12 July 2011

New York City Opera's 2012 Season, First Since Planned Exit from Lincoln Center, to Include Just Sixteen Performances of Four Operas

New York City Opera, having stated its intention to depart its longtime Lincoln Center home owing to the company's precarious financial footing, officially announced today details of its 2012 season, which will find the opera presenting just sixteen staged performances of four productions in three venues throughout New York City. 

Framing the season announcement as the beginning of a "new era for the company," City Opera's general and artistic director George Steel presented details of what will be the company's first mainstage offerings away from the recently renovated David H. Koch Theater in more than four decades at a press conference held at New York’s Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum. Simultaneously, outside the museum, members of both the American Guild of Musical Artists — which represents principal singers, choristers, stage directors, stage managers and dancers performing at City Opera — and Local 802 of the American Federation of Musicians, which represents the company's orchestral players, staged a press conference protesting both the company's departure from its Lincoln Center theater (which Steel says City Opera can no longer afford to rent at an annual cost of $4.5 million) as well as proposed changes to its agreements with the unions, which reportedly include the elimination of employment guarantees, health insurance, paid time off and minimum staffing provisions. 

"Make no mistake, things have been tough recently for the Opera," Steel said. "We are leaving the David H. Koch Theater at Lincoln Center, simply put, because we can't afford it any longer. The board's decision to leave our home for the last forty years was by no means easy, but rather driven by real financial necessity. We're making a lot of changes at the Opera. Beyond leaving the Koch Theater, we're restructuring the staff … and we're seeking some significant changes to some of our labor contracts, which are currently designed for a scale of operations we can't afford for the foreseeable future." Steel noted that while conversations surrounding changes to the company's current labor agreements will be contentious, the company "could not continue to exist" without making fundamental changes to its contracts with union employees. 

City Opera — which will forgo the presentation of staged performances during the fall of 2011 — looks to begin its season proper on February 12 at the Brooklyn Academy of Music's Howard Gilman Opera House with four performances marking the local premiere of Jonathan Miller's 2009 Glimmerglass Opera-production of La Traviata, featuring Laquita Mitchell as Violetta and David Pomery as Alfredo. The company also plans to utilize BAM's venue in February to present four performances of Rufus Wainwright's first opera, Prima Donna, which will feature Melody Moore assuming the title role in a production by Tim Albery. 

A new production of Così fan Tutte, staged by Christopher Alden at the Gerald W. Lynch Theater at John Jay College, will play for four performances in March, and will feature Amanda Majeski as Fiordiligi, Jennifer Holloway as Dorabella, Allan Clayton as Ferrando and Philip Cutlip as Guglielmo; Marie Lenormand will sing Despina and Rod Gilfry will make his City Opera debut as Don Alfonso; Christian Curnyn conducts. The company present its final production of the season in May, when it stages Telemann's Orpheus for four performances at El Museo del Barrio's 599-seat theater. City Opera intends to announce details of a creative team at a later date, although they confirmed that the performances the performances, conducted by Gary Thor Wedow, will feature baritone Daniel Teadt in the title role. 

Next season, City Opera's operating budget will be approximately $13 million, down from the current season's $31 million.  

In addition to the surrounding protests by union members, City Opera's season announcement was notable for the scant detail it provided about its 2012 offerings — casting information for many roles and two conductor positions remained unannounced — as well as the company's general plans for the future. While Steel noted that George Manahan remained the company's music director, Manahan was not in attendance, and his involvement with next season's offerings remains unclear. Likewise, Vox, Contemporary Opera Lab, the company's annual concert series dedicated to the development of new works, will require reconsideration, Steel said, having previously utilized excess weeks in City Opera orchestral players' contracts that will not be a facet of any renegotiated agreements. 

In addition to concert events presented next season — details of which were also not announced — Steel also publicized a new initiative, slated for the fall of 2012, which will find City Opera working in conjunction with the Public Theater to present free performances of operas based on Shakespeare plays at Central Park's Delacorte Theater. City Opera intends to make a full announcement about the project later this year. 

The season announcement and surrounding protests followed City Opera's financially disappointing 2010-11 season, which reportedly resulted in a budgetary shortfall of $5 million — just the latest in ten years of seasonal deficits by the company, which have routinely forced City Opera's board to resort to raiding its endowment, once valued at $59 million, to cover the shortfalls. As a consequence of the latest deficit, City Opera has been forced to eliminate fourteen staff positions, reconsider the scale of its labor contracts by means of contentious negotiations with the company's unions, vastly reconsider its plans for the 2011-12 season and depart from the Koch Theater, making it the first major constituent to defect from Lincoln Center in the arts complex's history. spacer 

More information can be found at New York City Opera and the OPERA NEWS Archives (here, here and here).

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