Headshot of La Cieca

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The fall guy

Heads are about to roll at New York City Opera, probably including George Steel‘s—though given the troupe’s bizarro history for the past few years, who can say? This is in the wake of a letter leaked to the Wall Street Journal from singers and production staff of the embattled company, which includes this chilling statement: “We are very frustrated that NYCO has now become an opera company that does not do opera.” 

Meanwhile, AGMA’s Alan Gordon has emailed AP with a warning that Tthe musicians and stagehands could “strike and drive City Opera out of existence” if working hours and benefits are cut.

A board meeting, “widely expected to determine the fate of the company’s fall season,” is scheduled for today..

79 comments

  • Porpora says:

    I believe that Kellogg did one thing right, and that was the yearly dose of Handel. While these productions may not have ‘paid off’ in terms of being war horses that could be trotted year after year, they sold very well, which is what the present fare is not doing. Since Steel has been there, ticket sales have not topped 40 percent.

  • Sorry to hijack the threat but this message was posted not long ago in a Post Rapture Looting event on FaceBook. The announcement quoted in full:

    OK, I am sorry to disappoint you all but this is an official announcement:

    Rapture is off. Lawyers for our unions just pointed to us that according to the contract, Sabbath is a regularly schedule day off and therefore we can not continue with the plans. We understand people will be disappointed but we must follow the tenants spelled in our contract.

    We will continue giving you signs time is near.

    In the meantime, we are revising the plans and we have some bigger and flashier things prepared. We are sure you will not be disappointed. In the mean time, enjoy your summer and please do not forget to attend Pride celebrations in your city.

    Very interesting they actually acknowledged Pride.And very interesting the power of unions, even when it comes to the rapture.

    Ok, back to our regular discussion…

  • Henry Holland says:

    What buried NYCO was choice of repertory. New York is not Berlin

    Ha! It’s not even Hannover (which is doing The Devils of Loudon next year) or Kaiserslautern (Braunfels’ wonderful Verkundigung or Frankfurt (Sallinen’s Kullervo) or…..

    Your point isn’t true, but La Cieca already dealt with that.

    20th century opera is an audience killer, especially in the US

    Nonsense. I guess those packed houses for Messiaen’s Saint François d’Assise in San Francisco years ago, to use just one example, were just an illusion.

    And as to your assertion that Il pirata (or Meyerbeer, for god’s sake) is superior to, say, Wozzeck, Peter Grimes, Nixon in China, Satyagraha, Rake’s Progress, Dialogue des Carmelites, the two Ravel operas, Jenufa, Bluebeard and The Tempest…

    Pelleas, L’amour de Loin, Billy Budd, Turn of the Screw, Die Gezeichneten, Der Ferne Klang, Moses und Aron, Mathis der Maler, The Bassarids, Lear, Die Soldaten, The Mask of Orpheus……

    ardath_bey is almost a parody of the “opera died with Verdi” type. Poor thing, the 20th century happened whether they liked it or not.

    Re: Hugenots: Booking opened two days ago and seats already nearly all snapped up

    It’s a rarity, I hope La Monnaie films it.

    Beverly and Sergiu Comissiona brought in Moses und Aron (ultimately conducted by Keane after the strike year) and many more “jewels” that actually sold

    Oh yes, the Achim Freyer production, I went three times, it was packed each night. I even got a friend who thinks opera died with Wagner to go and he liked it. Wow, what a concept! Do an excellent production, have the musical values be strong, sell the crap out of it and people will show up. Who knew?

    That kind of thing needs to be planned years in advance – not pushed through to please a questionably talented/committed European General Director

    I wondering what took so long for Mortier-bashing to happen in this thread. I’m certain Mortier knows more about the whole breadth of opera history than anyone here, including our doyenne, and he’s somehow managed to run La Monnaie > the Salzburg Festival > Paris Opera > Teatro Real and not have them implode because he loathes Puccini’s operas but still programs them.

    Mortier was committed to the NYCO job, he was seeing out his contract in Paris. There’s this concept called “multi-tasking”, I believe that Mr. Mortier was familiar with it. The whole Bayreuth thing was a ruse to get the one Wagner heir in place. Even his big mistake, going dark for a season, wasn’t as bad as portrayed, he had concert operas and other activities to fill the gaps. He knew, as every NYCO GM since at least Christopher Keene has known, that the State Theater sucks for opera and tried to at least lessen that. If you look at what he had scheduled for his first season, at least 3 of the productions would have been done some place other than Lincoln Center.

    Alto, I did various Google searches and all I could find about Steel’s antipathy towards Puccini/Verdi/Wagner is this from Bloomberg, when he was in Dallas:

    Morning News music critic Scott Cantrell also gave him a tart sendoff: “(Steel) evinced little interest in the mainstream Mozart-to-Puccini repertory that fills seats and pays bills,” he wrote. “One person close to the opera wondered whether Steel could name the top five characters in the five most popular operas.”

    • Harry says:

      Henry Holland: I would like puzzle over one of your points. Whether it is only possible for a company with a larger selection of operas in their subscription base to pick from, in a year..is it more possible for them to schedule something ‘ambitious’. From the sheer number alone of the differentiations made in those applicant choices: factor in, that enough people will have chosen that Opera, by chance, accident or even ignorance to cover any lesser number of patrons, that would otherwise attend say Mozart/Puccini/Verdi. Since subscribers tend to believe ‘they are getting a couple of operas for nothing’ when judged against -just paying fill walk up ticket box single opera cost- is not the attitude that, by thinking: “Well if I choose XXX and I find I do not like it, I am still… in front… and it is part of the subscription package I happen to like, anyway”.
      In the case of say a small opera house,which is not a main draw card even for visiting tourists, nor noted for seeing some rare adventurous work, it becomes a matter of sudden success or sudden death.

      • Henry Holland says:

        Well, of course, a place like the Deutsche Oper Berlin, which does something like 33-35 operas a season, can take chances that a small company that does 4 can’t. I mean, I went to hear Die Liebe der Danae, Respighi’s fab Marie Victoire and Franchetti’s Germania all in one week at the DO Berlin, that would never ever happen at Opera Omaha.

        Make no mistake, despite my antipathy towards baroque and bel canto, I do love stuff like Tosca, Rigoletto and Don Giovanni it’s just that I’m bored to tears with them. It’s one aspect of opera fandom I’ve never gotten, the guy who has 500 CD’s but they are of the same 30 operas. Besides, I was mainly replying to the maroon who made the idiotic claims about 20th century stuff.

        Sorry, Henry, that slam from the idiot Dallas critic doesn’t come anywhere near the accusation about antipathy to great opera composers

        I didn’t claim it did. I spent 10 minutes Googling various things (George Steel + Puccini) and that’s about all I could come up with. Besides, so what if he wasn’t in to Puccini, Verdi and Wagner, it’s not like New Yorkers are going to be starved for chances to hear them other than the State Theater.

        I’d be willing to bet that if you polled opera GM’s with a promise of anonymity, they’d say “Oh god, to have to Puccini every year, it drives me nuts!” or similar. Hell, if I ran a company, I’d program mostly stuff that puts butts in seats too, I’m under no illusions about how the opera business works. I’m just saying: there is an audience for non-Top 40 stuff, find it and cultivate it, we’re fiercely loyal to people who do so.

    • m. p. arazza says:

      From another Google search: Falstaff and Tristan are among his favorites, but he also said “I’m not itching to conduct La bohème, but rather I’d like to start again with something that makes sense to me.”
      http://operachic.typepad.com/opera_chic/2010/04/george-steel-interview-.html

    • Alto says:

      Sorry, Henry, that slam from the idiot Dallas critic doesn’t come anywhere near the accusation about antipathy to great opera composers.

  • Harry says:

    Any theatrical company that decides on having their traditional venue ‘in the dark’ for renovations (having a fan following or subscription base)MUST make plans before the event to move to other suitable accommodation for the interim. Otherwise ‘the habit’, the enthusiasm, and all its forms of invisible support ‘interconnect’ mechanism, completely dissipates. As stated previously by another contributor -- NYCO is a 2400 seat theater: it falls neither in the realm of ‘not small enough’ for chamber works as well as ‘being too small’ for big productions to get sufficient numbers to recoup on big grand productions. Meyerbeers Les Hugenots I agree, fits the pattern for sheer financial suicide.
    The cost of issuing a given amount of public advertising remains at the same advertising rate whether it is the MET or the N.Y.C.O.
    What I see strangely absent is what are known as free self generating spin marketing deals.. and no I am not talking ‘about ‘papering the house’. Where are the marketing spin -offs: the TV and radio appearances of their artists and performers, the videos and recordings of their performances? Increasing ‘public profile’ is the magic two words. Hopefully without some Union around, demanding prohibitive rates for such exercises; whilst leading to an attempt to keep many people, in work.
    Back in the late 60′s and 70′s such prohibitive rates stopped many US orchestras getting recording contracts for various recording projects when compared to their European counterparts. I once saw a break down for RCA’s Sandor Konya -Lohengrin -Boston S/O. The cost was ten times the final profit made back.
    I have seen silly examples elsewhere. The Australian Broadcasting Commission(ABC)-the National TV & radio Broadcaster which once controlled all State orchestras provided world famous artists for all venues, and was also once the biggest Concert Management group in the World. During that time -which has all now been divested into various forms of separate autonomy -- I asked a top Union fella from there-where are all the archive musical tapes? To my astonishment, his reply was: “They probably have re -used them, by over-recording for news etc.” I know of some actually went into landfill when they were building some new premises. Lost! Today, alas, what a different story.Everything that they can market is: including through their own created recording labels -all through their various own set up shops and internet sales. Millions are raised.
    The message is: Why did the NYCO not attempt to’cut deals’ and do something similar in self promotion? The MET is.

    Familiar though, with the likes of Bernstein;s A Quiet Place (since the 80′s), and Seance on a Wet Afternoon (through the film): such unremitting GLOOM how could anyone market THAT? Leading ‘edge’ stuff is the fast way to the financial scrap heap if you are struggling to stay afloat.

    • Quanto Painy Fakor says:

      “Why did the NYCO not attempt to’cut deals’ and do something similar in self promotion?”

      I asked Paul Kellogg, his financial producer (Sherman something or other) and development director (Jane Gulong) that question several times. They had absolutely no interest in exploiting any of their old archival material like the Sills Farewell Gala and other significant recordings. They had a pathetic little patron’s lounge for schmoozing some monied people and relied on NYCO’s traditional angels (now deceased) to come to the rescue. Having seen all of that, how could Mortier have thought that he could function in NYC? The entire situation is really sickening and very tragic if NYCO really bites the dust.

  • Ruxxy says:

    The destruction of archival material has sadly not been confined to Austalia -- and nor does it apply solely to musical genres. Britain is another place (among many) where so much valuable recorded material has been lost- over-recorded for inexplicable reasons …and probably by newsrooms as Harry said. In Britain many of the great comedy shows and series starring their finest talents have simply vanished. Where there was once a whole series, now only a few episodes if any, remain. Such is the folly!

    In the opera world it is impossible not to notice that on youtube so many of the clips featuring “the greats” have Japanese captions etc. It seems that those performances by the Tebaldi’s and Del Monaco’s etc were not captured by Italian television (whatever) but by the Japanese when the Companies played in Japan. I was told once (don’t know if it has validity) that in Europe they were so paranoid about filming artists and copywrights etc that they just didn’t do it- but no one cared what they did in Japan because they didn’t think it mattered!! If that is the case we can only be grateful today that the Japanese did record them so we can at least get a glimpse of some of the performances.

    • Often admonished says:

      BBC Radio didn’t just loose comedy performances. They managed to loose the premiere recording of Britten’s second Canticle, sung by Ferrier and Pears in 1952. After her death in ’53 Britten searched around every bootleg tape source in the western world trying to find a copy. It had dissapeared from the badly kept BBC archives without a trace.

  • balabanov11 says:

    re: meyerbeer = does anyone know the cost of the Heugenots production done at the Bard Festival a few years ago?

    • La Cieca says:

      The show certainly didn’t look cheap, though presumably a good deal of money was saved in union salaries performing away from New York. Of course, they also only had to fill a 900 seat theater four times.