Last Thursday and Friday, the opera's board members met to discuss the company's fate. During this extended and very tense meeting, the board voted to cut costs by drastically reducing the opera's staff and by eliminating guarantees for its unionized singers, dancers, chorus members and stage managers - instead, paying them on a freelance basis.
Alan Gordon, the president of the American Guild of Musical Artists, which covers the chorus, singers and stage managers told the New York Times that he saw the very existence of a season as positive.
“It doesn’t matter to us where they perform,” he said in a telephone interview. “If they can satisfy the guarantee of 26 weeks or close to it, that’s good.”The company's decision to leave comes after years of back and forth - "Will they, or wont they" - on the matter. There was talk of the company taking up residence at World Trade. There was talk of them moving to a projected new home on Amsterdam Avenue and 66th Street. Then, there was the multi-million dollar renovation of the New York State Theater (now named the ... I can't bear to say it.) which had horrifically dead acoustics for singers as it was built to deaden the sound of ballet dancers' feet.
But in a later e-mail, he also criticized Mr. Steel for trying to eliminate guaranteed salaries and to pay employees per rehearsal and performance, like “an old-fashioned shape-up on the waterfront.” Under that structure, he said, the company would “not be an opera company worth existing,” and guild members “would not work for that sort of company.”
He added, “Steel’s approach is out-and-out stupid and it’s designed to assure that City Opera goes out of business.”
While City Opera doesn't pay rent on the [formerly known as New York State] Theater, it does pay the operating costs of running the place. Mr. Steel told the Wall Street Journal:
"We simply can't afford it ... There's a tremendous opportunity for us, going out and finding a new home, to reestablish ourselves and find new audiences."Part of me thinks this is truly great for them. But, the other part of me isn't holding my breath that it will actually happen. I'll believe it when the moving trucks show up.
Opera officials have had initial discussions with officials from Lincoln Center concerning the company's planned departure, according to Mr. Steel. A spokeswoman for Lincoln Center, Betsy Vorce, said Friday that it was premature for the organization to comment on City Opera's situation.
Mr. Steel declined to specify the alternative venues under consideration but said the company is pursuing a performance space that could accommodate full-scale operas and serve as a home base, as well as other venues that would suit medium-scale opera productions.