abatt

New York City Opera: trials and tribulations

114 posts in this topic

Well, the Koch has its first new dance company as tenant, Paul Taylor. I guess there is no such thing as loyalty when it comes to business. Paul Taylor has performed at City Center for so many years.

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

Bad timing for City Center, indeed, given that they've tried to do what they can to fix the theater's various infelicities. It has always been a dreadful place to see dance. Some things, like the sight lines and the lack of leg room, could be tweaked. But others - the size of the stage, the shallowness of the hall, and the steepness of the view of the stage from any of the rings, for example -- could probably only be addressed with a wrecking ball.

Taylor doesn't come anywhere near to filling City Center -- the top ring is always closed off and the sides of the mezzanine are often empty as well. I wonder how they'll fare at NYST? I normally try to catch about three Taylor performance during their NYCC season, and while I probably won't see any more just because they're at NYST, I'm not going to attend fewer performances either. Even if it costs more -- the guy's not gonna live forever and the fate of Cunningham's company has focused my mind powerfully on seeing as much as I can while I can.

I am wondering why Taylor mentioned NYST's acoustics, however, since his troupe rarely can afford to perform to live music anymore ...

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I've found City Center seating to be extremely frustrating, and if I were a company, and it was economically feasible to move into a much better theater, I would say fine.

Were NYCB and NYCO disloyal when they left City Center for Lincoln Center in the 1960's? Without City Center's Morton Baum, there might not be a NYCB today.

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I've been following the articles in the NY papers about this storied organization. I am sad to read there have been recent protests by the orchestra and chorale in front of buildings, because they will no longer have full time positions under the new program. While I do understand their quite natural disappointment and grief at losing full time positions, I have to wonder at what they hope to accomplish by the protests?

The NYCO was simply unsustainable at the budget, debt load, and the foundation had already been drawn down quite drastically. Would they have preferred to continue employed but have their checks bounce? The funding simply wasn't there. There are many people in other parts of the economy (including myself) who were laid off and then went on to find new careers or made lateral moves within our careers to carry on earning income.

As Michael Kaiser has said, if you continue to talk about the problems of the past, no one will get excited about the programs of the present and near future, and therefore no one will donate if they think you will soon fail! The best thing at this point is to wish the NYCO well, subscribe if you can afford to, buy single tickets if you can, and enjoy the art. Hopefully this retrenching will succeed, and perhaps in future seasons, more programming can be added, bit by bit.

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Were NYCB and NYCO disloyal when they left City Center for Lincoln Center in the 1960's? Without City Center's Morton Baum, there might not be a NYCB today.

If you look on the Paul Taylor website under Schedule, it still lists City Center as the venue in which it will perform in April 2012. It's likely that there was a mutual understanding, up until yesterday, between City Center and PT that the company would be performing at City Center in 2012. PT's withdrawal at the last minute from City Center for the 2011-12 season leaves a pretty large gap for City Center to try and fill at this late date. I also thought the reference in the article to the acoustics was not credible, since PT uses recorded music.

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PT's withdrawal at the last minute from City Center for the 2011-12 season leaves a pretty large gap for City Center to try and fill at this late date. I also thought the reference in the article to the acoustics was not credible, since PT uses recorded music.

I can't speak to whether Taylor plans to add live music or whether he thinks that recorded music will sound better in the theater, but to your first point, according to the article in the NYT linked above,

The loss of the Taylor dates will have “no significant impact” on City Center’s bottom line, Ms. Shuler said.

If that's the case, then either City Center has an alternative tenant or use, or Taylor's presence is around break-even. It is Wakin who stated that this was a "blow", but he doesn't have a quote from anyone at City Center that agrees with his assessment.

Acoustics were only one of a list of advantages Taylor cited about the new venue, but the article makes it clear from quotes by Taylor and John Tomlinson that the one-year "tryout" was based on the prestige of the address at Lincoln Center.

NYCO's troubles with its lease commitment have been well known for a while, and NYCB took NYCO dates last fall. There's nothing to indicate that this was even a last-minute decision. The arts world is small, and it is possible that preliminary talks began quite a while ago, and it would have been prudent for City Center to consider the impact of a NYCO vacancy on its own schedule and to come up with contingency plans.

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It is Wakin who stated that this was a "blow", but he doesn't have a quote from anyone at City Center that agrees with his assessment.

Why would anyone from City Center give a quote to the press indicating any negative impact to City Center from the departure of a resident company? Never let them see you sweat, I believe is the expression.

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I've found City Center seating to be extremely frustrating, and if I were a company, and it was economically feasible to move into a much better theater, I would say fine.

As an audience member, i am thrilled Taylor is moving. City Center is a hugely uncomfortable place to watch dance, and I agree that a lot of the problems can't be fixed by the type of renovation they are doing. I'll buy more Taylor tickets if its at formerly-known-as-the NY-state-theater that i would for City Center.

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Why would anyone from City Center give a quote to the press indicating any negative impact to City Center from the departure of a resident company? Never let them see you sweat, I believe is the expression.

That's one approach. Another is "We're evaluating the impact on the schedule" or "We have a contract/gentleman's agreement and this is disappointing/difficult to address at this late date" or many other schools of thought on communicating with the public.

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I have to wonder if Lincoln Center is scrambling to fill the schedule left rather suddenly empty, and so offered Paul Taylor a reduced rent that he can finally afford. This way Taylor and the State Theater each benefits from the other's luster. Whatever, I'll just be happy to see Taylor there, even if I wonder whether the stage is too large for many of his works. City Center is an awkward theater, but I do like the intimacy of it--when you can get a good seat, which often isn't easy. i do hope Taylor can give us live music once again.

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To return briefly to what might be the origins of this sad story: the NY Times has a story today about Gerard Mortier's new gig at the Teatro Real, Madrid. Included in the article are references to his problems with NYCO (or their with his).

But some combination of post-Lehman Brothers anxiety and skepticism about Mr. Mortier’s ideas ended the honeymoon. He was eventually presented with a $36 million budget for his first season, little more than half of what he had originally agreed to, and he balked. “I cannot go to run a company that has less than the smallest company in France,” Mr. Mortier said then. “You don’t need me for that.”
“But it was a miscalculation to think that when I came, there would suddenly be enormous fund-raising,” he added. “People in New York don’t know my name, they don’t know me. I don’t know if that’s my fault or their fault. I think it’s their fault. I don’t want to be pretentious, but in some things I know what I am worth. But you know, that’s New York. It’s a world city, and at the same time it’s provincial.”
“Some months before I opened,” he said, “part of the board — I don’t mean the executive committee, but the rest of the board — I asked if they all would give me $10,000 more, but there was no movement. They didn’t have the money, or they didn’t want to give the money.”
“The situation is horrible,” Mr. Mortier said of City Opera’s struggles. “I appreciate very much George Steel, but he cannot solve it. There is so much deficit, and if you can’t produce something—— ” He shook his head.

http://www.nytimes.c...?_r=1&ref=music

Mortier has a big ego -- and a huge budget in Spain. The more I think about this, the more upsetting it is that the dream of a "People's Opera" in New York City -- one combining first-rate productions of new work along with the classics -- has been destroyed, apparently for good.

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Mortier has a big ego -- and a huge budget in Spain. The more I think about this, the more upsetting it is that the dream of a "People's Opera" in New York City -- one combining first-rate productions of new work along with the classics -- has been destroyed, apparently for good.

It's pretty clear Mortier does have a huge ego. His program for Madrid includes many of the productions that were announced for Mortier's first season with NYCO, and in turn many of them were productions that he had already put on in different European houses. We'll never know how Mortier might have worked out in NY, I think conditions were already too far gone for his program to work and I suspect the Board may have contributed to the debacle by promising him an unrealistic budget that they couldn't deliver.

In the meantime, George Steel has announced a season of only 16 staged performances for 2011-2012. Two highly questionable

productions including a dreary Traviata that has already been schlepped around North America and Rufus Wainright's Prima Donna, both to be performed at BAM (will Manahttan audiences travel to Brooklyn for two such iffy productions?) as well

as a rare performance of Telemann's Orfeo in Spanish Harlem and an intriguing sounding production of Alden's Cosi. Even on these two which seem to offer more luster than the first two, the theater at the Museo del Barrio is tiny and not very well equipped. the Cosi will take place in the John Jay Theater which is a very unfriendly concrete space not far from Lincoln Center.

http://www.nytimes.com/2011/07/13/arts/music/city-opera-director-speaks-after-protest.html

But there is at least one big "if". NYCO need to reconcile their affairs with it's unions. I hardly think they are even really negotiating a contract, it's more like an agreement where NYCO will use freelance performers and the unions will agree not to set up pickets. This sounds like a really unhappy situation to me.

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Thanks, abatt. More bad news. Hard to see how this can end well, or even particularly gracefully. Terribly sad.

The breaking point for the union apparently occurred when the company offer was no longer offering guaranteed “work or pay” to the musicians, according to AP, which also noted that “the musicians' average annual income would drop from about $40,000 to as little as $5,000 for two productions.”

That said, it is difficult to imagine where the City Opera could ultimately come up with the funds to continue with its present business model. The company’s website is mum on the matter, and neither its blog nor its new release links appear to have been updated since early last fall.

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WXQR reported today that NYCO has announced it's 2012-13 season, which they will perform at City Center and BAM, where they have three year contracts at each venue.

The operas are:

Powder Her Face (Thomas Ades)

The Turn of the Screw (Benjamin Britten)

Moses in Egypt (Giacomo Rossini)

La Perichole (Jacques Offenbach)

George Steel and Charles Wall announced that the budget was balanced for this season, and "they were looking at a fully sold-out season for all performances (one, Telemann’s Orpheus, opens next month)."

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From The Wall Street Journal.

After huge budget cuts and a damaging labor fight, City Opera is on track this season to balance its budget for the first time since 2000. But it will be years before the company can expand its season to the eight or 10 annual productions it hopes to stage, officials said.

Hanging in there.

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It might have an appropriate niche with the current number of productions and the same repertory and size of budget. There seems to be a bias for it to return to a model that didn't work.

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Alex Ross isn't impressed: in a link Ray posted to the Met Ring discussion thread, Ross wrote:

Last month, having been priced out of Lincoln Center, the company decamped to the Brooklyn Academy of Music to present “La Traviata” and Rufus Wainwright’s “Prima Donna.” Neither show felt like a turnaround.

Later in the review he writes in greater detail, concluding:

This has been the most dispiriting opera season since I began reviewing music in New York, twenty years ago. Although the economic crisis has taken its toll, the problem is less a lack of money than a lack of intellectual vitality. Both the Met and City Opera are committing the supreme operatic sin: they are thinking small.

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I'm linking an article from the NY Times regarding the current health of NY City Opera. The author posits that City Opera shoudl again make its permanent home at NY City Center. That is very ironic.. The reason that most visiting ballet companies had to book at City Center was because City Opera occupied the State Theater for 16 weeks per year. Now many ballet companies have abandoned City Center in favor of the the State (Koch) Theater, due to the vacancy left by City Opera's abandonment of the venue.

http://www.nytimes.com/2013/04/27/arts/music/city-opera-might-do-best-at-city-center.html?ref=music

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A quote from the article:

So where does this leave City Opera for the future? Mr. Steel made inspired choices of works and directors. All four shows were artistically strong. But because City Opera must rent space and build each production to order, it had to crowd its offerings into concentrated periods of two weeks each: the first two at the academy in February; the second two at City Center this month, for a total of just 16 performances.

The books are balanced, the article also says. So the company really is hanging in there, and a bit more than that. A home could only help.

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helpsmilie.gif According to the article this amount is more than they were able to raise in even the best years before the recession. The NYCO thrift shop on 23rd St. earns more money for the company than the endowment!

It seems like just a weeks ago that the Times had an article speculating about a possible move to NY City Center. And now .... ???

I got introduced to NYCO when I was a high school student -- around the time I first attended NY City Ballet -- both at City Center. Decent tickets were $1.95 and $2.95 and there was a city subsidy. I saw and heard Domingo, Triegle, Sills, Milnes, Malfitano, Ramey, Verrett in always presentable, sometimes extraordinary productions, This was affordable, high-quality "people's opera," just as Balanchine's company was "people's ballet." That kind of dream is long dead in this part of the world. Now it seems that even a stripped down company which performs rarely can't afford the tariff to make it in New York City.

I'm sorry for the artists who will never get the chance to perform in such a company, and the audiences -- including young people -- who will never be able to afford decent seats at world-class musical theater. And for the young classical musicians who are on the way to losing one more possible source of employment.

This is depressing on so many levels.

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I'd be curious to see budgets from the former salad days compared to 2013. What is the big difference in costs?

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Sigh ... this even seems to have caught the folks who put together New York Magazine's very up-to-the-minute Approval Matrix by surprise. Check out this week's entry in the "Highbrow and Brilliant" quadrant (the upper right), which I assume is a thumbs up for NYCO's 2013-2014 season, beginning with the much hyped BAM co-production of Mark-Anthony Turnage's Anna Nicole:

"St. Anne's Warehouse finally has a permanent home -- in the Tobacco Warehouse ... Meanwhile, after giving up its home, New York City Opera seems to be brilliantly homeless ..."

Perhaps NYCO's sad plight will make it to the "Lowbrow and Despicable" quadrant in next week's issue.

Parterre Box's La Cieca, meanwhile, has a slightly more cynical take. Go here and here.

There were many things NYCO did much, much better than the Met ... its demise will be a real loss.

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My goodness Kathleen, reading those blogs was depressing. I recall that another poster (perhaps Drew) has mentioned that Opera blogs can be heavy on the snark, and passionate debates can quickly devolve into acidic sniping. The comments on some of the blogs certainly reflects that.

NYCO seems to be a victim of both the economic times and the changes in population in NYC. Of course they is a relationship between the two. NYC has become so extraordinarily expensive that living wages for workers must be high for them to survive in the city. Consequently the unions press for extremely high hourly wages when compared to cities such as Atlanta or Minneapolis. This means the wage related expenses for "popular" arts such as NYCB and NYCO are rising as well. There are also changes to the population of NYC. In 1955 there was a large population of European immigrants and second generation children who were familiar with Opera in Italy, Russia, Germany, etc. Slowly they have moved out to the suburbs and other cities. Replacing them are immigrants from Africa, Latin America, Southeast and Northern Asia, and the Middle East. They grew up with different musical heritages and pay for tickets to other music forms in NYC.

At the city and state level, the politics of obstruction and anti-intellectualism mean that opera is not going to receive more state or city subisidies.

I don't know if NYCO can survive this blow. I do not necessarily think all the blame lies with Mr Steele. Other dance and musical companies have come and gone, and new ones will spring up. NYC is forever moving forward.

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