Sad News for New York City Opera: What of Beverly Sills’ Legacy?

CityOperaattheNewYorkStat

Past home of the NYC Opera

This article in the Wall Street Journal brings more bad news for opera as a whole.  The New York City opera has filed for bankruptcy and if they don’t reach their financial fundraising goal by Monday (which seems unlikely) the company will likely be defunct.  How sad this situation is.  Certainly, City Opera does not present at the level of the Metropolitan Opera or other international companies, but it had it’s place in the echelon of opera, often presenting modern productions and new operas. Perhaps what is most disturbing is that NYC Opera was a place where young singers got their feet wet and experienced stage craft before embarking onto bigger things.  It is truly disturbing that yet another company is being flushed away when there are businessmen in NYC who could save this company single handedly.  Are you out there people?  It’s much more fun to buy a hockey team or invest in Apple than invest in opera right?  What could you possibly get out of saving an opera company?

More than you could ever know.

Drama Behind City Opera: Wall Street Journal

According to the article, “in the hopes of shaking off years of financial turmoil, New York City Opera embarked on a controversial reboot of the company in 2011, leaving its long-time home at Lincoln Center and cutting its season to a fraction of its former length. The reboot didn’t work. Two years later, as it prepares to wind up its affairs, company officials, former board members and experts in the field say the very steps City Opera took to save itself may have hurt it as much as they helped.”  I really can’t fathom to read these words, “wind up its affairs..” and it just means nothing to most people, but not to anyone who loved opera in NYC.

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Apparently, City Opera’s board voted on Thursday to file for bankruptcy-court protection and dissolve the 70-year-old company if by Monday it hasn’t achieved its emergency fundraising goal of $7 million, a figure officials said they were unlikely to reach. “We had to shrink in order to survive,” City Opera Chairman Chuck Wall said in an interview earlier this week. “But you lessen or reduce the cultural footprint in the city, and people wonder if you’re going to survive. It’s a catch-22.”

Beverley Sills

It seems that since Beverly Sills passed away, this company has gone downhill faster than one might’ve imagined.

After retiring from singing in 1980, she became the general manager of the New York City Opera. In 1994, she became the Chairman of Lincoln Center and then, in 2002, of the Metropolitan Opera, stepping down in 2005. Sills lent her celebrity to further her charity work for the prevention and treatment of birth defects.

In 1978, Sills announced she would retire on October 27, 1980, in a farewell gala at the New York City Opera. In the spring of 1979, she began acting as co-director of NYCO, and became its sole general director as of the fall season of that year, a post she held until 1989, although she remained on the NYCO board until 1991. During her time as general director, Sills helped turn what was then a financially struggling opera company into a viable enterprise.

One of the major issues was that the company couldn’t afford to stay at Lincoln Center. The departure, and the bruising labor fight that followed, allowed the company to balance its budget for the first time in a decade. Arts management experts and leaders of other cultural organizations said that plan may have been prudent, but it cost the company dearly. Unlike the past two seasons, when its productions began in February, City Opera this year had a production planned months earlier,in September. That left less time to raise money before payroll bills came due, Mr. Wall said.

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The opera was “Anna Nicole,” a co-production with the Brooklyn Academy of Music based on the life and death of the tabloid star Anna Nicole Smith. In late August, City Opera scrambled to pull together the cash for its $1.3 million share of the $4 million total production cost, asking board members to chip in and calling other pledges in early. The closing performance of “Anna Nicole,” on Saturday night appears likely to be the company’s last. City Opera had waited too long to reinvent itself, Mr. Steel said. “I wish we had gotten to the business at hand faster.”

I still don’t understand why when a company is in this much trouble they would chose to mount an opera that is so controversial, rather than perhaps picking repertoire that is more widely known and loved.  You want to get operagoers in your seats because they want to hear something they know and love, not because it’s controversial.  That, in and of itself, is a gamble that NYCOpera obviously lost.  It is disheartening to know that in the last two days, this opera company is shutting down, unless a miracle happens (and we’re all hoping for one), and news that La Scala is in jeopardy of closing as well.  WHAT IS GOING ON PEOPLE!!!?  Frankly, I don’t think La Scala will close because the entire country of Italy would be closing its doors on the house that supported their leading composers and singers.  It would probably cause a revolution and be a very stupid move on the part of the government, but that we have to continue to read about struggling artistic organizations is both infuriating and frustrating.

What can we do?  We can continue to go and listen to LIVE opera, not just opera in the movie theatre.  Support the LIVE EVENT.  We can continue to learn opera, we can continue to sing it, and for those of you who are like me (and there are many), you can devote yourself to this genre that is the greatest all-encompassing artistic vehicle in the world in whatever ways you can in order to see its preservation.  Here in the Vetere Studio, I see a good number of singers per week.  Some of them have come to opera in the traditional way, having gone to school for singing and now they are adopting a better technique and learning roles that will propel them further into their art and dreams, and some have come to it from other avenues like Rock and Pop singing.  Regardless of where they came from, this wonderful group of singers has become a literal army for the preservation of opera and in a small town like Niagara Falls Canada managed to sell-out performances because, guess what?  PEOPLE LOVE OPERA!!!  If you bring it to them in a way they can digest it and not overwhelm them, they come….like in the movie “Field of Dreams.”  I choose to contribute to this genre personally as a singer, but also by bringing productions to a small region where opera is not so common, and the long and short of it is that the general public comes back.  They call to find out when the next production is…and this is Niagara Falls, so what is the problem with larger areas like NYC or Milano? Something is wrong somewhere.  Perhaps we live in a technologically charged society and people just can’t relate to sitting in a theatre to watch people sing without electronically enhancing the voice or using a 10,000 watt sound system.  Which is more exciting to you, listening to guitars clad with distortion and a crazy wild light show (the method that most popular bands are using now) or watching a human being with nothing but their God-given gift, the weight of their soul, and the two folds in their throat project emotions that are larger than life, in stories that withstand the test of time, supported by an equally acoustic orchestra to 3000 people?  Maybe many would chose the former…but for me singing opera, listening to opera, participating in opera in any way, even as an audience member is opening yourself to its message:  Love.  Now that is the sexiest and most invigorating thing on earth.

Let’s keep wishing for someone who feels that way to come and save this company that has been a staple of the arts in NYC.

NYC Opera Website

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