Monday, September 9, 2013

More Woes for New York City Opera.

For the last few years, many have been asking for help ... help to save New York City Opera from itself.

After all, there was the ill-advised and executed Mortier debacle. There have been major shifts to City Opera's production and casting decisions. There was the ridiculous decision to leave Lincoln Center and become a rootless, strolling minstrel group. There was the decision to "sell off" the historic productions that made City Opera what it was.

And now, New York City Opera... the "people's opera"... has resorted to Kickstarter in order to try to raise some money. Additionally, there have been threats made regarding the future of City Opera production schedules. From the New York Times:
New York City Opera, which was founded 70 years ago to bring opera to the masses, will be forced to cancel most of its current season and all of its next season if it fails to raise $20 million by year’s end, company officials say.

“The company’s been living on the edge and hand-to-mouth for a number of years, and we’ve gotten through our own share of financial troubles,” George Steel, the company’s general manager and artistic director, said in a telephone interview last week. “We’ve had balanced budgets for the last two years, and we’ve been doing, I think, incredible work onstage. But we can’t forge ahead without a significant infusion of capital.”

The company’s $20 million fund-raising goal is nearly twice the $11.5 million it reported raising last year. And it is more than the troupe was able to raise in better times, before the recession, and before its squeezed finances forced it to abandon its old home in Lincoln Center, where it used to give more than 100 performances a season. The company has led a nomadic existence since leaving Lincoln Center in 2011, performing fewer than 20 times a year, often to critical praise, at theaters around the city.

The company is still preparing to go ahead next week with the highly anticipated American premiere of Mark-Anthony Turnage’s opera
Anna Nicole, a coproduction with the Brooklyn Academy of Music.

But it will cancel the other productions it has planned for this season — Johann Christian Bach’s
Endimione Bartok’s Bluebeard’s Castle and Mozart’s Marriage of Figaro — if it cannot raise $7 million by Sept. 30, Mr. Steel said.
For 4 years now, George Steel has taken the "cooking pasta" approach to running New York City Opera ... while the pasta is cooking, he keeps pulling pieces out of the boiling water and throwing them against the wall in hopes that, at some point, something will stick.

I mean: now, the company will seek to raise $1 million of the $7 million it needs to raise by the end of the month through an online Kickstarter campaign. As of this moment: 314 people have pledged $28,005 - and, there are 21 days to go in the online campaign (that's an average pledge of $89.18). If, as per Kickstarter's rules, they do not completely fund their goal, they get $0.

Eva-Maria Westbroek as Anna Nicole
Now, according to the Wall Street Journal, this shortfall isn't entirely City Opera's fault:
[The] problems came to a head two weeks ago, after some pledges expected over the summer fell through and with City Opera's much-anticipated U.S. premiere of Anna Nicole, based on the life and death of tabloid star Anna Nicole Smith, fast approaching. Opening Sept. 17, Anna Nicole is a co-production with the Brooklyn Academy of Music. City Opera's share of the cost is $1.3 million.

Over those two weeks, the company scrambled to assemble the cash it needed to pay for rehearsals and other production costs, raising $1.1 million by asking board members to write checks and calling in pledges early from other donors, officials said.

But after the two-week run at BAM, City Opera once again will be out of cash, Mr. Steel said.
This has many inside (and, outside) the operatic community asking: "Why? Why should I give to a fledgling company that clearly cannot manage its money wisely and continually finds itself operating so close to the financial cliff?"

In fact, Gawker even went a step further saying: Do Not Give a Dollar to the Opera:
In return for $20 million in charitable donations, the New York City Opera will produce three operas this season, and another season of operas next year.

Could that same $20 million in charitable donations be better spent elsewhere? Well, if you believe that saving human lives is a better use of money than producing operas, then yes. That money could purchase nearly seven million anti-malaria nets through the Against Malaria Foundation, which is rated as the world's most effective charity by the ethical philosopher Peter Singer. Singer's group estimates that a human life is saved for every $1,865 donated to the AMF. So, for the cost of producing one and a half seasons of opera in New York City, more than 10,000 deaths in developing countries could be prevented.

Perhaps the charitable donors who might give money to the New York City Opera are only interested in causes here in New York City. In that case, consider the fact that there are currently more than 50,000 homeless people in our city. A donation of $20 million to, for example, the Coalition for the Homeless could go a long way towards addressing the needs of those in crisis.

There are many things in this world that are all well and good, but that are not the best uses of charitable donations, which are a precious and limited resource. When charitable resources are limited, they should be put towards the most pressing needs. Saving human lives or helping the homeless are just two examples of needs that are more pressing than producing one and a half seasons of opera in New York City.

Opera, as an art form, will survive. The child who gets malaria will not.
Listen, I get the point. No one wants to give money to an organization that cannot manage it. But, judging people who give money to the arts as "less than" because they didn't give their money to save childhood Malaria, is not only completely overstating the point, but it is also neglecting to see the significance of the arts and opera in our country's landscape.

What about the zillions of dollars that corporations give to sports teams and their arenas? Do you judge them? What about the zillions of dollars that people give to gun lobbying firms like the NRA? Imagine the children in our own country who could be helped for THOSE dollars.

People give money to whomever they feel will A.) Help them (ie: the gun lobby helping those who are against gun restriction). or B.) Make them feel good about themselves via the cause to which their money is going (ie: the arts, PETA, UNICEF and the like).

Anyway, Gawker aside... I think it's time for someone - most likely, the board - to take a good, hard, long-since-overdue look at the state of City Opera because clearly, what's been happening in recent years isn't working. I know Mr. Steel has stated that the company has "worked through" it's financial woes, has balanced budgets and tra-la-la. But, clearly something is amiss considering - after all of the cost cutting, laying off of workers, decreasing contracts, moving etc. etc. etc. - City Opera is still so IN THE HOLE, or close to the hole, that they are threatening to shutter future productions.

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