Friday, September 27, 2013

Beginning with "Tosca" and ending with "Anna Nicole". The impending death of New York City Opera.

Break out the hankies Ladies and Gents. It appears that the powers-that-be are on the brink of pulling the life-support plug on New York City Opera. After struggling through the numerous bungled attempts at keeping its doors open, City Opera has begun spinning its obituary into the media - as a last ditch effort to guilt people into giving money.

It's not a secret: City Opera is broken. It has been broken for a long time... prior to the debacle of hiring Gerard Mortier. You remember Mortier, right? Here's from a Bloomberg.com article from 2009:
NYCO lurched toward the abyss [around 2007] when [Board chairwoman] Baker and her executive committee failed to have a general manager ready to replace Paul Kellogg, who retired with plenty of notice. 
Months later, Baker’s board hired Belgian big Gerard Mortier, who, however, already had a job running the Paris Opera for another two years. 
Crazy doesn’t begin to describe his appointment. Here’s a guy known as a big spender of public subsidies who hates traditional operas. Puccini makes him sick. 
NYCO began dying right about then.
Since Mortier left - without actually starting his job and while taking hundreds of thousands of dollars with him - the administration and board of NY City Opera has misguided the company and spent almost all of its endowment. An endowment that went from $48 million in 2008 to $5.07 million at the end of June 2012.

Soprano turned general director: Beverly Sills
Blame was placed on the board's former chairwoman, Susan Baker. Then, blame was placed on the economic downturn, even though it is widely known that Beverly Sills - diva and media darling, turned general director - ran the company for a decade, raising vast sums of money in often shaky times all while keeping City Opera's high profile intact.

But, much of those fundraising efforts have been eaten up, now. City Opera left its home at Lincoln Center. The company has cut it's staff down to 25 people and started trying to produce shows all over town. Still, the company was floundering. Almost a year ago, the New York Times reported that George Steel had a plan to save on warehouse costs. Remember this? Steel had decided to sell off - or, in some cases *trash* - the majority of productions that City Opera owns. That's right: sets, costumes and all. The company was then going to completely vacate their warehouse and Steel's idea was to store the few productions they'd like to keep ... in trucks - following the Met's lead.

Decision after decision ... George Steel and City Opera's board just kept supporting each other's ineptness. Quoted in the Washington Post, Steel says:
“It’s incredibly difficult to run an organization of this size with our eye so closely fixed on the week-to-week cash flow. It saps the energy of the staff and frankly it undermines the bigger point, which is that the company by many measures is in better financial shape than it has been in a long time,” City Opera general manager George Steel said. “We’ve been creating some of the best work we have ever done, but what we cannot do without is the capital to make our shows happen.”
"... by many measures"? WHAT measures, Mr. Steel? Nothing that I've seen. You're in the hole!!

Yesterday the board of City Opera voted to begin bankruptcy proceedings. But, as I said, the obituary is being spun as a last ditch effort to guilt people into giving to their Kickstarter campaign - and donating directly to City Opera, of course.

There's the quote from Placido Domingo:
“My early performances with New York City Opera were what really kicked off my international career, and I look back on those days with enormous pride,” Domingo said. “The company has done incredible work for so many decades, and it has played an essential role in New York’s cultural scene for millions of opera lovers. It would be an absolute tragedy for that legacy to come to an end.”
Of course, La Diva Renée (Fleming) - who in addition to singing is creative consultant to the Lyric Opera of Chicago - is quoted as well:
“I believe the city needs a smaller, more flexible chamber opera company with the highest artistic standards and innovative ideas — performing everything from baroque opera to experimental music theater,” she said. “If the Met is a luxury liner, then City Opera could be the life raft that finds a 21st-century future for the art form, and a new audience with it.”
Respectfully, La Diva Renée, If City Opera is a life raft ... then, we need to send a serious SOS because the life raft is deflating.

Even London's Covent Garden got in on the action - its director of opera, Kasper Holten, is quoted as saying:
“It would be absolutely appalling to imagine a city as great as New York not being able to have two major opera companies. If you look at London, if you look at Berlin, if you look at Moscow, if you look at Vienna, they have two opera houses, and of course New York should have two opera houses.”
And so, it appears that the company that helped launch the careers of countless singers including Beverly Sills, Placido Domingo, Samuel Ramey and Renée Fleming ... the company that at its height was producing 12 to 16 operas with about 130 performances in a season ... the company that was founded as “the people’s opera” by Mayor Fiorello LaGuardia in 1944 ... the company that gave Tosca as its first performance, will die after giving Anna Nicole as its last.

The irony is not lost - both Anna Nicole Smith and City Opera will have died in a manner that was preventable and is both tragic and senseless.

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