New Direction

Letters State Theater 312

This morning I read Fred Cohn's article in OPERA NEWS [January] about New York City Opera, which I think did as good a job as any thus far in unspooling the complex story of the last decade, and all the profound changes to the company that have come as a result. 

While I don't agree with all of its facts or conclusions — what subject of such an article would? — there is one assertion I felt I ought to ask you to reconsider and possibly correct. Moved by the dramatic changes at the company, Cohn overreached when he wrote of the effect the contract changes we are seeking would have on the substance of the company. Early in the piece, he writes:

"Most alarmingly, City Opera is no longer a real opera company, in any recognizable sense of the word. If Steel's plan goes through, the company will have no permanent orchestra or chorus and no singers under weekly contract."

I must take strong exception to his assertions in the second sentence, and by extension, the pejorative inferences of the first. At the direction of the Board of Directors, we are indeed working to reshape the entire financial structure of City Opera, including our contracts with the orchestra and chorus. This means, primarily, paying these company members by the hour for the work they do, rather than by the week, and paying only those who actually work and only for the work they do. This would bring our contracts in line with those for Washington National Opera, Houston Grand Opera, Los Angeles Opera and many others. To suggest that we and they are not "real" opera companies is hyperbolic and inaccurate.

I acknowledge that the freighted atmosphere of labor negotiations has given rise to plenty of misinformation. So it is worth reiterating that while we are working to change the way we pay our orchestra and chorus, we are at the same time taking steps to ensure continuity in the membership of both. New York City Opera is vitally aware of the extraordinary musicianship of our staff artists, and we are doing all we can to work with them long into the future.

While I share with Fred Cohn and many others wistfulness about the transformation of the old "prelapsarian" NYCO, I am at the same time buoyed with enthusiasm by the prospect of a new life for this glorious company — artistically vital and financially sustainable — that is emerging as we speak. Inasmuch as we have a glorious history behind us, we have wonderful opera-making ahead of us. We must all work together to achieve it. spacer 

General Manager and Artistic Director
New York City Opera

EDITOR'S NOTE: Mr. Steel's note was received by OPERA NEWS on December 12. In mid-January, as this issue of OPERA NEWS was going to press, New York City Opera concluded its labor negotiations with AGMA and Local 802 of the American Federation of Musicians. The NYCO season's first performance was scheduled for February 12 at Brooklyn Academy of Music.

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