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New York City Opera (1943-2013) Cancels 2013-2014 Season, Files For Chapter 11 Bankruptcy, Assets Purchased by NYCO Renaissance


DonRocks
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Perhaps the best versions we ever saw were at the New York City Opera on consecutive nights where we saw Timothy Nolen and then Mark Delevan as Sweeney. 

Sadly, you won't be seeing any more at the New York City Opera (don't click on that unless you want a gut punch). :(

Here is an overview of this storied opera company, founded seventy years ago, and termed "The People's Opera" by Mayor Fiorello La Guardia due to offering major productions at relatively reasonable ticket prices.

Opera is big bucks entertainment, and cannot be funded by ticket prices alone. That's just the unfortunate reality, and pure capitalism (without philanthropy) cannot sustain the art.

"Survival Economics: Small Opera Companies Drive Change" by Molly Colin on sfcv.org (San Francisco Classical Voice).

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It will be interesting if there will ever be an honest analysis of where they went wrong. In this observer's mind, they never separated themselves from the Met, which is the platinum standard for all opera houses, if not for all non profits. Instead they went for one bandaid after another and eventually bled to death. 

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It will be interesting if there will ever be an honest analysis of where they went wrong. In this observer's mind, they never separated themselves from the Met, which is the platinum standard for all opera houses, if not for all non profits. Instead they went for one bandaid after another and eventually bled to death. 

Are you saying that in 70 years, they never separated themselves from the Met? And if the Met is the platinum standard for opera houses and non-profits, why would the lack of separation be a bad thing?

(I'm not trying to argue; I'm trying to understand. [Note also: I often "link up" threads, putting an external link in along with the first reference to a person, place, or thing in the discussion - hence, "the Met" linking to its Wikipedia entry in your post which I know is lame, but also something I can count on being there 70 years from now. :)])

That said, I'm nominating Vienna State Opera as the platinum standard for opera houses. Here's their schedule for this month.

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Let's be clear on our terms. Perhaps the word "separated" should have been qualified as "showed their product as separate from the Met". Lest it seem like splitting hairs, one needs to estabish a reason the patron comes to your opera house rather than another. Thus it is necessary to have a compelling reason such as a clear mission statement using which you actually follow and cultivate donors on the basis of that mission. In case you may not be aware, ticket sales account for between 20 and 33% of most non profit budgets. The rest is donations - corporate, foundation and individual. So if management fails to delinate the difference between your biggest (and arguably best) competitor, the organization will die.

The other curious thing in non profit management is this unspoken tenet that essentially says, "we are here, therefore help us prosper". Why? Did the Edsel prosper because they were "here"? Or the AMC Pacer? Pan Am and Eastern Airlines? Yes, they were for profit, but I would put it to you that the non profits also must make a compelling case for why anyone needs to support them besides just taking up space on the IRS non taxable list.

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The NYCO shared their space with the NY Ballet and the result was a sound stage not fit for their level of performance.  Their mic-ing of the operas was something that was obvious {general ambient amplification of the entire sound stage, not mics on the individual singers}  They battled for years to get a sound redesign.  When renovations were made, they had to cancel their season and the downward spiral was cemented.

While I loved their forays into Broadway and unusual rep, their second to the last or last director general lost sight of the core opera that bring folk out on an every day basis.  Say what you will, but there are reasons why La Trav, La Bohem, Turandot etc are the backbones of the opera world.  Look at the month's schedule of opera at Vienna {an amazing company as I have a friend who sings there regularly and have heard tapes of his various performances but have never been}. Nothing out of the ordinary except for Peter Grimes which for underrepresented isn't really that unusual as Britten is enjoying a moment of trendiness {which is a GOOD thing!}

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It's true that, when first built, NY State Theater (renamed David H. Koch Theater in 2008) was an acoustical disaster. However, this is true of every constituent of Lincoln Center, except the Met and to a lesser extent Alice Tully Hall. I would not give the administration of City Opera a pass because they failed to get a good sound engineer to sweeten the acoustics the way Wolf Trap, Hollywood Bowl, Bravo! Vail and countless other venues do all the time. Sure, they are outdoor venues, but a top sound engineer can do a great job, and it is a one time, permanent fix, expense. Then they failed to work out a suitable venue to keep their core audience engaged, relying on voodoo economics and cover your butt poilcies instead of trying to have venues like the Armory, Academy of Arts and Letters or the Hammerstein Ballroom be a destination for a year while renovations took place.

The true analysis of NYCO mismanagement is taking the easiest way out rather than having the courage to power through the cards they were dealt with a clear message of maintaining and expanding their audience base. BTW, taking a page out of the Met's playbook and presenting summer operas in boroughs the Met would not go to, would have immediately brought free publicity and good will which always (if of course you see it through) translates into money, just check out any of Michael Kaiser's books.

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As I recall, the NYCO was not a lease holder under the agreement with the Koch and the Ballet.  They could not just do the work themselves.

And their last year when they did go to other unusual venues was a financial mess.

I am not defending their management, but I think that the authorities who operate Lincoln Center really didn't do much to help out the NYCO.  Obviously, you and I disagree how much help an opera company is deserving of.

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Actually I am not certain we disagree as much as it may appear. I would love to know what your definition of "help" is with respect to NYCO and Lincoln Center. LC, as a non profit, oversees a conglomerate of other non profits for, presumably, the greater good of the city. Keep in mind, the deal between the Rockefellers and the city, was part of a West Side redevelopment project with huge tax benefits to LC. It is possible that part of the agreement has to do with what is in the best interests of the city, not one individual constituent.

Less obvious is that a prudent LC director, even in the post Beverly Sills era, would be ill advised to "bail out" NYCO without a rock solid managememnt team, 3-5-7 year business plan, board support, artistic leadership and an endowment drive. Again, see Art of the Turnaround by Michael Kaiser - when all the pieces in the puzzle are not in place, the organization will fail (I am paraphrasing). We know that was precisely the problem with NYCO and the loser is the community. You don't go into unusual venues without prepping the appearance and doing a true outreach campaign, which is what they did. And I will bet you that none of that executive team stayed out of work very long, again, to the detriment of the NYC arts community at large.

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Actually I am not certain we disagree as much as it may appear. I would love to know what your definition of "help" is with respect to NYCO and Lincoln Center. LC, as a non profit, oversees a conglomerate of other non profits for, presumably, the greater good of the city. Keep in mind, the deal between the Rockefellers and the city, was part of a West Side redevelopment project with huge tax benefits to LC. It is possible that part of the agreement has to do with what is in the best interests of the city, not one individual constituent.

Less obvious is that a prudent LC director, even in the post Beverly Sills era, would be ill advised to "bail out" NYCO without a rock solid managememnt team, 3-5-7 year business plan, board support, artistic leadership and an endowment drive. Again, see Art of the Turnaround by Michael Kaiser - when all the pieces in the puzzle are not in place, the organization will fail (I am paraphrasing). We know that was precisely the problem with NYCO and the loser is the community. You don't go into unusual venues without prepping the appearance and doing a true outreach campaign, which is what they did. And I will bet you that none of that executive team stayed out of work very long, again, to the detriment of the NYC arts community at large.

It's too bad this discussion halted so abruptly because it was fantastic.

However, many people may not know that the remaining assets of NYCO were purchased by an organization called New York City Opera Renaissance, and on Mar 9, 2015, there was a Gala at Lincoln Center's Rose Theater. This was in celebration of the life and work of conductor Julius Rudel who passed away in June, 2014 at age 93, and who conducted an unknown 24-year-old named Placido Domingo at his New York City Opera debut in 1965. The Gala raised $800,000 which is something, but will it even make a dent?

"Julius Rudel Gala Benefits City Opera Revival Hopes" by Anthony Tommasini on nytimes.com

I can see a world where charities such as NYCO no longer exist because they are expendable, not being directly involved with life-and-death issues. That world will consist of a handful of gargantuan opera companies which pay their performers big bucks, and charge patrons a fortune. Opera will be an extravagance for the extremely wealthy - and only the extremely wealthy will be able to participate except for watching on TV. Is this really any different than something like the NBA, or any of hundreds of other entities where only the best-of-the-best can make a living doing something? We currently live in a world where the 1,000th best basketball player (or tennis player, or bassoonist, or harpsichord technician) either lives in poverty, or has given up the vocation altogether; but the 1,000th best lawyer is a multi-millionaire.

Is this a bad thing? If not, then so be it; if so, then what are you doing about it?

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Coincidentally this very topic came up last night with a prominent conductor residing in NYC. He assured me that despite the efforts to revive City Opera, the company is dead. Will it remain so? Maybe you can entice Tony Tommasini to comment on where opera managements are with respect to training the next generation of executives. What I see is the great success of the Miami Opera, Santa Fe Opera, SF Opera. Kennedy Center is cruising along nicely. What are they doing right? Opera should not be the hard sell orchestra and chamber music are because of sets and costumes. The question is what to do with new music, nationalism in opera, etc. The Klinghoffer production was quite polarizing for the Met, yet I bet it netted more opera buffs than it lost. So, as with everything, one needs to balance new productions with old favorites. The key is not to confuse freshness with novelty. 

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Coincidentally this very topic came up last night with a prominent conductor residing in NYC. He assured me that despite the efforts to revive City Opera, the company is dead. Will it remain so? Maybe you can entice Tony Tommasini to comment on where opera managements are with respect to training the next generation of executives. What I see is the great success of the Miami Opera, Santa Fe Opera, SF Opera. Kennedy Center is cruising along nicely. What are they doing right? Opera should not be the hard sell orchestra and chamber music are because of sets and costumes. The question is what to do with new music, nationalism in opera, etc. The Klinghoffer production was quite polarizing for the Met, yet I bet it netted more opera buffs than it lost. So, as with everything, one needs to balance new productions with old favorites. The key is not to confuse freshness with novelty. 

"Is This Opera, Or Soap Opera? NYCO's Troubled Rise from the Ashes" by Shawn E. Milnes on thedailybeast.com

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