Cher Public

Slow but steady

With almost three weeks to go, New York City Opera’s Kickstarter campaign is only $956,985 short of its goal. [@coopnytimes]

  • Feldmarschallin

    That goal was 7 million right so I guess they have gotten quite a lot.

    • No, the goal was $1 million.

      • Feldmarschallin

        Oh well then not so much I guess. :)

      • operaassport

        You’d think they could manage that just from the pocket change of the board members :)

  • Quanto Painy Fakor

    If the money is found it should have strings to reformat then entire NYCO without Steele.

    • Quanto Painy Fakor

      Send him here

  • Porpora

    The board has no faith in their charge despite an article in the NYTimes asserting the opposite. I mean, if you were on NYCO’s board, and brought in the current GM on board, would you admit what a huge mistake you had made? Of course not. You’d let the guy hang from his own rope. Kickerstarter is the desperate act of a very desperate man. He’ll be gone after Anna Nicole takes its final bow. Will that be the end? Only the board knows, and they aren’t telling.

  • Porpora

    Think about it. You are on NYCO’s board. You’ve agreed to give the current GM 400k a year for 16 performances, on the condition that the company starts bring in audiences and donations. You float his boat for more than a year, let yourself be talked into leaving Lincoln Center and sell off all your sets and costumes. Then your history gets drowned in hurricane Sandy in a basement a couple blocks from the Hudson river and you wonder why the public and big donors have lost faith in your brand?

    • ardath_bey

      The public lost faith in their brand way before George Steel or Sandy. Their choice of irrelevant repertory dates back to the 90s and was the chief cause of their demise. By irrelevant I don’t mean they chose music of necessarily poor quality just for the sake of novelty value. You can’t survive in the opera business if at least 50% of you output isn’t by a composer ending with the letter i. Puccini, Verdi, Donizetti, Rossini and Bellini.

      It doesn’t mean you can’t offer Lysistrata or Mourning Becomes Electra in the mix. But look at their 2013/14 season: Anna Nicole, Edimione, Bluebeard’s Castle and Marriage of Figaro. 75% of these are far from repertory staples, I was planning to see them all but I’m a frequent opera goer. Sadly you can’t get the attention from the general public and donors with these. NYCO needs a general manager steeped in reality not only personal vision.

      • Henry Holland

        Their choice of irrelevant repertory dates back to the 90s and was the chief cause of their demise.

        I think that’s a bit unfair, a bit of selective memory at work. When I started to go to New York for opera in the early 90’s, things like The Midsummer Marriage or the incredible Achim Freyer production of Moses und Aron that I saw three times, they’d get short runs (fully justified, of course). Otherwise, it would be surrounded by the Opera Top 40, acres of stuff written by composers whose names end in “i”.

        It’s where I saw the original version of Madama Butterfly, a Le Nozze di Figaro that unfortunately included Marcellina and Basilio’s arias, my first Rigoletto and so on. There was always a musical or two as well. Under Kellogg, they expanded their baroque rep as well, there’s definitely an audience for that rep.

        That never really changed before the pre-Mortier debacle.

        The chief cause of their demise wasn’t that they programmed Die Soldaten at the expense of La Traviata or Norma, it’s that the board completely screwed up the Mortier situation and had no back-up plan when that blew up in its face.

        • operaassport

          I think it’s more complicated than that. They were in trouble long before the Mortier debacle. And it was financial. They were always running on fumes and never planned for rainy days. Sadly, when they came (Mortier, the recession, ineffective leadership), it wasnt just rain but a monsoon. It was all downhill from there. They have never recovered and still seem clueless.

          NYCO is like Karen Ann Quinlan: the plug was pulled but its just lingering on.

          • Porpora

            I disagree. They had 50 million that the attorney general of New York (son of NYCO’s former Chairman) let them spend away. NYCO was doing Ok until Susan Baker (remember her?) put the company’s resources on the roulette table. Madam Lehmann Brothers lost big.


            • operaassport

              Porpora: don’t believe everything you read. Problems — unless they are sudden natural disasters — don’t happen overnight. Baker was a mess but she didn’t destroy a healthy, fully functioning company. She simply accelerated what was already happening. She was the wrong person at that time but she made things worse, she didn’t create the problem.

            • quoth the maven

              Not entirely accurate, Porpora. Eric Schneiderman became Attorney General in 2011, well after NYCO ran through its endowment.

        • Porpora

          “The chief cause of their demise wasn’t that they programmed Die Soldaten at the expense of La Traviata or Norma, it’s that the board completely screwed up the Mortier situation and had no back-up plan when that blew up in its face.”

          That’s it exactly. The brought a guy on board who had been at the Dallas Opera for a couple of months. The Dallas board gave him the choice to leave or be fired. Who did he convince to save him. A gal with money on the board at NYCO who had also been on the board at the Miller Theater.

          So nice to have friends in high places, isn’t it?

        • whiskey per tutti

          Henry, I agree with your analysis of the situation.

          The mix of standard repertory and new/unfamiliar works remained pretty much the same and in the same proportion to each other for most of NYCO’s tenure at City Center and the State Theater. There was the notable exception of the all-American season of 1958, made possible by the Ford Foundation.

          I have no special knowledge of the current NYCO board, but I doubt there’s anyone on it who is both wealthy and has a true passion for opera (or at least enough to pony up a major contribution). And NYCO did have such donors in the past.

        • semira mide

          ‘acres of stuff written by composers whose names end in “i”’

          Fighting words,watch out!

      • operaassport

        I’ll disagree. You certainly can get the attention of the opera-going public by doing unusual or less than standard rep. Chicago Opera Theater does. Opera Theater of St. Louis balances nicely. Many other companies do as well.

        There is no need in NYC for a 2nd company that does standard rep. There is a need for an opera company that does everything else.

        Sadly, I don’t think NYCO is that company anymore. That’s not a “good riddance” statement. It’s a reflection of present reality.

        • Porpora

          “There is no need in NYC for a 2nd company that does standard rep. There is a need for an opera company that does everything else.”

          Yep. And for that we have Gotham Opera.

          • operaassport

            Perhaps I should have said “at a higher level” than Gotham Opera.

  • Porpora

    The jig is up. The board has closed their wallets. Basta cosi!

  • semira mide

    I’m not familiar enough with the history of NYCO, but can it really be true as Julius Rudel writes in “First and Lasting Impressions” that there were once seasons devoted to American operas ALONE?? And also one to 20th century operas alone? According to Rudel they were very popular with audiences.
    Also, from what I read, they almost folded before..
    Of course it’s Rudel’s version of history, but still fascinating.

    Something sure changed.

    • whiskey per tutti

      Yes, there were at least two seasons of only American operas (which happened to all be 20th century works) and two or more seasons of American and European 20th century works (including its inaugural season in the State Theater).

      And, yes, there were many times over the course of its history that NYCO has been on shaky financial footing. I suspect that the current situation is far more dire, but I don’t give much credibility to anything coming from the management or the board.

      If you can find a copy, read Martin Sokol’s “New York City Opera: An American Adventure,” which includes the performance annals from 1944 to 1981.

      • semira mide

        Fascinating, thanks.

  • Steel cut their season down drastically, moved them out of Lincoln Centre, got rid of the permanent orchestra, and sold off all the costumes and props. Most significantly, he raided the endowment to settle their financial situation. All of these moves were done with the goal of putting the NYCO on a solid financial footing.

    The minimum expectation was that at least the NYCO would be financially healthy as a result of these drastic measures. Putting aside what one thinks of the quality of the artistic work, Steel has failed spectacularly if after all of these measures, the company is on the brink of financial disaster.

    • FomalHaut

      And what would YOU suggest NYCO do if you were in Steel’s situation?

      • I actually agreed with most of Steel’s cost-cutting measures. Obviously, I don’t know any details so I can’t put forward a plan and I can’t speak to the severity of those measures.

        But the bigger question is:

        What did Steel do to steward his major donors and keep them happy? Or to put it in a more negative way, what did Steel do to cause them to pull their funding?

        On a slightly different note, I think the biggest cause of the NYCO’s downward spiral was the lack of a subscription season during the year that the State Theatre was under renovation. I don’t know who made that decision but every effort should have been made to allow the existing subscribers to renew their subscription even if it meant seeing productions in different venues during the renovation. Once that non-season year was over, the NYCO essentially had no renewing subscribers.

  • Flora del Rio Grande

    Sport: There is every reason NYC needs a second company that includes
    a lot of standard repertory, as well as contemporary and rarely-performed.
    When I first started attending NYCO at the old City Center you could hear
    Cav and Pag for five bucks, or even less, and you heard good singers. The
    audience for that still exists even in rich rich rich NYC. When you see that
    average Met seats are two to three hundred dollars, some less, many more,
    something needs to be done. The Met is trying with its rush tickets etc.,
    but basically the Met is a rich person’s high-end very social company.
    Just look at the make up of the board of directors! And talk about socially
    ambitious wives and couples, yup by the bbl.
    Rudel ran the NYCO company somewhat irregularly, but he had a good grip
    on contempo works and took risks, in addition to which he was an excellent
    musician and well-trained conductor. His Massenet could not be beat.
    In its heyday, NYCO would rival any second-tier company in Europe. I
    expect you agree with me that NYC needs a good company like that, for
    ‘the common man,’ or at least the one who cannot pay Met prices.
    I was very shocked to look at ticket prices at Kansas City Lyric for
    Miss di Donato in Bellini’s Capuletti later this month — as high as $400
    a seat, and most in the $200 range. Santa Fe opera not quite so pricey,
    but it is up there, and Chicago and San Francisco -- yup, several hundred
    a performance for you and the little woman, then there is the cost of
    a baby sitter, dinner out, transportation/parking to the opera house —
    it’s getting pretty damn stiff! You can easily spend $1000 for a couple’s night
    out at the opera. That’s costly. No wonder the HD Movie transmissions are
    increasingly popular. They should be, and thank God for them.
    Do we need in NYC a ‘people’s opera’ at very cheap prices, with young
    singers, experimental rep now and then but a good dose of the classics?
    Damn right we do. And all over opera America.

    • RosinaLeckermaul

      I think this is a bit unfair. First, there are a lot of reasonably priced seats at the Met. Balcony and family circle are cheaper than the seats to a Broadway show. In fact orchestra seats are cheaper than prime seats to a hit musical (close to $500 for BOOK OF MORMON). Or prime seats to rock concerts or sporting events. And the Met is not just a “rich person’s high end social company” any more than any major US opera house is. Moreover, the City Opera ceased to be a popular priced bargain when they moved to Lincoln Center. Cheaper than the Met, yes, but not as cheap as the good old City Center days.
      Yes, a people’s opera would be a good thing if someone can figure out how to do it without government support. And in a real theatre, please, not a night club.

    • When you see that average Met seats are two to three hundred dollars

      No. An “average” Met seat is about $100, maybe a bit more if you factor in the charge for “premium” seating in Orchestra (30 or 40 prime aisle seats nightly) and the few dozen parterre box places, which go for around $400 at the priciest. In other words, except for the very highest-priced premium seats, a ticket to the Met costs about the same as a ticket to Wicked on Broadway, and a gooe deal less than half of what it would cost to hear Barbra Streisand in concert in the NYC area.

      Yes, of course it would be great if ticket prices were cheaper. This is accomplished throughout most of the rest of the world through large government grants to arts organizations, not by starving the people who play and sing the music.

      • oedipe

        Don’t know about averages, but I bet median prices for decent seats at the Met are actually cheaper than at many top houses with large government grants. And median prices are more important than average prices, because one doesn’t get to buy averages.
        In some European houses, there are either very few cheap seats (Paris, for instance), or there are many cheap seats with zero visibility (the Liceu, for instance), or there are a large number of cheap standing room tickets (Vienna).

        • Henry Holland

          At Iron Tongue of Midnight, there is commenter whining “Waaaah! Opera is soooo expensive, none of my friends and I can go!”.

          I pointed out the following (I stayed with the bigger CA companies):

          * Los Angeles Opera has $19 balcony seats for all performances
          * Standing room in San Francisco is $10
          * San Diego Opera has $35 tickets in the balcony

          Are they really great seats? Nah, of course not, but if what you care about is the music and seeing the production, then they’re fine; I’ve spent many a performance in San Francisco in the upstairs standing room. LA and SF can be had for less than the price of a movie ticket + popcorn + a drink.

          It reminds me of when Ethan Iverson of the jazz trio The Bad Plus complained about Met ticket prices, I pointed out that you could sit in the balcony with titles in front of you for less than a Bad Plus gig at the Village Vanguard.

          He finally admitted that he wanted $20 tickets for 10th row center. Uh, NO.

    • operaassport

      Who do you propose pay for this ambitious fantasy? Because you can’t run an opera company by selling $5 tickets.

  • antikitschychick

    There’s really no need for them to be breaking a sweat over this. Alls they gotta do is ask Renee if they can borrow her diva du$t moneys :P

    No but seriously, I do hope they make it. I’ll try to donate 5-10 bucks when I can.

  • Quanto Painy Fakor

    We’re hopelessly lost. In a single day, more than 20 million people applied for free tickets for Apple’s 2013 ITunes Festival, featuring “the world’s greatest artists.” Unless one counts Elton John, not one of them has anything to do with so-called classical music or opera! If you want more inspiration, watch the freaky people presenting Apple’s latest media event streaming on their website.

    • Quanto Painy Fakor

      and it all culminated with hideous performances by Elvis Costello.

    • Porgy Amor

      Costello has had as much or more to do with classical music than does Elton John. He wrote a ballet score, a song cycle with the Brodsky Quartet, did a crossover project with Von Otter. Not that anyone does or should think of him first for that.

      I’m a big, big fan of his songwriting; he’s actually underrated. He isn’t much of a live performer, though. The singing in the best of circumstances is an acquired taste, but in concert he tends to go hoarse an hour in, in my experience.

      • Quanto Painy Fakor

        I never knew that. He’s certainly much better here than at today’s Apple event.

        • Porgy Amor

          That cycle has quietly hung on — there have even been a couple of recordings by other singers and quartets. It has some gorgeous ballads (“The First To Leave,” “The Birds Will Still Be Singing,” “The Letter Home”), and of course the words are always on a high level.

      • oedipe

        I agree. Love Costello! He a very striking and original songwriter. I once saw a one-woman dance show by the great modern dance choreographer Jan Fabre, and it was set to music by Costello. A very memorable experience indeed.

        • Porgy Amor

          This is my favorite track from the Von Otter album, and is a good example of Costello’s lyrical gifts. It is also almost seasonally appropriate — “the last rays of September” will be here soon enough. Nice art show courtesy of the person who uploaded it.

  • Avantialouie

    NYCO’s financial mismanagement goes back at least as far as the Rudel directorship. Sills stated publicly, when she took over from Rudel, that she was shocked at the company’s true financial state. It had been totally masked even from her by deceptive accounting. Ever since that time, through Kellogg, Keene, and after, NYCO has operated on the principle that an opera company’s reach should exceed it’s financial grasp, or what’s a rich donor for. Those opera houses that have been historically charged with “lack of vision” because they have forever settled for the “vision that’s affordable” are now the houses on solid economic footing. Look at the trouble that Domingo is now in in two different cities, precisely because he has spent money he did not have. NYCO is simply reaping what it has sown for 50 years. No opera house has “an” audience: they all have many small audiences. Some people go to bel canto, some to modern atonal or expressionistic works, some love the baroque, some prefer the French repertory, and some are poor opera lovers looking for inexpensive seats to respectable performances of works by composers with names ending in “i.” A house must interest and nurture each one of these groups independently, and this NYCO failed to do. Eventually, each of these audiences at NYCO become so small that the house cannot now afford to support a small-to-average-length run of an expensive new production in any one of these genre. That’s a hard fact for us to realize, those of us who read parterre, because we are members of all these audiences. But the average opera-goer isn’t. NYCO is now forced to do small, off-beat productions in small, off-beat venues with hopes of breaking even once rich donors have come to the rescue (a need pre-planned by the management as a necessity that “had” to happen.) One could not make a success of even a lemonade stand using these business practices and these marketing strategies, let alone an opera house. By NOT sending money to NYCO now, I hope I am contributing to putting the company out of its misery. That’s sad, but there’s blame enough for that to go around a truly maddening crowd.

  • Quanto Painy Fakor

    “Opera is a really good fit for me” I don’t get that feeling. By the time one is the music director of an opera company one should know the entire standard repertoire by heart. That includes the words, not just the beats.

  • Quanto Painy Fakor

    NYCO Opera now rumored to be in hospice.