abatt

New York City Opera: trials and tribulations

114 posts in this topic

Well, the NY Times reports another possible obstacle in getting the NYCO back on the stage this Fall.

http://www.nytimes.com/2009/04/04/arts/mus...S_BRF.html?_r=2

Is this just posturing or is AGMA really unwilling to bargain?

On the other hand there is the statement that whatever deal is reached with the orchestra, whose contract is up next month, will

indicate what direction the other disciplines will go.

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Here's hoping Mr Steel has dealt with unions prior to meeting with the daunting and unbending (and several other words which are not so nice) Local 802.

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I read about the possibility of a strike today, too. Let us hope it does not come to that!

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The damage done at New York City Opera is summarized by Zinta Lundborg for Bloomberg News.

Now, with another whopping $6.6 million used for operating expenses, the endowment is down to barely $3 million.

Lest you think the company’s disastrous financial situation reflects a melting economy, the damage has been largely self- inflicted. A clueless board led by Susan Baker has squandered the company’s endowment and ruined its good name.

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The damage done at New York City Opera is summarized by Zinta Lundborg for Bloomberg News.
Now, with another whopping $6.6 million used for operating expenses, the endowment is down to barely $3 million.

Lest you think the company’s disastrous financial situation reflects a melting economy, the damage has been largely self- inflicted. A clueless board led by Susan Baker has squandered the company’s endowment and ruined its good name.

There are so many errors, assumptions and distortions in Lundborg's article, it's difficult to know where to begin.

Suffice to say that the opera didn't have to pay off singers' contracts as the singers never got to sign them. The dates were set last August and the contracts were promised but never arrived. The singers were stuck with holes in their schedules for fall 2009 and spring 2010.

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Thanks for posting, miliosr. Doesn't sound good:

Now, as George Steel prepares to open his first, sharply curtailed, fall season as general manager and artistic director — 5 productions and 35 performances, in both cases about a third of the usual number — some are wondering whether the “people’s opera,” which Mayor Fiorello H. La Guardia helped found in 1943, can survive much longer. Even if the company succeeds in getting compensated for last year’s losses, it will have to find a way, in a punishing economy, both to replenish its endowment and sustain annual expenses of as much as $40 million.

“I don’t see how they could not close,” said Robert W. Wilson, a former City Opera chairman who now serves on the Metropolitan Opera board. “There is a slight chance that they can remain open, but where would the money come from?”

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A fascinating account of a very sad story. NYCO is so much a part of my own NYC experience that I can't imagine a world without it.

There's reference in the article to the difficulty that company may or may not have had to integrating into Lincoln Center. The move itself was difficult for many, but over the years it seemed to me that NYCO had become a real constituent of Lincoln Center, with nothing to be ashamed or apologetic about. There are references int he article to looking for alternative locations. What other options do they have?

Finally, Robert W. Wilson seems to be behaving in a rather unseemly fashion in some of his commments:

“I don’t see how they could not close,” said Robert W. Wilson, a former City Opera chairman who now serves on the Metropolitan Opera board. “There is a slight chance that they can remain open, but where would the money come from?”

[ ... ]

Some opera buffs question whether the company can attract the kind of wealthy, prominent trustees it needs to secure its future. “Who would go on the board who is anybody?” Mr. Wilson said. “I can’t imagine who you get to go on the board of a sinking ship.”

Is there such a thing as dancing on someone's grave before the death and burial have actually occurred? :D

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Finally, Robert W. Wilson seems to be behaving in a rather unseemly fashion in some of his commments:

I agree, bart. In the interests of disclosure, it should have been mentioned that Wilson promised NYCO $50 million dollars towards moving to another location. The gift was if and only if they moved.

When this didn't pan out, he took his toys and departed for the Met.

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Finally, Robert W. Wilson seems to be behaving in a rather unseemly fashion in some of his commments:

I agree, bart. In the interests of disclosure, it should have been mentioned that Wilson promised NYCO $50 million dollars towards moving to another location. The gift was if and only if they moved.

When this didn't pan out, he took his toys and departed for the Met.

I'm getting a feeling of "I told you so" from Mr. Wilson, however unseemly the action of commenting is. Chnage of venue, especially to a smaller one, would have changed the focus of the company fundamentally, and Mr. Wilson isn't the only one who felt that such a change ws fundamental to the company's survival.

Many business people apply business principles when promising major gifts, and if he felt that donating under conditions he felt were unviable, it would have been like throwing good money after bad.

Ironically, a smaller, more flexible, more experimental NYCO would have been closer to Mr. Steel's experience. I'm sure onlookers in Dallas are not crying over Mr. Steel's woes.

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Any suggestions for an alternate venue, should they decide to venture more in that direction?

That may be a can of worms that won't be able to be reopened for a while. As I understand it while Mortier was nominally in charge, he made the decision

that NYCO would stay in the NYST/Koch and part of the renovations include the expansion of the orchestra pit, which Mortier insisted on.

So even though Mortier is no longer in charge, it would add to the messiness to have NYCO change direction on staying/going. I have no idea but part of the whole renovation plan might include NYCO's committment to stay in Lincoln Center.

Although they settled with the orchestra, they still haven't settled with AGMA yet and they don't seem to have a lot of cash left. While the whole operation might be more manageable in a smaller venue , can they risk alienating further what subscription base they still have by moving? I feel that absolutely HAVE to have a 2009-2010 season to remain alive.

I personally would have loved to see the NYCO in it's own theater. I hope they manage to survive and maybe down the road if they are viable, they can

revisit that issue. There were briefly discussions about moving to a site just west of Lincoln Center across Amsterdam Avenue which sounded ideal to me as they could still be considered part of Lincoln Center but those plans are history.

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There were briefly discussions about moving to a site just west of Lincoln Center across Amsterdam Avenue which sounded ideal to me as they could still be considered part of Lincoln Center but those plans are history.

I thought the Met quashed an effort for NYCO to be in a new theater in the Lincoln Center area through the LC governing body. Am I remembering this wrong?

For the life of me I don't understand how they thought that Mortier would ever show up and live within NYCO's budget, especially given the programming he was planning to bring. San Francisco Opera couldn't afford Pamela Rosenberg's plans, and Mortier's were like Pamela Rosenberg's five-year plan rolled into one. To me, it sounded delusional from the first rumor of it. The Met won't even take a chance to broadcast the new Chereau "House of the Dead", Chereau's debut at the house, in HD next year, one of two productions next season that go into Mortier turf, and that has Esa-Pekka Salonen conducting and Peter Mattei in the cast. And that's Janacek, for Pete's sake, not really cutting edge.

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I thought the Met quashed an effort for NYCO to be in a new theater in the Lincoln Center area through the LC governing body. Am I remembering this wrong?

Well, the Met would like NYCO to go away, although they don't really share core audiences to a huge degree. The Met was more opposed to building a new

theater on the site of Damrosch Park/Bandshell than the theater diagonally across Amsterdam, (as I remember anyway). Imagine the NYCO playing even closer to the Met than they are now!

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The Met won't even take a chance to broadcast the new Chereau "House of the Dead", Chereau's debut at the house, in HD next year, one of two productions next season that go into Mortier turf, and that has Esa-Pekka Salonen conducting and Peter Mattei in the cast. And that's Janacek, for Pete's sake, not really cutting edge.

:clapping: I'm sure you're right, but I wonder whether the Met doesn't think of potential DVD releases when choosing what to broadcast in HD, and the Chéreau production is already available on DVD. Of course by that reasoning they shouldn't have bothered with the Laurent Pelly production of La Fille du régiment or the Caurier/Leiser production of Hamlet, but maybe different rules apply when Natalie Dessay is involved.

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A new article on the state of play at the company, from The New York Observer. Comments?

George Steel has been general manager and artistic director of New York City Opera for exactly nine months now. In that time, he has thrown together an abbreviated but intriguing 2009-2010 season. He has brokered deals with the unions representing almost all of the company’s artistic staff, avoiding crippling strikes. He is on the verge of completing a major renovation of the company’s theater. He has tried to put City Opera’s tumultuous past two years behind it.

But despite his best efforts, Mr. Steel has faced opposition from the beginning of his short sprint to open his first season. A source with knowledge of the discussions told The Observer that this spring, an effort was mounted among former City Opera board members dissatisfied with Mr. Steel’s selection and the artistic and financial direction of the company to stage a coup on the City Opera board.

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[Admin note: we got an edit and a reply caught in the cross-wires. Just to keep it straight}

Helene wrote:

[T]he idea of a board coup that would put Joseph Volpe in charge of New York City Opera is the biggest shock to my system since Brad Park went to the Boston Bruins and Phil Esposito and Derek Sanderson went to the NY Rangers.

bart replied:

It smacks of feuding over the body of an alleged loved-one right at a crucial stage of life-or-death surgery. According to the article, the Board rebels failed to get their funding. Are they surprised? Serious philanthropists and foundations must be running away from the NYCO Board -- both sides -- as from a plague. "With friends like this, who needs ... (etc.)?

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[T]he idea of a board coup that would put Joseph Volpe in charge of New York City Opera is the biggest shock to my system since Brad Park went to the Boston Bruins and Phil Esposito and Derek Sanderson went to the NY Rangers.

It smacks of feuding over the body of an alleged loved-one right at a crucial stage of life-or-death surgery. According to the article, the Board rebels failed to get their funding. Are they surprised? Serious philanthropists and foundations must be running away from the NYCO Board -- both sides -- as from a plague. "With friends like this, who needs ... (etc.)?

It's miserable that this has been dredged up. It's six month old news but being aired close the the NYCO's Opening Night which is just about three weeks away. The focus at this point should be on the season that Steel has been able to pull together against great odds; and they need all the encouragement

they can get right now.

"With friends like this..." Exactly!

(I had heard a rumor from an opera board last spring that Volpe was being considered as GM of the NYCO but thought, "no......they wouldn't". Evidently the rumor had some substance to it)

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A financial update.

Mortier earned a salary of $65,000 and "severance" of $335,000. City Opera hired Mortier in February 2007 when he was still helming the Paris Opera. He was expected to take up his position in New York in September 2009.

Instead, the Belgian celebrity never arrived and resigned in November 2008, saying City Opera's budget cuts amid the global financial crisis prevented him from fulfilling his vision. The severance payment, a surprise, appears on the return along with smaller payments to departing executives -- among them the artistic administrator, Robin Thompson, and the executive director, Jane Gullong.

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ok, so if you were king / queen of the world over at NYCO - what needs to be done? Assume the board backs you 100%, what would you do to "right the ship"?

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As an aspiring opera singer who lives in New York, I find the troubles that NYCO is having troubling. I simply cannot believe that New York is not able to sustain more than one opera house. New York is considered to be a world capital of culture, but this title does not stand up to reality. St. Petersburg, Vienna, Berlin, Paris and London all have more than one opera house, in some cases up to three different opera houses, and by these I mean three fully functioning, each with its repertoire of operas, opera houses. Having only one opera house in N.Y, considering that it is the largest, most cultural city in the U.S, is very limiting. Where are the experimental, chamber operas? What about the singers? If you are not hired by the Met, which if you are not a world star is practically impossible, you do not have a job? The ideal situation is Vienna, where the Staatsoper is the big institution, the Kameroper is the smaller, more varied rep. opera house, the Volksoper has musicals and operettas mixed in with traditional rep. In New York it seems that the Met has absorbed everything else, but the Mets rep is not able to be varied. the big Italian classics dominate season after season, while operettas, zarzuelas, Baroque and lesser known chamber operas are rarely if ever presented. For artists it is also difficult because to build up their career they have to leave New York.

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Hello, Canary. I don't think I've had the opportunity to welcome you to the board so let me do so now. Thanks for commenting. Do the New Yorkers out there have any thoughts(although many of you have commented in this thread already. Feel free to do so again, though :flowers:)

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NYCO announced it's 2010-11 season today:

http://artsbeat.blogs.nytimes.com/2010/08/24/new-york-city-opera-announces-its-new-season/

They've got some interesting things lined up:

*Séance on a Wet Afternoon (Stephen Schwartz, with Lauren Flannigan)

*A Quiet Place (Bernstein)

*Intermezzo

*Elisir d'Amor

*3 Modern One-Acts: La Machine de l’être (Zorn), Erwartung (Schoenberg), Neither (Feldmen, with libretto by Beckett)

Also mentioned are two concerts:

Lucky to Be Me: The Vocal Music of Leonard Bernstein (two days)

Defying Gravity: The Music of Stephen Schwartz (Spring Gala, with emcees and participants from Broadway)

NYCO is certainly differentiating itself from the Met with this programming.

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Yes, the programming is pretty imaginative. But 5 bills spread out over two seasons is still a tiny slate compared to programming before the dark season/Mortier mess/recession. With so few performances they are literally just hanging on. There are a number of problems, funding is probably foremost. Will they be able to drum up support on the level of just a few seasons ago?

And even if they do, their performance opportunities are far more limited than they have been for years. I understand

that their fall season was an easier sell than the winter/spring one but much of that lucrative fall time is no longer available to them as it has been grabbed by NYCB. I don't know how permanent the three season layout for NYCB

is but it certainly cuts into what was prime time for NYCO in the weeks following Labor Day. And if it is permanent

than I think NYCO needs to find a new venue. With limited performance opportunities it will be hard for NYCO to regain their previous level of financial health.

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What - no Handel? This must be the first NYCO season in quite some time that didn't feature a Handel opera. Too bad - NYCO could usually be counted on to deliver a decent production and a good cast, and I believe their Handel productions did OK at the box office, too. I always enjoyed their off-the-beaten path 19th century opera productions, too; "L'esir d'amore" is a delightful opera, but it would be nice to sample some more rarely seen works by Donizetti, Rossini, or Bellini instead.

But I'm really intrigued by the three "monodramas" -- "Erwartung" is the only one I know -- and a chance to hear Lauren Flannigan is always welcome.

I've heard so much good stuff at NYCO that you don't really hear much of anywhere else -- I'm hopeful the company can be rebuilt into a substantial presence once again.

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NYCB didn't grab the fall. NYCO handed it to them because they could afford to pay for the weeks.

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