Thursday, May 19, 2011

NYCOpera "an opera company that does not do opera..." and the politics of it all

So, Ladies and Gents ... first, I see this little gem from our friend Zachary Woolfe - writer / editor at Capital NY, opera critic for the NY Observer and freelance music critic for the NY Times:


Then, I get a little notice in my chronically over-stuffed Google Reader that the open letter to NYCO's management had been "somehow leaked" to the Wall Street Journal. Now, you know full-well that I sprinted over to the WSJ website to see what I could find and this is what I see:
Alto-cation at City Opera
Singers and Staff Blame Empty Seats on Lack of Popular Productions, Marketing

BY ERICA ORDEN

Singers and production staff of the troubled New York City Opera are urging the board to take the company in a "different direction," arguing in a letter this week that by avoiding popular classics, the company has failed to entice audiences.

"We are very frustrated that NYCO has now become an opera company that does not do opera," said the letter, a copy of which was reviewed by The Wall Street Journal.

The missive comes on the eve of a critical board meeting, set for Thursday and widely expected to determine the fate of the company's fall season.

The opera's ...
That's it. That's all I see. And why, pray tell, is that all that I see?

[Tangent alert!]

Well, it seems that our dear friends at The Wall Street Journal would like Yours Truly to shell out some dough for an online subscription - to the tune of $103.48 for the year. But, that's only for the first year. Oh, yes. After the first year, it jumps to $155.48 for the year. I refuse. Merely on principle.

I know. I know. This is how the Newspapers will keep from going under. I get it. Blah ... blah ... frackity-blah. Clearly I have not been able to - nor do I think I ever will be able to - wrap my brain around having to pay $155.48 a year to get access to a news source online. If it were printed and I had some paper in my hand that I could then cut clippings to keep, pack moving boxes or use as a mat for my daughter's latest crafting project ... I could understand $155.48. But, to spend that kind of money so that I can sit at my desk and click through to the rest of a story that certainly doesn't make or break national public policy or start any wars overseas - I just can't, Chickpeas.

Wow. I kind of went 'round the bend on that one. Didn't I?

Okay. Back to the issue at hand. It seems that City Opera has got some angry folks on their hands - and I can see why. I think in the zeal to bring in "younger audiences", many companies are alienating their audience base. City Opera is the poster-child for this type of campaign.

And now that I say that - it occurs to me that running an opera company seems to be a lot like running for political office. You run your campaign catering to your base - your core group of supporters - in order to get the votes (in this case, a "vote" is a butt in the seat). But, after your elected, you have to pull back the reigns a little and govern for everyone - including the people who don't like you or what you're doing. That means, little by little, having to do some things that might make your base a little hot under the collar. But, in the long run, you might score some points with people who never thought of voting for you.

Campaign for your base. Govern for everyone.

It might be smart for opera companies to think in these terms - catering to their base to get butts in the seats and then little by little, starting to introduce new ideas, concepts and policies in order to bring more independent thinkers into the fold.

Let's be honest, though. In this instance it seems that NYCO's Mr. Steel has switched political parties all together and has completely forgotten about his core group of supporters. Swing the pendulum back this way a little bit, Mr. Steel. Your base will thank you by putting their keesters back in your seats.

**UPDATE**

This afternoon, the Associated Press has released this:
NEW YORK (AP) — The board of the New York City Opera is meeting as the company fights for its life.

For decades, the company has built daring new productions and the careers of stars like Placido Domingo and Beverly Sills. But it’s now in dire financial straits.

A critical meeting of its board is scheduled for Thursday. Its chairman has contributed $2.5 million toward plugging a deficit twice that much.

Union leader Alan Gordon warns that the singers and the orchestra could “strike and drive City Opera out of existence” if working hours and benefits are substantially cut.

Opera spokeswoman Maggie McKeon says in a statement that the company is “focused on moving forward with a balanced budget” to ensure that it continues to thrive.
[Source]

1 comment:

stray said...

Well, I figure the WSJ isn't published for people like me who can't afford to scale the paywall, so no great loss. What bugs me more is the NYT following suit.

Now that NYCO is splitting its digs, though, it would be the perfect opportunity for one of those rapacious Robber Barons who can and do read the WSJ to put some brass back into the arts economy. Preferably not the last guy, though. Some opera-goers have standards.

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