abatt

New York City Opera: trials and tribulations

114 posts in this topic

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?

Share this post


Link to post

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.

Share this post


Link to post

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.

Share this post


Link to post

The Mariinsky would have looked much better in that venue, in my opinion.

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!

Share this post


Link to post

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.us/t?r=876&c=420057&l=49234&ctl=129D93A:F57BDA4175C7CA1E8159A04D30422F553DE0128B5249D69D&> 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.us/t?r=876&c=420057&l=49234&ctl=129D93C:F57BDA4175C7CA1E8159A04D30422F553DE0128B5249D69D&> , 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.

Share this post


Link to post

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.

Share this post


Link to post
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.

Share this post


Link to post

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?

Share this post


Link to post

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.com/2008/11/20/arts/mus...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.”

Share this post


Link to post

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

Share this post


Link to post

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.dallasopera.org/the_company/general_director.php

http://www.dallasopera.org/news/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.dallasnews.com/sharedcontent/dw...ra.28331fb.html

Share this post


Link to post
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.dallasnews.com/sharedcontent/dw...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.

Share this post


Link to post

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

http://www.nytimes.com/2009/01/15/arts/mus...tml?_r=1&hp

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

Share this post


Link to post
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!"

Share this post


Link to post

I noticed that next season will be "truncated". I hope that they rent the Koch theater to some major ballet company when the theater is going to be dark.

Share this post


Link to post
I noticed that next season will be "truncated". I hope that they rent the Koch theater to some major ballet company when the theater is going to be dark.

If you are referring to Spring 2009 season, abatt, the theater will be undergoing the second stage of renovation, which will include new seat upholstery, I'm told.

Share this post


Link to post

Earlier this week NYCO issued a press release announcing two new additions to their artistic adminstrations one in artistic planning and one in casting.

This is good news, at least they are still a going concern and I'm hoping that they will be able to release details of a 2009-2010 season soon. To my way of thinking, it's critical that they try to reconnect with their audience base this year.

Details of the release , with info on Edward Yim and Steven Blier follow:

"New York City Opera announces key appointments, as George Steel forms the

company's new artistic team.

(New York, NY, February 23, 2009) New York City Opera today announced the

appointment of two new members to its artistic team, and confirmed the

continuing participation of two key existing members, as the future City

Opera began to take shape under the leadership of its new General Manager and

Artistic Director, George Steel.

Joining City Opera will be Director of Artistic Planning Edward Yim, perhaps

best known for playing an integral role in the exciting and highly successful

multidisciplinary programming at the Los Angeles Philharmonic, and Casting

Advisor Steven Blier, an eminent pianist and vocal coach who is equally at home

in the traditional operatic repertoire and American popular song. Conductor

George Manahan, Music Director of City Opera since 1996, will continue in a role

to which he has brought distinction. Also continuing with the team will be the

outstanding accompanist and recitalist Kevin Murphy, a veteran of The

Metropolitan Opera and the Opera National de Paris, who came to City Opera in

September 2008 as Director of Music Administration.....

Edward Yim, the company's new Director of Artistic Planning, joins City Opera

from IMG Artists North America, where since 2006 he has managed a roster of

conductors, composers and instrumentalists and directed the Conductors and

Instrumentalists Division for IMG's New York office. Previously, as Director

of Artistic Planning for the Los Angeles Philharmonic Association from 2000 to

2006, he oversaw programming across a wide range of musical genres at both the

Walt Disney Concert Hall and the Hollywood Bowl. Over the course of fifteen

years in the field, he has cast the concert versions of a wide range of operas,

from Tristan und Isolde and Carmen to Nixon in China and Ainadamar.....

Steven Blier, the company's new Casting Advisor, is Artistic Director and

co-founder of the New York Festival of Song, which spans the repertoire of art

song from Schubert to Szymanowski and popular song from early vaudeville to

Lennon-McCartney. He also enjoys a notable career as an accompanist and vocal

coach, having performed in concert throughout North America and Europe with

Renee Fleming and having enjoyed a collaboration with Cecilia Bartoli since

1994. Among the many other artists he has partnered are Samuel Ramey, Lorraine

Hunt Lieberson, Susan Graham, Frederica von Stade, Jessye Norman, Wolfgang

Holzmair, Susanne Mentzer, Sylvia McNair, Jose van Dam, and Arlene Auger. A

champion of American music, he has premiered works of John Corigliano, Paul

Moravec, Ned Rorem, William Bolcom, John Musto, Richard Danielpour, Tobias

s leading artists, including Michelle DeYoung, Bejun Mehta, Gary Lakes,

lvarez, PlC!cido Domingo, Frederica von Stade, RenC)e Fleming, Paul

Groves, Cecilia Bartoli and Kathleen Battle. He also enjoys a career as a

soloist and chamber music artist. He is a graduate of Indiana University

(BM in piano performance) and the Curtis Institute (MM in piano

accompaniment)......."

(balance of release omitted)

Share this post


Link to post

Thanks very much for updating this thread, richard53dog.

To my way of thinking, it's critical that they try to reconnect with their audience base this year.

Absolutely. You're helping in that task.

Share this post


Link to post
Thanks very much for updating this thread, richard53dog.
To my way of thinking, it's critical that they try to reconnect with their audience base this year.

Absolutely. You're helping in that task.

Getting Steven Blier as casting advisor is a BIG plus, especially given Steel and Yim's relatively limited opera experience. Blier knows voices and has done genuinely admirable work in hiring and coaching up-and-coming young singers for his own NYFOS series in addition to unearthing and programming wonderful songs for them to sing. He'll know who to call and who is right for what part.

Share this post


Link to post

That's fine as long as we aren't limited to IMG artists & Blier's students.

Share this post


Link to post
That's fine as long as we aren't limited to IMG artists & Blier's students.

I hear what you are saying. Certainly as a long term strategy that would be counterproductive...at least to the audience!

But I just wonder at the difficulty of putting together even a limited season that might start as soon as November 1, which is the date that I've heard the renovations at the NYST are supposed to be complete. NYCO may try a short season before NYCB comes back late in November. I have to think that options with finding singers for later this year or early next year are very, very limited.

Oh well, I really hope that NYCO can pull it off. They do have Superman at the helm. (George-Man-of-Steel) :D

Share this post


Link to post

There is also the matter of trust. As late as August, all the singers engaged by Mortier were told the dates were firm and the contracts would soon be in the mail.

Some weeks went by but this is not unusual in the business where contracts are concerned.

Then they read in the paper that they would not be employed by City Opera for the two periods (Fall 2009 & spring 2010) they'd been saving for over a year.

This does not engender faith in the institution.

Share this post


Link to post
New York City Opera, struggling to shed financial and administrative turmoil, took a step forward on Wednesday, announcing its first operatic season since essentially shutting down a year ago during renovations to its home at Lincoln Center.

In 2009-10 the company will present a tasting menu — just five productions — symbolic of its traditions: modern works (Hugo Weisgall’s “Esther”), new productions (“Don Giovanni” in a staging by Christopher Alden), the underperformed (Chabrier’s “Étoile”), war horses (“Madama Butterfly”) and Baroque works (Handel’s “Partenope”).

“It was really a question of making a season that would remind people of all the wonderful things City Opera stands for,” George R. Steel, the general manager and artistic director, who took over those positions in January, said in an interview.

Read the rest here: http://www.nytimes.com/2009/04/02/arts/mus...pera&st=cse

Share this post


Link to post
New York City Opera, struggling to shed financial and administrative turmoil, took a step forward on Wednesday, announcing its first operatic season since essentially shutting down a year ago during renovations to its home at Lincoln Center.

In 2009-10 the company will present a tasting menu — just five productions — symbolic of its traditions: modern works (Hugo Weisgall’s “Esther”), new productions (“Don Giovanni” in a staging by Christopher Alden), the underperformed (Chabrier’s “Étoile”), war horses (“Madama Butterfly”) and Baroque works (Handel’s “Partenope”).

“It was really a question of making a season that would remind people of all the wonderful things City Opera stands for,” George R. Steel, the general manager and artistic director, who took over those positions in January, said in an interview.

Read the rest here: http://www.nytimes.com/2009/04/02/arts/mus...pera&st=cse

Also, in an email NYCO sent out to supporters, an opening gala, with participation by their co-tenant NYCB, is described:

Opening Night Gala Celebration

On November 5, 2009, New York City Opera celebrates the opening of the 2009-2010 season with a gala concert showcasing the historic role of the company in American opera and musical theater. The concert will feature renowned artists, many of whom began their careers with the company, along with the special participation of the New York City Ballet. This momentous evening will also honor David H. Koch and welcome our new General Manager and Artistic Director, George Steel.

I wish them all the best of luck

Share this post


Link to post