Tuesday, December 6, 2011

As City Opera moves, the Met's Gelb brings opera back from the dead

It's been a while since we've been given some bad news heard from New York City Opera ... pity, no?

The silence was broken yesterday when we found out that talks had broken down between NYC Opera and the unions that represent the orchestra players and singers - and that City Opera is now seeking the help of a federal mediator.

As we know, City Opera has reduced its budget by two thirds and has decided to move its productions out of its Lincoln Center home - explaining that it's a money saving measure. City Opera (not unlike the Republican Party, mind you) is seeking to go back to the dark ages when the chorus members and musicians were paid for each rehearsal and performance, with reduced health benefits. While the unions want their members to be compensated by the week with stronger guarantees of employment.

It's too bad City Opera doesn't move to Wisconsin.

My favorite part about this whole thing is the screen shot of the article as I was reading it... make sure to check out the ad to the right:


Indeed... that's a great question, City Opera. "Where will opera take you?"

Well, if your City Opera administration, you're being taking away from Lincoln Center (which some might say is the hub of culture) and being taken to lower Manhattan - 75 Broad Street, to be exact (pictured right) - the former home of International Telephone and Telegraph.

Yep. That's correct. The New York Times is reporting that the company said it would move its administrative operation on Dec. 16, taking residence in temporary quarters at 75 Broad before occupying 14K square feet of renovated space there in March or April. The company is also renting 4K square feet of storage space in the building, partly for its archives.

Meh, why preserve the archives? It's not like City Opera is very concerned with preserving the legacy which the archives represent. Mr. Steel, do yourself a favor: save a few bucks on moving costs: leave the archives at Lincoln Center ... just like your company, it's where they belong.

In other news, according to reporter Shelley DuBois, opera has died and the Met's Peter Gelb is bringing it back from the dead. No joke. Here is a portion of the q&a from the article:
Peter Gelb: Bringing opera back from the dead

Fortune: How do you make opera a viable business?

Peter Gelb: I would never pretend that running an opera house is any kind of a satisfactory business model, but we have a model for how to survive. The Met historically has had an endowment. It also relies on annual giving, which comes from donors who are huge, opinionated opera fans. ...

How do you think opera at the Met came to find itself in that sort of change-resistant bubble?

I think there was kind of a general feeling that it didn't need to move and progress along with the rest of the arts because audiences were coming. Opera at the Met became a very important part of the social framework of New York. It became sort of a specialized art form where great singing was enough.

But times have changed, so how do you keep opera alive?

What fuels me is the fear of the art form not surviving. To think that an art form or an institution like this is immune to the possibility of extinction would be a big mistake.

I have to do everything in my power to make it interesting in an environment in which arts education is virtually nonexistent. How can we possibly keep this thing going when the audience at the Met was literally dying of old age? I've had to take a lot of calculated risks. And the risks I've taken have, for the most part, in the short term, paid off.

What specific changes did you make?

I've accelerated the number of new productions. That's one of my initiatives here, to take an art form that has been, to a certain extent, coasting theatrically, and to revitalize it and give it a kind of injection of artistic vitamins. There's no one particular style we're adapting, it's executing the wishes of the directors that I'm bringing in.

Are those new directors on board?

I had to convince directors that I was going to protect them and make it actually work in this factory-like environment. And they went along with it. Even though they know it's much more challenging and difficult, they also see this as an incredible grand stage to show their work, it's cool.
For more, including how Gelb has managed the expectations of major donors and how he manages the tempestuous personalities that grace the Met's stage, hop over to Fortune.

1 comment:

Andrew said...

I totally get where you're coming from, particularly where Steel's salary is concerned, but do you really think City Opera belongs at Lincoln Center? The State Theatre is an awful, awful place to put on operas, and instead of being the people's opera (which is really what City Opera should be, at least in my opinion), they sort of became the slightly weird, slightly less expensive stepsister to the Met. Had all the other bad decisions not been made, I would have leapt for joy at City Opera's move. Even so, I can't help but hope they succeed; New York would be immeasurably poorer without them.

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