance, more years ago than I would like to think about, was at the NYCO and I really hope that things work out for the company.

It wasn't my first performance, but NYCO was certainly the first opera company that I as a young adult could afford to attend regularly. I'll bet it was the same with you, richard! I agree with the following, from the Times:

Opera lovers hope Mr. Steel’s arrival will quell the turbulent plotlines at what many consider the nation’s second most important house. Founded in 1943, with help from Mayor Fiorello H. La Guardia, as the “people’s opera,” City Opera has the mission of offering accessible, affordable, innovative productions hospitable to young American singers. The company’s recent struggles could fill a libretto of jilted lovers, betrayal and sudden changes of fortune.


I love the reference to "turbulent plotllines" and especially the bit about "jilted lovers, betrayal and sudden changes of fortune." Quick! Get Verdi on the phone and tell him to whip up a score!"


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