Will fat lady sing for NYC Opera?
Published 27/09/2013 | 07:01
The New York City Opera could be sounding its final note this weekend - at least for a while.
The 70-year-old company says it plans to file for bankruptcy and scrap the bulk of its 2013-14 season unless it somehow manages to reach its fund-raising goal, which it admits is not likely.
"The board has voted to start bankruptcy proceedings next week if we do not raise the seven million dollars (£4.3m) by the end of Monday," spokesman Risa Heller said. she said commitments had been made for just 1.5 million (£937,000).
A collapse would leave the 130-year-old Metropolitan Opera as the city's only major opera company.
"It would be absolutely appalling to imagine a city as great as New York not being able to have two major opera companies," said Kasper Holten, director of opera at London's Covent Garden.
"If you look 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."
Having presented 12 to 16 operas with a peak of about 130 performances in a season, the company has shrunk to four stagings and 16 performances in each of the past two seasons. Its endowment has dwindled from 48 million dollars (£30m) in 2008 to 5.07 million (£3.1m) at the end of June 2012, according to tax records, and its staff has been pared to 25.
City Opera announced on September 12 that it needed seven million dollars by the end of this month and said it hoped to raise one million of that total on Kickstarter.com. By yesterday, 156,663 dollars (£97,900) had been raised from 972 backers on the website.
"It's incredibly difficult to run an organisation 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."
The company says an additional 13 million dollars (£8.1m) has to be raised by the end of this year to fund its 2014-15 season.
"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."
City Opera's finances were devastated during the term of Susan Baker, who chaired its board from December 2003 until Charles Wall took over in December 2010.
The company used part of its endowment to pay expenses. Given deteriorating economics caused partly by the financial crisis, the 2009-10 season was cut to five productions and 33 performances, and the schedule only slightly increased for 2010-11. The company then left Lincoln Centre and is in its third season of performing at a variety of venues.
Known for innovation and feistiness, City Opera became a vehicle for young American singers to gain attention. It presented a number of world premieres, including Jack Beeson's Lizzie Borden, and under Steel it has staged the US premiere of Rufus Wainwright's Prima Donna and a provocative staging of Thomas Ades' Powder Her Face that included about two dozen naked men.
Mark-Anthony Turnage's Anna Nicole, which premiered at Covent Garden in February 2011, showcased City Opera at its best - sassy, profane and entertaining. But this could be the end for the company.
Anna Nicole runs until Saturday at the Brooklyn Academy of Music. In danger of cancellation are Johann Christian Bach's Endimione at El Museo del Barrio from February 8-16, Bartok's Bluebeard's Castle at Brooklyn's St Ann's Warehouse from February 28 to March and Mozart's Le Nozze di Figaro (The Marriage of Figaro) at City Centre from April 19-26.
Domingo suggests the company go on the road around the state to broaden its appeal. Fleming, who in addition to singing is creative consultant to the Lyric Opera of Chicago, hopes City Opera survives in an innovative manner.
"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."