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It's Curtains for New York's City Opera

If any Via Meadia readers are sitting on piles of cash, here’s a chance to do something important: save the City Opera of New York. Founded seventy years ago and once known as “the people’s opera” for its relatively cheap ticket prices and alternative repertoire, the City Opera is now sadly headed for the chopping block. The NYT reports:

Absent the kind of deus ex machina that has saved the day in so many of the convoluted opera plots the troupe has performed over the years, City Opera will start shutting itself down next week if it fails to raise $7 million.

City Opera’s board voted on Thursday to begin filing for bankruptcy and start dismantling itself if that goal was not met by Monday. Going into the weekend the company had raised less than a quarter of what it said it needed to stay in business.

As audience members headed for the exits on Saturday night, the demise of the company seemed to be on the lips of as many people as the demise of the operatic heroine they had just witnessed.

It’s good to have a scrappy alternative to the Met championing new music, reaching a younger audience and offering emerging singers another venue to show the public what they’ve got. The day the City Opera dies, New York will be a poorer place. Anyone who can help it last a little while longer will be doing NYC a great service.

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  • tarentius

    The assumption that the City Opera is worth saving is one with which I take vehement issue. As an opera buff for over 55 years, I have attended operas all over the world and so many at the Met and City Opera that I have lost count. The fundamental fact is that the City Opera, like a Detroit auto company, has been horribly mismanaged over the years and under the guise of “alternative opera” and “the people’s opera” (A description worthy of Stalinist Russia), the City Opera has, not to put too fine a point on it, offered “crap” that the opera audience refuses to patronize. Just as Detroit produced clunker cars, City Opera produced clunker operas. What management thinks that an opera about Anna Nicole Smith is something its audience is willing to shill out hundreds of dollars to see? (What, no opera about Kim Kardashian?) Contemporary operas can be successful; contemporary operas about Anna Nicole Smith can’t.
    Once again, Via Media wants to show its “intellectual coolness” by lamenting the demise of opera. Well, bad opera is bad opera. If opera buffs won’t pay to see them, why should anyone spend millions to save an unwanted, inferior product?

  • wigwag

    This is so sad. The Company was founded by Fiorello LaGuardia as the “people’s opera.”
    As a long time subscriber to both City Opera and the Metropolitan Opera, I know that both companies are capable of showcasing brilliant productions but also awful productions. The difference was when you saw a clunker at City Opera you were out about $150 dollars for two seats; when you see a clunker at the Metropolitan Opera you can easily be out $400 for two seats.
    I’ve seen some majestic performances of rarely staged operas at City opera. Perhaps the most memorable was the little performed Mathis der Maler by Paul Hindemith. The opera was inspired by Hindenmith’s fascination with the Protestant reformation,
    City Opera also made a habit of performing some of the lesser know operas of Rossini. Some of my favorites were: “An Italian in Algiers,” “Emione, and “The Journey to Reims.”
    They also performed a Handel Opera every year. Notable performances (for me, at least) included: “Rodrigo, ” “Agrippina,” “Rinaldo,” and “Partenope.”
    As good as some of the productions were, the management of City Opera was horrendous. It’s hard to believe that in a City with more billionaires and multimillionaires than any City in the world that they couldn’t come up with a paltry $20 million. Trust me; the Metropolitan Opera doesn’t rely on ticket sales or small donations to bring home the bacon; they rely on mega donors like every other successful arts organization in New York. That the management of City Opera couldn’t figure out how to do this is an example of sheer stupidity at its worst.
    The City Opera’s decision to abandon Lincoln Center was also a horrendous error in judgment. Had they made City Center or the Brooklyn Academy of Music its permanent home right away, perhaps City Opera could have survived but the decision to become an itinerant company moving from venue to venue was idiotic. During their first year out of Lincoln Center I attended a performance of “Orpheus” at the Museo del Barrio; the performance was fine but the seating was so uncomfortable that I had to walk out.
    One of the reasons that the Metropolitan Opera has been so successful is that not only is the musically talent James Levine, its music director, but it has two extraordinarily competent general directors in a row; Joseph Volpe and Peter Gelb. City Opera on the other hand has been cursed with the incompetent George Steele.
    Many people believe that City Opera’s major failure was its enthusiasm for presenting new operas; in part this may be true. While I’ve seen some excellent contemporary opera’s presented by the Company including 2011’s “Séance on a Wet Afternoon,” by Stephen Schwartz and 2004’s “Haroun and the Sea of Stories by Salman Rushdie, many of the new operas were too arcane to appeal to a wide audience which wanted to see the old favorites again and again.
    City opera will be missed (assuming it isn’t resurrected in a new form). In the meantime all we can do is hope that the Metropolitan Opera occasionally puts on a performance that is reasonably good even if the good seats are unaffordable. Given the Met’s proclivity to hire can belto singers, all we can do is hope for the best.
    In the meantime, not all is lost. There are still reasonably passable local companies in the tri state area. One of my favorites is the Opera Company of New Jersey which performs at the McCarter Theater adjacent to Princeton University and at the New Jersey Performing Arts Center in Newark.
    Rest in peace, New York City Opera; you may be gone but you will never be forgotten.

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