Cher Public

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Buyer’s market

La Cieca was cced the following letter sent by a “long-time patron of NYCO” in response to “the recently received Subscription Renewal Brochure.”

She has withheld the patron’s name by request.

Good morning.

I have received the subscription renewal brochure for next season, and as usual I have read it quite carefully.

At the risk of sounding absolutely ancient and out-of-it, I’d like to mention that I have attended City Opera performance for many years, probably beginning around 1959, when I attended a memorable performance of The Consul, with an astonishing Patricia Neway. There were seasons where it seemed that everything I saw there was great, and other times that I was not so entranced.

But looking back, just about everything was worth seeing, and there were many many performances that still linger in my memory many years later. I will never forget literally shaking in my seat at Norman Treigel’s final scene in Mefistofele in the fall on 1969, and Sills in Lucia that same year. I recall wonderful performances of challenging works like Ginastera’s Bomarzo and Don Rodrigo. (With young Domingo, no less.) I sat next to a weepy Paul Newman at a performance of Hoiby’s Summer and Smoke.

And such indelible artists as Patricia Brooks and Maralin Niska, who placed their own unique stamps on many of the productions done for Sills. And who could ever forget Brooks in La Traviata? More recently, and in more difficult times, I was quite thrilled to see Antony and Cleopatra again in the semi-staged version at Carnegie Hall.

I have always been a rather thrifty and low-end tickets buyer. When a certain amount of money is available, I like to get the largest number of performances, and have never felt I was missing much by sitting in the fourth or even fifth ring. My first Sills Manon was a one dollar ticket in the fifth ring of a sold out performance. No problem. Everything came across to my satisfaction.

Last year, my fourth ring subscription tickets came to (I believe) 12 dollars per seat. I saw all the operas, as well as the additional “concerts” and although I was not quite wild about everything, the City Opera has long provided an incentive to see unusual things at a reasonable price. I would not be in a hurry to see any of them again, but I don’t regret having seen them once. Even Seance on a Wet Afternoon, which, if little else, had interesting and committed performances.

This year, it appears that the least expensive ticket will be $60. Or $48 if one chooses to attend all four and get the discount. I’d say that is quite a jump.

In addition, I suspect that traveling from the Bronx to and from BAM ( although I have done it on very special occasions) might be a bit more than I want to undertake for Rufus Wainwright’s Prima Donna or Jonathan Miller’s take on Traviata. To speak of BAM, John Jay and El Museo as “curated venues” (whatever that actually means) strikes me as a bit euphemistic. And as for the “specially-curated subscription series,” well that strikes me as a bit too much “curating” to be claimed in one letter.

In short, I feel quite insulted by your brochure. The extremely offhand and casual way you present a 400% or 500% ticket price increase and a move to what seem like rather substandard (however “curated”) venues is especially insensitive.


[Faithful Member of the Cher Public]


  • ianw2 says:

    The root point- about the shocking ticket increase for the product offered- is very valid and I hope Anonymous gets a response.

    But at the same time, this letter also is an example of what has been increasingly gnawing at me about the survival of NYCO as some kind of museum of great performances by Sills et al. Yes, the author (thankfully) mentions more recent fare, but without the obvious sheer pleasure they received twenty, thirty years ago from NYCO. This to me increasingly indicates a far greater problem with NCYO than just Steel.

    But I also share their utter distaste for the word ‘curated’. I’ve never understood the concept of a ‘curated’ season and how exactly its different from any other planned season.

  • Quanto Painy Fakor says:

    Excellent letter. More people should express their direct disapproval of Tomato Man’s agenda and marketing directly to the board of the NYCO.

  • honorary virgin says:

    As a business communication, this letter is a non-starter. Dear subscriber, trust me: no one on the NYCO payroll cares where you were sitting when you saw Sills in Manon a half-century ago. (You should save those memory-lane strolls for your Parterre postings.) Yes, tickets were cheaper then. And candy bars used to cost a nickel. So what?

    Granted, a discounted ticket price of $48 is a lot more than the $12 you say you paid last season, but c’mon — if you go to a 3D movie and splurge at the snack bar, you’ll in $48 territory pretty fast. You might be happier if NYCO emblazoned its subscription brochure with screaming headlines: “Now four times more expensive than last year! And more inconvenient, too!” As a marketing strategy for an opera company struggling to keep the doors open, not so hot.

    • figaroindy says:

      I’d have to agree with ianw2 and honorary virgin on this -- everyone’s been blaming Steel for a lot lately…and I don’t think he’s blameless, but when the “memories of good seasons” tend to refer mostly to dead performers (heavens, Treigle’s been gone for ages! Sills quit singing 31 years ago.), it’s a pretty weak argument to say everything was “great” until Steel came along!

      As for $12 seats -- the Indiana University Opera Theater season tickets are more than that….for collegiate opera. Not as much as the $48, but not near $12. The 2nd price break at IU averages $20/opera, I know. No union orchestra or singers there. I’d hardly expect much for $12.

    • Mister Bill says:

      Agreeing with Honorary Virgin. The anonymous Faithful Member is being a bit whiny and her feeling “insulted” is a laugh. Get real…opera costs money, and some of these venues are rather small. I don’t think any of them has a “fourth ring” to sell, no matter how cheaply.

  • Quanto Painy Fakor says:

    I wonder what La Niska thinks about all of this.

  • La Cieca says:

    Fortunately, there’s a cogent explanation of all this one the NYCO website.


  • Quanto Painy Fakor says:

    oops! Sorry for the metronome. Here’s tessitura:

  • brooklynpunk says:

    … the only thing this letter left out was the obnoxious over-used “People’s Opera” moniker…and bringing up hizzoner, “The Little Flower ” La Guardia…rotflmao…!

    (…a ONE DOLLAR 5th ring ticket.??…I DON’T THINK SO..!!…..)

  • Maria Malcontent says:

    This letter writer is exactly why City Opera went under. This is the kind of person who makes shopping at Fairway a nightmare.

  • DonCarloFanatic says:

    You’re jumping on the wrong part of the letter.

    “You’re no Jack Kennedy.” Steel is no Sills. So? It’s a fair comment, if a bit pointless. Sills is no longer available.

    Quadrupling the ticket price and increasing the difficulty of accessing the NYCO are two legitimate gripes. The author of this letter, while clearly a devoted patron of the NYCO over many years, is not threatening what s/he will do instead of buy the complete season like an obedient sheep. This is the crux of the complaint. Will this patron buy any tickets? Or just one? Or grudgingly buy all four? How longtime subscribers are taking such a price and venue change would be an important indicator to the NYCO management of whether the next season will be a total failure or a success.

    As a practical matter, the patron might want to ask for a special discount to sweeten the schlep to Brooklyn and wherever.

  • RDaggle says:

    The higher price ticket reflects improved seating locations. You can’t charge $12 for ‘nosebleed’ seats when there aren’t any.

    All in all this letter strikes me as sort of run-of-the-mill. I’m guessing every subscription organization receives stacks of these every year.

  • Amnerees says:

    The extended discussions of the City Opera’s past, present, and possible future on Parterre are bewildering. When the admission costs were low there, the ones at the Met were not prohibitive. Would anyone have taken Sills so seriously if she hadn’t been a “hometown girl”? The move to the State Theater was a disaster for the NYC Ballet as well as the City Opera. And so on. It seems to me that a city like New York should have a company that caters to novice operagoers and does standard repertory in attractive, unchallenging productions. Let the Met bankrupt itself with pointless productions of The Ring. As much as I dislike Jonathan Miller and his dreary, anachronistic productions, his Traviata (which I saw at Glimmerglass) is traditional, attractive, and works pretty well. It’s just fine for someone seeing the opera for the first time. The last thing an inexperienced operagoer needs to sit through is Bernstein’s tired, uninspired A Quiet Place. (I mention this opera rather than many worse contemporary operas because it is by a major composer.) It is politically correct, I suppose, but who cares? Is Traviata politically correct? As so many writers have said recently, including an editorial writer for Opera News, new operagoers need to see productions that reflect what the composer had in mind before they are subjected to Madame Butterfly in a spacesuit on the Moon. The City Opera could be the perfect company for this, as it was before the move to Lincoln Center.

    • ianw2 says:

      new operagoers need to see productions that reflect

      Says who?

      I had no interest in opera- which I considered dusty and fussy and old-fashioned- until I stumbled across Nixon in China.

      Newcomers need to see good productions, a dull by-the-numbers Butterfly with twirling parasols to the point of take-off and cherry blossoms by the hectare is just as deadly to a new audience as an incomprehensible Butterfly on the Moon.

      Thing is though, I think I’m wasting my time, as reading your comment again I’m not entirely sure you even like opera very much.

      • The Vicar of John Wakefield says:

        New operagoers need to see sensible British operas with fine-toned home-grown or Commonwealth casts that never sing louder than lovely.

        • A. Poggia Turra says:

          With British rats nibbling Stilton cheese in the cast, perhaps? ;)

        • ianw2 says:

          Oh Vicar, keep the home fires burning and checking under the beds for Brits etc etc…

        • Camille says:

          Vicar Nerva--As today I’ve listened to the reissued Decca 1959 recording of “Peter Grimes” with Mrs. Britten and Mrs. Watson, I find your exhortation both timely and apropos. There is some singing that gets a tad louder than lovely, but all-in-all, a fine recording.

          Is there any better out there? I’ve never really listened to recordings of Peter, and so, therefore, would accordingly appreciate any recommendations.

          Camilla P-B

          • armerjacquino says:

            Vickers and Harper with Davis are pretty special.

          • Camille says:

            Thanks, armerjacq, that’s a great suggestion as I love them both.

            I’ve only heard Ben Heppner sing it on radio--I believe from Canada about ten years ago--and I’m trying fairly in earnest to emend my lack of Britten kowledge. All occasioned, I must hasten to add, by the late and great Mr. Langridge’s performance as the the Witch in Haensel und Gretel at MET, very shortly before his death. His was such a fine performance that I finally shelled out American $ for “The Turn of the Screw”, featuring him. I really thought that Philip Langridge was a very very fine artist and was grateful to have heard, what unfortunately turnd out to be, his performance, one of the last.

            I will listen, and thanks again, armerjac, and Hail Britannia and nevermind the Vicar.

          • lorenzo.venezia says:

            You can also download a couple live Vickers “Grimes” here, or choose from many others…

      • Henry Holland says:

        Newcomers need to see good productions, a dull by-the-numbers Butterfly with twirling parasols to the point of take-off and cherry blossoms by the hectare is just as deadly to a new audience as an incomprehensible Butterfly on the Moon

        I appreciated the fact that NYCO gave me a chance to hear/see the original version of Butterfly that famously bombed at its premiere and was immediately withdrawn. It’s not very good, all that horrible nonsense with the drunk uncle just cringe-inducing. I’m also glad I finally got to hear stuff like Die Tote Stadt and The Midsummer Marriage and so forth. I think that version of the NYCO is gone and never coming back.

    • armerjacquino says:

      Is Traviata politically correct?

      Er, yes it is. Well, it isn’t politically incorrect anyway.

      Have two words ever been used more indiscriminately and less accurately?

      • oedipe says:

        Traviata IS politically incorrect! All those quaint 19th century (and earlier) notions of sacrificing for love are on a collision course with political correctness.

        • armerjacquino says:

          That’s just nonsense.

          Political correctness is an umbrella term (which has hardly ever been used without irony) to cover the various ways people have attempted to avoid causing offence on grounds of age, race, gender, sexual orientation, ethnicity or status.

          There is nothing remotely un-PC about the idea of ‘sacrificing for love’ and your post only serves to underline the confusion with which the term is used.

          • oedipe says:

            Give me a lecture on PC, please. I, of course, know nothing about it!

          • OpinionatedNeophyte says:

            Traviata’s political incorrectness has to do with its portrayal of gender norms and tropes. I would suggest that anyone entering the opera house in the 19th century, who knew nothing of the plot of the opera, would have known that Violetta was going to die the instant it became clear she was a woman who was in control of her sexual choices. Alfredo’s love for her seems overwhelmingly romantic and honorable because he’s willing to overlook that she’s a “fallen” woman and the culmination of Act II(or III i guess) demonstrates that underneath it all, he knew who and what he was dealing with.

            But all operas from this era are un-PC in this way. Conservatives have gotten so ridiculously defensive about their own racism/sexism/homophobia that they’ve taken the PC thing to a ridiculous hysteria. Constantly questioning whether a work (and really they often mean themselves) are PC. Its a classic get your life right moment.

          • armerjacquino says:

            oedipe- get out of the wrong side of bed this morning? Don’t see what I’ve done to deserve the sarcasm, other than dare to disagree with you.

          • armerjacquino says:

            ON- in portraying a noble, decent woman destroyed by her gender and the hypocrisy of society, it could and maybe should be argued that Traviata is questioning and protesting the gender norms you mention. Yes, she dies at the end- but she dies because she has TB, not because she’s fallen.

          • oedipe says:

            I knew there was a readily available lecture when one needed it!

            It comes in very handy, actually: had Violetta lived today, she could be saved by an enlightened friend who would tell her “Get your life right, baby!”

          • oedipe says:

            Nothing personal, armer, I assure you…

          • Camille says:

            Thank you, Doctor OpinionatedNeo for this, and bravo to you, too--(hope you are doin’ well in your new post, honey, and don’t forget to eat well, take your vites, and breathe deeply and meditate)luv-C. :

            “But all operas from this era are un-PC in this way. Conservatives have gotten so ridiculously defensive about their own racism/sexism/homophobia that they’ve taken the PC thing to a ridiculous hysteria.”--
            Opinionated Neophyte, Ph.D.

  • Porpora says:

    The defenders of Mr Steal can say what they want, but I think the letter writer has put his/her finger on the a crucial matter than has been already discussed on these pages. One word reveals all.

    Curated. This word alone reeks of the Chelsea Gallery crowd that Steal comped in performances at the Former State Theater. It is not a word that is associated with the People’s Opera. Far from it, Steal is endeavoring to create the most niche of niche markets. Will he succeed? Will patrons brave picket lines?

    • ianw2 says:

      Clearly, you’re not going to be happy until Steel is strung up on Broadway. We get it.

      • Porpora says:

        My happiness is not the issue here. I’m just calling it like I see it while you seem to be defending a thief.

        • ianw2 says:

          A thief, now? What exactly has he stolen? What laws has he broken?

          He has been a disastrous manager for the company that needed it least, however your strident rantings that he’s the devil incarnate are becoming tiresome.

          Particularly when today’s crime du jour is that he dared to hand out TWENTY COMPS TO PEOPLE WHO LIKE GALLERIES ARRRGH! Only someone who really, truly, actively hates opera in his cold, dark heart and seeks to destroy everything it stands for would every do such a thing!

          • Porpora says:

            20? More like 2000. I’m sorry, your level or discourse leads me to believe that you don’t know what you are talking about. Steal could sell his Monodrama and papered the house and declared it a success. Cold and hard? Well he has effectively fired about 150 people. Dark heart? I’ll let the Fates decide that.

    • brooklynpunk says:

      ….and WHAT EXACTLY is “wrong” with the “Chelsea Gallery crowd”…whatever that silly snobby put-down of yours really means…??

      • Porpora says:

        Steal handed out free tickets to 20 somethings who had never seen an opera before. Were they going to buy even standing room on their own? No. Were they going to come back? No.

        There is nothing wrong with 20 somethings who frequent galleries in Chelsea, but they aren’t an opera going bunch. Are they the future of opera? I rather doubt it.

        Its the difference between the visual and auditory arts. Nothing wrong with that, but sitting through an opera is not the same as standing in front of an abstract painting with a drink in your hand.

        • brooklynpunk says:

          Wel..if “they” are not “the future of Opera”, ..THEN.. please have the last geriatric member of this site turn of f the lights, before they expire, please….

          I assume you have done a detailed survey of the musical tastes of the gallery -crowd…??

          As someone who enjoys standing in front of a painting with a drink in my hand , almost as much as I also enjoy standing through “Gotterdammerung” ( and…sometimes. I have done both…on the same day, even….!, I find your broad generalizations almost as tiresome as your kvetching about George Steel…..

        • Quanto Painy Fakor says:

          Isn’t that why Gelp built that ridiculous gallery on the south side of the MET lobby?

  • oedipe says:

    For those people who do NOT think that there is an intrinsic divide between opera and the contemporary visual arts, I strongly urge you to see the exhibition of works by the extraordinary Russian photographer Boris Mikhailov, now on show at the MoMA. Rather “operatic” I would say (admiratively).

  • Quanto Painy Fakor says:

    Surprise, surprise… Tomato Man can put a sentence together the video is here:
    It’s almost believable.

    • Porpora says:

      Tomato Man thinks Rufus is the greatest song writer? Well. Move over Gershwin, Weill, Rogers, Sondheim and everyone else.

      He’s a charmer isn’t he Mr. Steal.

    • Porpora says:

      And don’t ya love that big black hole graphic. It just draws one in, doesn’t it?

  • Harry says:

    Camille : You expressed a interest in listening to more Britten. Having seen recently a production of Albert Herring, may I recommend it . Notable is the unusual vocal octet, in the second Act. There are several recordings available. The recording on Decca would I beleive most please ‘our Vicar’ as it has Peter Pears as Albert ‘Queen of the May -for the day’ and also his very special Commmonwealth singer Sylvia Fisher as Lady Bellows.

  • zinka says:

    I am so THRILLLLLLED.I gt my great City Opera subscription brochure today…It was like Sills,Soviero,Treigle,etc…..have returbned…They are doing:
    Les Huguenots
    The Ring
    Rocky Orrore Show
    New commissioned opera called “La Cieca’ written by Lois Kirschenbaum
    PLUS recital by Fischer-Dieskau,singing every song from the Paleozoic era…Concert will be with no interruption, no applause till end, no breathing..and will last three years.

    Since they cannot inhibit the State Theatre..all shows will be seen in “Sinatra’s” a gay bar in Hoboken.