Those of us who find ourselves scanning the 'net in search of the latest morsel of information on the matter were given not just a morsel ... but instead, we were thrown a nice juicy bone to chew on.
Very early this morning (or was it very late last night?), I noticed an Op/Ed piece on The New York Times website titled: Preserving New York City Opera. This Op/Ed was penned by none other than NY City Opera's former general director and principal conductor, Maestro Julius Rudel.
Let's be honest, Chiclets ... I would be negligent if I did not bring it to you in it's entirety. Right? (Many thanks, in advance, to The New York Times):
Preserving New York City OperaJulius Rudel, FTW!
By JULIUS RUDEL
Published: June 07, 2011
The New York City Opera was born in 1943, a year after I graduated from the Mannes Music School. Laszlo Halasz, the company's first music director, hired me as a rehearsal pianist and vocal coach. I was 22 and had arrived in the United States five years earlier, after Hitler took over my native Austria.
That an opera company could be created while World War II raged spoke to America's best aspirations. Mayor Fiorello H. La Guardia called it "the people's opera," in contrast to the older Metropolitan Opera, and from the beginning, it was. It brought opera to the masses, including immigrants like myself. It exposed audiences to innovative and challenging works. It showcased the talents of American singers and composers.
Today, City Opera, to which I devoted some of the best years of my conducting career, is fighting to survive. Last month, it revealed plans to leave Lincoln Center, its home for the last 45 years, and to perform at various, unspecified locations around New York. It slashed its $31 million budget and laid off nearly a quarter of its administrative staff members. And it declined to say what operas it will put on next season, where they will be performed or how they will be financed. The vague plans put forward would leave the company not even a shadow of what it was intended to be - and became.
Some have blamed the company's woes on its Lincoln Center location, citing the expense and the proximity to the Met. But I believe the location has become a scapegoat for the hardships of a company that has suffered from inconsistent leadership by its board and a failure to engage in the smart programming and strategic planning that companies need to survive in hard times. I cannot sit by and watch as the legacy that was built by a company, if not a family, of talented, dedicated people is cast aside.
In 1965, when we considered moving from our first home (New York City Center, on West 56th Street) to the New York State Theater (now the David H. Koch Theater) at Lincoln Center, I was apprehensive, fearing that we might be forced to abandon the qualities that had allowed us to grow. I was wrong.
From our first night in our new home - Feb. 22, 1966, the North American premiere of Alberto Ginastera's Don Rodrigo, starring a 25-year-old Plácido Domingo - the benefits were apparent: the ambience, the proximity to other institutions (including, yes, the Met), and the attention the international music press lavished on the new arts complex. That attention helped us to attract, despite our low fees, top-flight singers, conductors and directors.
The new space and new technologies also allowed us to put on memorable productions of Arrigo Boito's Mefistofele, Leos Janacek's Makropulos Case and Erich Wolfgang Korngold's Tote Stadt, among others. We presented new works and reinterpreted old ones to sold-out houses. At its peak, we presented 200 performances a year in New York and undertook annual tours to Los Angeles and Washington.
We also developed teams of ensemble singers, many of whom went on to major international careers - Beverly Sills, Norman Treigle, Phyllis Curtin, Beverly Wolff, Samuel Ramey, Catherine Malfitano and many, many others - and helped establish the American opera singer as a force to be reckoned with. If we had become the traveling band that is currently being proposed, many of those careers might never have blossomed.
Indeed, Lincoln Center solidified the company's place not as New York's second opera company, but as New York's other opera company. We were never thought of, and never thought of ourselves, as a lesser Met.
Over 68 years, I have seen City Opera thrive and I've seen it struggle. I realize that today's economic climate and changing paradigms in the arts pose monumental challenges. Opera companies everywhere face the question of how to attract and retain audiences; keeping the opera experience fresh and meaningful, making certain that what is presented is first-class, and experimenting with innovative repertory and productions that steadily build audiences are vital to assure opera's survival.
Once before, in 1956, City Opera faced the threat of bankruptcy, but instead of retrenching and cutting, the board boldly moved forward, securing the financing we needed to stabilize the company and then grow. The current board must reconsider its decision and demonstrate the commitment and vision its predecessors had.
If the board and management of City Opera cannot finance, produce and support full seasons of new works and standard operas in interesting productions with first-rate casts as we once did, they should be replaced, so that 68 years from now no one will wonder what ever became of City Opera.
Julius Rudel was the general director and principal conductor of the New York City Opera from 1957 to 1979.
It kind of makes me wonder - what would Beverly Sills say right about now?