Cher Public

Honey, I shrunk the opera

When George Steel predicted that the New York City Opera’s budget for 2011-12 would be “significantly smaller” than the $22 million alloted for 2010-11, he wasn’t kidding. The gulp-inducing details follow the jump.  

According to a source near the company, current plans are to slash the budget by half, spending only about $11 million on the season, of which approximately $1.5 million (it is hoped) will be covered by ticket sales. The remaining $10 million or so of costs are to be made up through “unearned income,” including donations to the company.

The season, so far as La Cieca can deduce, will begin the second week of January with Rufus Wainwright‘s Prima Donna, followed by a new Cosi fan tutte directed by Christopher Alden and a revival of Handel’s Orlando in the 2005 Chas Rader-Shieber production. Of the two promised smaller-scaled works, one will likely be a contemporary chamber opera. Like everyone else, La Cieca has no clue what venue or venues these productions will play.

In possibly not unrelated news, La Cieca has heard that 15 NYCO employees were laid off yesterday, and in the past couple of days, at least three board members have resigned.

  • Does anyone but Alden direct there anymore?

  • sterlingkay

    Makes some sense…PRIMA DONNA has one singer & COSI only Six (with a very small chorus)…I think ORLANDO has five singers and no chorus. Boy the NYCO chorus is really getting shafted…and I would think most of the orchestra will be let go as well. The Handel & Mozart can be done with very small orchestras….not sure about the Wainwright thing…

  • Will

    If there are very few eggs, I think it makes sense to put them in Chris Alden’s basket. His work with the reduced and struggling NYCO has been consistently impressive, making his points mostly through character work with his singers rather than via lots of expensive scenery.

    I didn’t realize Rufus’s opera was a monodrama; combined with the two “small” opera productions, NYCO will have shrunk indeed, but I’m very happy they’re hanging on.

    • Indiana Loiterer III

      According to Wikipedia, Prima Donna has four characters and no chorus.

      • armerjacquino

        Four singing characters (two sopranos, a tenor, a baritone), a couple of non-singing actors, no chorus.

        • sterlingkay

          Thanks for the correction regarding PRIMA DONNA…I don’t know why I had it in my mind that it was a solo piece. A friend who saw the world premiere told me it was unspeakably bad.

          • IdiaLegray

            It is really dreary. The music is like a bad parody of Massanet and the plot is silly.

  • Porpora

    So the board is shrinking at a time when the company needs all the dough it can get? At this rate, the company will be performing with recorded music.

    • Harry

      Porpopera: I think we can take the clue from the poster La Cieca has provided for us . Steel looks like the mad scientist from the horror film ‘The Re-animator’. All we need is a few test tubes to complete the picture..
      Perhaps you are now looking at NYCO’s ‘The Re-animator-The Sequel’

  • SuperSuper

    The second-largest opera company in New York hired as its general director a man whose chief experience for the position was running a small, eclectic performance collective specializing in esoteric programming. And then he turned around and promptly tuned said second-largest opera company in New York into a small eclectic performance collective specializing in esoteric programming.

    Kind of fitting.

    • atalaya

      Infuriating.

    • Quanto Painy Fakor

      But when Steele was a lad served Berstein coffee.

      • Alto

        Be fair. For instance, being a member of the conducting seminar at Tanglewood is a little more than serving coffee.

        There are ways of disagreeing with someone’s ideas or actions without making up shit.

  • Quanto Painy Fakor

    With stigma of La Manuelità’s condemnation of the Board of Directors of NYCO, it’s not surprising that some of them are resigning. One can do a lot of opera for 11 MILLION dollars.

    • Porpora

      Curious minds want to know: Will Steel be cutting his own salary in half? And will the other George follow suit? It looks like the orchestra and chorus can expect the same kind of slashing and burning that the staff received.

      • Quanto Painy Fakor

        They certainly don’t require those massive salaries to produce this scale operation. With all the AGMA membership that will suffer lost income, and in some cases benefits, because of the downsizing, for the management and musical director to be so highly paid is totally out of kilter.

    • warmke

      I’m sorry, QPF. I did budgets at large houses for years, but never in NYC. Exactly how does one do lots of good quality productions in NYC for 11 million dollars? Could you do the scenic, orchestral, choral, stagehand, guest artist budgets for us in a breakdown (we’ll generously leave out hall rental and staff costs, the major issue for City Opera) so we can see your visionary plan for making this work. Oh, was this meant as sarcasm?
      At this point, I’d be curious to know if anyone has the overview of budgets to know where this places NYCO. 9th, 10th biggest in the country? Here’s Musical America’s listing’s, which are highly suspect because of number 4:
      the following companies are Level I:
      10 million Budget or above
      Los Angeles Opera
      San Diego Opera
      San Francisco Opera
      Opera Bel Canto Washington
      Washington National Opera
      Florida Grand Opera
      Lyric Opera of Chicago
      Michigan Opera Theatre
      Santa Fe Opera
      Metropolitan Opera
      New York City Opera
      The Dallas Opera
      Houston Grand Opera
      Utah Opera
      Seattle Opera
      Suspect because the founder of 4 is a pathological liar who puts together ragtag productions with 6 piece orchestras. Musical America prints this is fact, so I find the rest of their listing dubious. Anyone informed on current actual stats?

      • Quanto Painy Fakor

        Musical America listings of such information only prints what the company provides. No way in Hell does the Washington Bel Canto Opera have such a budget.


      • antikitschychick

        Florida Grand Opera is considered a Level I Opera company!!??
        I highly doubt that, especially when compared to the other Opera companies on that list.
        I’ve been to FGO twice, most recently for this past season’s opening night Turandot and while the set was very nice and lavish, the caliber of singers was uneven. The tenor sucked. He was drowned out by the orchestra throughout the performance which was very underwhelming. His Nessun Dorma was OK, nothing special to my ears. The chorus (surprise, surprise) sounded awful. The singer who played Liu was good as was Turandot (played by Lise Lindstrom) so at least they were enjoyable. Granted, I was sitting at the very top of the theater and could not see what was going on at all, so my main engagement was with what I was hearing…my biggest disappointment was that it sounded as if the singers were being amplified, so I’m boycotting going there.
        The house was sold out though, and I saw plenty of young people (like my age or younger) which was a pleasant surprise and definitively put to rest any doubts about all that ageist “Opera is a dying art form” bullshit people keep spewing.
        Oh and yes the theater is gorgeous, but everything is so expensive!
        If I have to dish out two or three hundred dollars or what have you for good seats I’d rather just go to the Met when I can afford it.

        • A. Poggia Turra

          Although I live about six blocks from the FGO’s Broward County venue, I have zero interest in attending the third-rate ordure that FGO puts on (especially the hidebound, inert productions which even Sybil Harrington would have found hopelessly boring, not to mention the casting of dreck “house sopranos” whose ability to get cast possibly results from their possession of photos depicting administrators with goats)…..

          But the real reason I avoid FGO was the incident in 2003 when they unceremoniously dumped an interesting Bartok/Ravel doubl bill in favor of a third-rate operetta AFTER the daughter of the composer gave FGO $600,000. I woulnn’t cared about them programming the operetta, it was the fact that they dropped one of their few chances to expand the rep. No thanks -- their mailings go into the paper shredder unopened.

          • Will

            APT, that “administrators with goats” comment is really inappropriate, even on this snark-infested list. I’m sure you have genuine issues with FGO, but that comment does nothing to illuminate them.

        • Conchita

          I used to subscribe to FGO and would attend 3 performances a year. After 3 years of very uneven performances and extraordinarily rude patrons I gave it up. Palm Beach Opera may be actually a little more even quality, though I’ve only seen 2 performances there.

        • Letch Feeley

          Antikitschychick, those rankings are based solely on budget size -- artistic merit (or egregious lack thereof) doesn’t enter into it. Often (maybe not in recent years since I’m not working in opera any more) the Met is given its own category since its budget is so much larger than the next largest level-1 company that it skews many of the statistics.

          • antikitschychick

            yes I understand that and the insinuation in my post is that obviously most of their money is being spent on productions and costumes instead of talent, which is a shame.
            I don’t doubt that what you are saying about the Met is true. It just upsets me that with a budget that size they (FGO) are not hiring better singers, not just for principal roles but for the chorus as well.
            This business about NYCO is truly a shame; I hope they can recuperate and while I do think new general management is needed I don’t think firing the rest of the staff will solve their problems, especially if they don’t re-open those positions.

          • antikitschychick

            yes I understand that and the insinuation in my post is that obviously most of their money is being spent on productions and costumes instead of talent, which is a shame.
            I don’t doubt that what you are saying about the Met is true. It just upsets me that with a budget that size they (FGO) are not hiring better singers, not just for principal roles but for the chorus as well.
            This business about NYCO is truly a shame; I hope they can recuperate and while I do think new general management is needed I don’t think firing the rest of the staff will solve their problems, especially if they don’t re-open those positions.

      • An article from 2009 in the Santa Fe New Mexican states that the annual budget for the Santa Fe Opera was approximately 17 million.

        • mrmyster

          Yes, louannd, I was surprised by that omission of SFeO from
          the list, and I might add, it is operating in the black. That’s
          for about 34 performances of five shows, all new productions
          this year.
          Come West young men!

      • Pu-Tin-Pao

        Hmmm…I’m surprised that Minnesota Opera isn’t on the list…

        • For the last few years, the annual budget for Minnesota Opera has been just below $10 million.

          For the 2009-2010 season, for example, the budget was just over $9 million, placing Minnesota Opera 15th in the U.S. that season when measured by budget.

          The previous season, with a budget just over $8 million, Minnesota Opera was 20th in the U.S. when measured by budget.

    • Porpora

      Gee. You can get more playing Lotto than that!

    • atalaya

      NYCO should fold and give the money that’s left to Gotham Chamber Opera. I would love to see what they could do with a budget of $11 million.

      Does anybody have an info on how Gotham is run? It seems like a competent, ambitious organization. One where dollars donated don’t simply get torched.

      I’m wondering if Steel can come up with things as ambitious and cool as “El Gato Con Batos” and “Il Mondo della Luna”.

      (Disclaimer: A full season of Gotham Chamber Opera in the State Theater is my dream. I think their productions would be awesome and a great alternative to the Met.)

      • whatever

        dear lord — why on earth would you want to inflict a fate like the New York State Theater on a fine little company like Gotham???

  • Quanto Painy Fakor

    IL VOLO (platinum in Italy)!
    httpc://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lw3c5d3aBSE

    • Quanto Painy Fakor

    • antikitschychick

      Adorable!! The one with the elvis do is really cute :P

    • brooklynpunk

      How come the “bimbos”--excuse me--stepford-looking wife-types in the audience are clapping along with “O sole Mio”--in a very unrythmnical ( there actually wouldn’t be a rythmnical way to do it, either…) manner…?

      VERY VERY SCARY LOOKING…!-AND SO ARE THE “SINGERS”…!

      (btw-i never even heard of this cbs show “The Talk”-- is this their answer to “The View”?-- pretty cheesy lookin…nu?..)

      • WindyCityOperaman

        The one with the glasses sounds like a baby Corelli! Listen to this one where Katia sings along!

  • LittleMasterMiles

    The two small-hall productions will both be double-bills. As LaC says, one will be (relatively) contemporary: Milton Babbit’s Philomel and Berio’s Sequenza III.

    And since the season so far has nothing at all from the 19th century, the other production will be an innovative pairing of Erlkönig and Gretchen am Spinnrade.

    • Quanto Painy Fakor

      • Quanto Painy Fakor

  • Porpora

    While I take no delight in the devolution of NYCO, the photo (shopped) for this post made me laugh. Perhaps a little black humor is all that is left of a once great company.

  • WindyCityOperaman

    Born on this date in 1904, tenor Jan Peerce

    and Happy 74th Birthday soprano Valerie Masterson

    • Nerva Nelli

      One of the first opera singers who really made a positive impression on me as a child (even if she was really NOT “the greatest Manon since the War” etc., pace the late HDR)

  • Poor Mr Steel -- damned if he does and damned if he doesn’t! And there are so many people out there who know the job better than he does -- makes you wonder how they didn’t make the short list or aren’t running a major opera company even as they comment.

    • Often admonished

      Criticism has a function. And this is it.

  • I don’t get all the shock. $11 milion is not a small amount. We knew that they’d be drastically cutting back their activities and performing in smaller (less expensive) venues. For a company on the verge of bankruptcy, an $11-milion season is not paltry.

    • sterlingkay

      You don’t get all the shock? on PARTERRE!?!?! Being shocked & appalled out of all proportion, demonizing those we don’t like and clutching our pearls is what we do here…

      • brooklynpunk

        We also knew that heads were gonna roll--and (even innocent) people fired…nothing at all “shocking” in this story-from what everyone has been told,ALREADY, at least……

    • warmke

      Yes, you are correct, but have the equation backwards. 11 million is a lot of money. And it’s the amount they have just lost from their already destroyed budget. That’s what the drama is about. It’s about the decimation of a company that has been a critical stepping stone for many American careers. This is a disaster for the future of the current generation of singers, many of whom would have counted on that company for their first exposure in standard repertoire in a media market that could positively impact both their futures and artistic development. Watching this debate is like watching the parable of the blind men and the elephant. You really don’t get how bad this is, do you? At least Hoelterhof gets that, although Cieca’s point about the ethics of her relationship with the company is correct.

  • OpinionatedNeophyte

    I’m sure this wasn’t Steel’s intention, but I feel like NYCO’s being set up to become similar to the institution that he used to head, TDO. Or like most of the opera companies in America, 5-8 productions a year. In an otherwise very busy building. BAM anyone?

  • “New York City Opera, as part of its resuscitation plan, will lay off 11 of its 48 administrative employees and eliminate four open positions, according to a company memorandum obtained on Friday.” [NYT]

    • Alto

      And once more Our Doyenne was hours ahead of the herd.

      One rarely find such wisdom in one so young!

      • Conchita

        Or with such vision!

    • Porpora

      Mr. Yim must be counting his blessings since one of positions that he vacated is being eliminated.

  • Some OT levity……WTF? Is this the return of the attack of the “Killer Bees” in Nabucco?

  • zinka

    Who gets the lead in the PRIMA DONNA…..I nominate La Cieca..and I will sing the role of the stage and they can step all over me.

    Will they perform in a bathroom?If so,Bartoli will be geard..along with Angela.

    Am I getting nasty suddenly?

    • sterlingkay

      I nominate Rufus himself-- since he apparently acted like one to the hilt during rehearsals for the world premiere

  • Quanto Painy Fakor

    When are they going to announce that Steele and Manahan salaries have been reduced by 50%??? Do you think they would remain on the job if the board decided to modify their contracts accordingly? Is that a possibility or would it end in a law suit?

    • Porpora

      I’ve been wondering about this for days now. I would hope that La Cieca’s ‘eyes and ears’ will be able to fall out. I’d also like to know what the disaffected members of the board are thinking. What happened there? Were they asked to leave, or did they head for the door under their own volition?

      It just adds a little more flavor to the stew.

      • Porpora

        Christ! My dear Cieca! I meant ‘find’ out not ‘fall’ out. Now WHERE are my glasses?

      • Alto

        I’ve been wondering about this for days now.

    • Often admonished

      What is Manahan actually doing now?

      At least we know what Steele is up to (going to Board meetings and pushing the company towards the precipice)

      • Alto

        Well, it’s a matter of general public knowledge that he is Music Director of the American Composers Orchestra, for one thing. Why the snark when you don’t even trouble yourself to find out basic facts?

      • brooklynpunk

        S-T-E-E-L…..no “E” at the end…

        snark him all you want, if it turns you on…BUT.. spell his friggin name right…OK?

  • All-Knowing Seashell

    But Maestro Manahan couldn’t POSSIBLY accept a reduction in annual salary or benefits! How COULD he, and still remain at NYCO as Music Director, when so many guest conducting engagement offers are on the table from, um, oh, well, never mind. (Running for cover while “Will” leaps to Mo. Manahan’s defense, while adding, as I exit, that Manahan is not fit to shine the opera pumps of either Julius Rudel or Christopher Keene).

  • Carlo

    The Baltimore Opera (before its demise) produced four full scale productions (four performances each) on a budget of about $5.8 million per year. While NYC is more expensive than Baltimore, the NYCO should be able to produce a major season with an $11 million budget.

  • Abbie Tour

    The NYCO’s budget before the current cuts was 22 million dollars. Just one percent of the current 750 billion dollar military budget could fund 340
    opera houses at 22 million a piece.

    • Porpora

      No that’s quite a perspective. And the Gov. of Kansas cut all funding for arts programs, which had been funded since the early 60’s. What a country we live in!