New York City Opera brings down the curtain

October 01, 2013 at 4:09 pm

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With last-minute pleas and fundraising having failed, George Steel, New York City Opera’s general manager and artistic director, announced this morning that the company had cancelled the remainder of its 2013-2014 season and would begin “to wind down the Company, including initiating the Chapter 11 process.”

City Opera had been enduring major financial difficulties since 2008. The previous director, Gerard Mortier, had set an ambitious artistic agenda that was beyond the company’s fundraising ability. Renovations to their home venue, the David H. Koch Theater (formally the New York State Theater), shut down the company’s 2008-2009 season, led to Mortier’s resignation and forced City Opera to dip into their endowment.

Steel, appointed prior to the 2009-20010 season, managed the return to the Lincoln Center location for two years, a period that included musically and dramatically important and successful productions of Leonard Bernstein’s In A Quiet Place; an evening of three monodramas by John Zorn, Schoenberg and Morton Feldman; and Christopher Alden’s staging of Don Giovanni.

Steel also made the radical decision to leave Lincoln Center after the 2010-2011 season, arguing that the financially precarious company could no longer afford to rent the Koch Theater. City Opera became a traveling company, mounting productions at the Gerald W. Lynch Theater, El Museo del Barrio and the Brooklyn Academy of Music. That decision was temporarily vindicated as the company balanced their budget for the previous two seasons, and in the spring of this year Steel announced four year partnerships with BAM and the City Center Theater, City Opera’s original home, covering two productions in each venue for each season.

This season began with both the United States premiere of Mark-Anthony Turnage’s Anna Nicole at BAM and the announcement that the company needed to close a current $7 million deficit by September 30 and an overall $20 million gap by December 31 in order to continue this and future seasons.

Fundraising grew increasingly desperate, as City Opera launched a campaing via Kickstarter, seeking $1 million. Of that, only $300,000 was raised, with an additional $1.7 million from other sources.

The board voted last Friday to bring bankruptcy proceedings. The final blow was struck yesterday, when New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg stated the neither city money nor his personal fortune would be used to rescue the company. New York City Opera’s seventy-year run as “The People’s Opera” ended with the final curtain on Anna Nicole, Saturday, September 28.


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