21 May 2011
Struggling New York City Opera Announces Intention to Depart Lincoln Center
New York City Opera intends to vacate its recently renovated home, the David H. Koch Theater at Lincoln Center, and will perform in various, as yet unnamed venues around New York City next season, company administrators told the New York Times today.
The announcement followed two days of critical meetings by the company's board in which City Opera officials sought to find a way to close a budgetary shortfall of $5 million for the 2010-11 season and settle on financially feasible plans for the 2011-12 season. In addition to what appears to be its immediately slated departure from Lincoln Center, the company's board reportedly determined that its deficit necessitated laying off staff members — a move which representatives from the American Guild of Musical Artists, which represents City Opera's principal singers, choristers, stage directors, stage managers and dancers, said might result in the filing of unfair labor practice charges with the National Labor Relations Board.
While the company has yet to announce any plans for its 2011-12 season, it looks certain that the New York City Opera that returns in the fall of 2011 will appear markedly different from the company founded in 1943 and deemed "the people's opera" by New York mayor Fiorello La Guardia. George Steel, the company's general manager and artistic director, declined to tell the New York Times what or where City Opera would perform next season, though he did characterize the 2011-12 budget as "significantly smaller" than the current season's $22 million. The Times reported that the company's board had agreed on a budget that would allow for the production of five operas and three concerts beginning in October, though the works would likely take place in some theaters ranging from 300 to 900 seats, as well as additional "relatively unorthodox" performance spaces that might seat approximately 2,600 people.
In abandoning the Lincoln Center theater that City Opera has called home since it relocated from the New York City Center of Music and Drama in 1966, the company looks to save nearly $4.5 million annually in rental costs and would make City Opera the first major performing arts company to defect from the arts complex since its establishment nearly five decades ago.
"We love Lincoln Center," Steel told the Times. "It’s a wonderful place. But the reality is that the fixed costs of living here are simply too high. That’s why we are looking at leaving."
The announcement of City Opera's intended departure from Lincoln Center looks to be its latest effort to stave off wholesale collapse, the company having experienced several precarious years of administrative and fiscal instabilities that have resulted in a depletion of its endowment from a recent high of $57 million to nearly $9 million. Likewise, City Opera administrators had long made known the company's displeasure with its accommodations at the David H. Koch Theater — previously named the New York State Theater — though Steel had indicated that, in his opinion, acoustic and logistic issues had been largely mitigated following a $107 million renovation two years ago. City Opera had previously sought space at the World Trade Center's unbuilt performing arts facility, as well as in an ultimately thwarted theater at 66th Street and Amsterdam Avenue in Manhattan. Following the departure of general director Paul Kellogg in 2007, the company also operated without a general director for the following season, during which time it saw the State Theater renovated — at the expense of the presentation of any mainstage offerings — and its artistic-director designate, Gerard Mortier, renege on his plan to join the company.
Steel, who was appointed to the company in January 2009 following a four-month tenure at Dallas Opera, managed to arrange the details of a five-opera, thirty-two-performance season in a matter of months. The box office results from his second season leading City Opera, though, fell "considerably short" of what the company had anticipated and appear to have left the organization in a position where it may no longer be able to produce the daring admixture of modern fare, neglected works and reinterpretations of standard repertory operas that Steel had envisioned as the company's mandate.
Charles R. Wall, who was named the chairman of the company's board of directors in September, signaled that he intended to donate $2.5 million in an effort to plug the gap in its 2010-11 budget, but he said that company would not announce plans for next season until it had found a way to cover the remaining deficit.
More information can be found at New York City Opera, the New York Times and the OPERA NEWS Archives (here, here and here).
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