21 Feb 2012

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Posted 21 Feb 2012 07:10
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The New York City Opera Debacle

This NYCO issue is just silly...

The NYCO (New York City Opera) debacle seems so irrational... A lot of people are complaining, but what I am not seeing is a lot of people going in with rolled sleeves and ready to work.

Plácido Domingo, Frederica von Stade, Sherrill Milnes, Samuel Ramey, and Joyce DiDonato have signed letters of protest. The protests are because NYCO has put itself in the hole through past bad management, and so *drastic* cuts have been made- abandoning Lincoln Center, performing in small venues.

Beverly Sills grew the company's budget to $26 million, and left the company in the black with $3 million. The signs of prior bad management (Keene and Kellogg) were there when Mortier resigned abruptly in 2008.

So, what happened between Beverly Sill's resignation in 1988 and 2008? In June 2009 Bloomberg reported that the company had incurred a $11 million deficit for the year ending June 2008. Revenue fell 23 percent to $32.9 million, expenses rose 11 percent to $44.2 million.

Notice a pattern here? Well, at the downturn of an economic recession, what are your options when you have a company that is racking up debt all over the place and which apparently spent the last ten years gleefully accumulating more?

You make cuts. You HAVE to. If you want to preserve the company and hope that in the future it can grow again to its future size, you have to make it survivable. Whatever cuts are necessary have to be made.

That is, if your aim is to HAVE a company in ten years' time.

The growing outrage among performers (whom I love-- but let's be frank here, most performers listen to their emotions first rather than reason, and so emotional reactions will be the first things felt) is that NYCO has been reduced to performing in the Brooklyn Academy of Music, in Harlem, for example because of much-needed budget cuts.

The first thing I have to say to that is: Harlem needs opera too, you know. So what if you can't play the big house right now because paying for one would put you out of business? Have any of you ever thought that maybe the Harlem performances may be bringing something that is much needed -contact with beauty- to people that may not have much contact with it? Ever thought, perhaps, that this is a ripe opportunity to increase the market for opera? Opera doesn't ONLY need high-rolling clientele, you know. It may have started in the courts of the nobility, but if my experiences in Rome- and everywhere I go- have shown me anything, is that properly presented opera can be embraced by anyone and that 'common people' can open up to it (I don't like that term, but it will suffice to make the distinction between operatic cognoscenti and the 'uninitiated' as some cal them). People protest that this was the opera company that launched over fifty careers-- like Beverly Sills, and that they must now be reduced to perform in Harlem.

Beverly Sills was born in Brooklyn, to Jewish immigrants from Odessa, Ukraine, and Bucharest, Romania.

In fact, a large number of musicians and opera singer I have met have come from modest or poor backgrounds who embarked on their careers after a fateful exposure to the art form- through touring companies or telecasts.

Think about that for a while.

The company has to do what it needs to do to survive, and for there to BE an opera company in the future. Spending on lavish sets and large theaters and top-dollar talent when you are in the hole is NOT the way to survive- that way is assured destruction. While I sympathize with the feelings, we have to accept the fact that reality is what it is, and that what's best for the company right now may not be everybody's favorite idea--- who wants to have limited resources? Cuts? Who wants to have less than optimal theaters? But just as we learned while growing up-- often what is right implies letting go of your desire for instant gratification and look towards the future, and evaluate what are the best steps to GET there.

While I admire Domingo, DiDonato, Ramey and company, and sympathize with how unpleasant the reality of things are--- I don't see them offering to donate part of their significant capital to the company (which is what would be needed in order to keep a debt-generating season afloat WITHOUT putting the company further into a debt that would, eventually, become irrepairable) , or more importantly getting down to work with the books and looking at a possible exit strategy that allows a higher level of functionality for the company.

To echo the Stones--- you can't always get what you wanna, specially when what you 'wanna' goes against reality. But if you think about things rationally, you can usually determine what it is that you need to do.

carlos_penguin 2 years ago 0
"Opera doesn't ONLY need high-rolling clientele..."

You hit the nail on the head.

The VSO was in debt to their ears and the city cut funding way back.

Long story short, we still have a VSO!
Blitzkrieg the Dragon 2 years ago 0
Hell I'd go see an opera show if they weren't so darned expensive. I think playing in Harlem's a great idea. Methinks the people protesting may have a bad case of snobbery.