Business

This Weekend Could Be The Last For New York City Opera

Company Needs To Collect $7 Million, Or Bankruptcy Proceedings Are Planned
New York City Opera

Items recently up for auction from the New York City Opera. (Credit: CBS 2)

NEW YORK (CBSNewYork/AP) — The New York City Opera could be going silent after this weekend.

When it was founded 70 years ago, the New York City Opera was dubbed the People’s Opera by Mayor Fiorello LaGuardia, “so that everybody in New York could afford to go to the opera,” general manager and artistic director George Steel told WCBS 880’s Marla Diamond.

But the company has been struggling, and announced earlier in September that it needed $7 million by the end of the month.

“The board decided that if we are unable to raise the money we need to continue with the season – and that’s $7 million by Monday – that we will begin proceedings for bankruptcy on Tuesday, the 1st of October,” Steel said.

Steel said the opera needs an angel, or the performance Saturday night at the Brooklyn Academy of Music will be the opera’s last.

A collapse would leave the 130-year-old Metropolitan Opera as the city’s only major opera company.

“It would be absolutely appalling to imagine a city as great as New York not being able to have two major opera companies,” said Kasper Holten, director of opera at London’s Covent Garden. “If you look London, if you look at Berlin, if you look at Moscow, if you look at Vienna, they have two opera houses, and of course New York should have two opera houses.”

Having presented 12 to 16 operas with a peak of about 130 performances in a season, the company has shrunk to four stagings and 16 performances in each of the past two seasons. Its endowment has dwindled from $48 million in 2008 to $5.07 million at the end of June 2012, according to tax records, and its staff has been pared to 25.

City Opera earlier this month set up a Kickstarter campaign to raise the money. The company said without the funds, it would have to suspend its 2013-2014 season after the end of the season’s first production, “Anna Nicole.”

The organization has suffered from financial troubles for some years. City Opera’s finances were devastated during the term of Susan Baker, who chaired its board from December 2003 until Charles Wall took over in December 2010.

The company used part of its endowment to pay expenses. Given deteriorating economics caused partly by the financial crisis, the 2009-10 season was cut to five productions and 33 performances, and the schedule only slightly increased for 2010-11. The company then left Lincoln Center and is in its third season of performing at a variety of venues.

In 2011, the company elected to move out of Lincoln Center after 45 years there, cut its staff, and scale back its performance schedule due to a dwindling endowment, a multimillion-dollar deficit, and contentious negotiations with its union staff.

Founded as “the people’s opera” by Mayor Fiorello LaGuardia in 1943, City Opera helped launch the careers of Beverly Sills, Placido Domingo and Renee Fleming.

“My early performances with New York City Opera were what really kicked off my international career, and I look back on those days with enormous pride,” Domingo said. “The company has done incredible work for so many decades, and it has played an essential role in New York’s cultural scene for millions of opera lovers. It would be an absolute tragedy for that legacy to come to an end.”

Known for innovation and feistiness, City Opera became a vehicle for young American singers to gain attention. It presented a number of world premieres, including Jack Beeson’s “Lizzie Borden,” and under Steel it has staged the U.S. premiere of Rufus Wainwright’s “Prima Donna” and a provocative staging of Thomas Ades’ “Powder Her Face” that included about two dozen naked men.

Mark-Anthony Turnage’s “Anna Nicole,” runs through Saturday at the Brooklyn Academy of Music. In danger of cancellation are Johann Christian Bach’s “Endimione” at El Museo del Barrio from Feb. 8-16, Bartok’s “Bluebeard’s Castle” at Brooklyn’s St. Ann’s Warehouse from Feb. 28-March and Mozart’s “Le Nozze di Figaro (The Marriage of Figaro)” at City Center from April 19-26.

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