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We don’t have the $7 million that we need to go forward with the season
October 1, 2013 10:17 AM   Subscribe

After 70 years, the New York City Opera has filed for bankruptcy, and will shutter.

Founded in 1943, the New York City Opera was created as "the people's opera"—its main mission was to make opera accessible. City Opera has recently been facing increasing deficits that have forced it to raid its endowment and, in 2011, to leave its Lincoln Center home to become an itinerant troupe. It also drastically cut back on the number of operas it gave each season — from 115 performances a year a decade ago, to 16 last year.

A recent Kickstarter campaign with a goal of $1 million raised just over $300,000.
posted by roomthreeseventeen (100 comments total) 14 users marked this as a favorite

 
!

(a period seems somewhat subdued to mourn the death of an opera company)
posted by Etrigan at 10:20 AM on October 1, 2013


!
posted by JanetLand at 10:21 AM on October 1, 2013


¡
posted by tilde at 10:22 AM on October 1, 2013 [1 favorite]


!
posted by corb at 10:23 AM on October 1, 2013



posted by Gelatin at 10:25 AM on October 1, 2013 [4 favorites]



posted by Smart Dalek at 10:26 AM on October 1, 2013




The ! sometimes gets used to indicate the opposite of ., so we might want to be careful of overloading.
posted by Going To Maine at 10:27 AM on October 1, 2013 [2 favorites]


That $7 million is about .02% of Mayor Bloomberg's net wealth. It's the equivalent of a normal person giving $5.
posted by Slinga at 10:28 AM on October 1, 2013 [3 favorites]


The articles don't seem to talk about finances in any detail. They were really running a $7 million yearly deficit?
posted by demiurge at 10:28 AM on October 1, 2013


This makes me sad, because I love music. I would consider supporting my local opera, except ... I kinda hate opera.

I do make it a point to support classical music, live theatre, and comedy, because those are art forms I enjoy. However, whenever I go see a play or a classical performance, I can't help but notice a sea of grey-haired heads. Why do these art forms seem to be dying out? How come we see them as the property of the elite and superannuated? Have these institutions simply done a poor job reaching out to younger audiences? Or has the under-60 crowd all been corrupted by mind control rays emanating from their smartphones, rendering them incapable of enjoying any song that doesn't contain the words "My" and "Humps"?

I wish classical music and live theatre were more accessible to non-old, non-elite folk. Like, there's an organization that does small chamber music performances in casual settings in SF, and those shows are a lot of fun. I'd love to see more stuff like that. Also, I miss the off-off-Broadway scene in NYC, and how $25 would buy you an evening of random entertainment; sometimes good, sometimes awful, sometimes just weird, but usually amusing, and hey, you only spent $25, right? Wish every city had a theatre scene like that.
posted by evil otto at 10:28 AM on October 1, 2013 [2 favorites]


It's a damned shame.

Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg — a billionaire who is a major patron of the arts, and who has supported the company in the past — told reporters that neither he nor the city would ride to the rescue of the opera. He said that the company’s “business model doesn’t seem to be working.’’

I'm so fucking sick of things that shouldn't be run like businesses being expected to have business models.
posted by penduluum at 10:28 AM on October 1, 2013 [100 favorites]



posted by rosary at 10:29 AM on October 1, 2013


Why do these art forms seem to be dying out? How come we see them as the property of the elite and usually superannuated?

Perhaps not so much as the elite as the postwar, European immigrant population who loved that type of music and supported it enough so that ticket prices were affordable to everyone else.
posted by Melismata at 10:31 AM on October 1, 2013 [6 favorites]



.
posted by seyirci at 10:33 AM on October 1, 2013


I am incredibly grateful to live near to an incredible, world class opera house. This is a good reminder that not only should I buy tickets, I should include them in my charitable giving. What an incredibly sad thing for NY to lose.
posted by stoneweaver at 10:35 AM on October 1, 2013


I wish classical music and live theatre were more accessible to non-old, non-elite folk.

Live musical theatre, at least in New York, is doing as well as it's ever done.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 10:37 AM on October 1, 2013 [5 favorites]


I'm so fucking sick of things that shouldn't be run like businesses being expected to have business models.

Me too!
posted by mcstayinskool at 10:40 AM on October 1, 2013 [1 favorite]


Considering the number of performers that have to be paid, opera is actually pretty reasonably priced, especially if you can get a hold of a cheap or student ticket. I'm wondering if the problem is the sheer diversity of competing entertainment available now.
posted by BrotherCaine at 10:40 AM on October 1, 2013 [2 favorites]


What an incredibly sad thing for NY to lose.

While it is indeed sad, it should be made clear that this was one of two opera companies in Lincoln Center. The Metropolitan Opera, which is New York's premier opera company, is still in Lincoln Center, and still going strong.
posted by ocherdraco at 10:40 AM on October 1, 2013 [18 favorites]


so that ticket prices were affordable to everyone else

Were they? This is an honest question since my exposure to orchestral music has been limited to attending a college performance or two and my only other touchstone on the subject is based upon a vague recollection of a previous discussion here, in which people hypothesized that there was a disconnect between pricing and the general population's pocketbooks, about some other orchestra closing it's doors. I'm really not trying to shit up the mournful tone of the thread so feel free to ignore this casual, non-vested-because-of-lack-of-access/exposure asker's question.

I did do some casual research and it seems that prices, I took San Fransisco as 'throw a dart' example, aren't out of what I'd call a respectful range, but is that a more recent change that's in response to market shifts?

Hell, maybe that's all too meta, I'm just going to sign up for a pair of tickets to my local municipality's orchestral offerings for me and the wife, we need as many breaks from reality as we can get before baby comes anyway... plus better to go before it's gone I suppose.
posted by RolandOfEld at 10:44 AM on October 1, 2013


It is said when art forms die. It is sad when cultures die. It is sad when species die. It is sad when people die. It is sad when the sun sets.
posted by Potomac Avenue at 10:46 AM on October 1, 2013 [10 favorites]


I'm so fucking sick of things that shouldn't be run like businesses being expected to have business models.

I very strongly disagree with this. Shouldn't be run like businesses? Why the hell not? They are a business. They have a product that they deliver to an audience. The onus is on them to make that sustainable and workable. The only other option is to make them entirely publicly funded, which, frankly, is just never going to happen and shouldn't. Because big high arts orgs are way too expensive to keep running in relation to their benefit to the public (most of these big arts orgs get some sort of public funding. Here in Portland we're even experimenting with an arts tax).

These big performing arts organizations have become so notorious for having completely unworkable funding models that it's a trope of the sector. They have too long relied on their laurels and being seemingly indispensable because of their role as the keepers of the 'high arts' (ugh), that they have completely neglected to make the difficult but necessary decisions, both business and artistic, along the way to ensure their financial longevity. Every single year there is some story of a major performing arts organization begging for a last minute bailout from a major donor or kickstarter. That's what I'm sick of. That is not going to work in the long term. Frankly, at the end of the day, if the demand isn't there for these performances, then it just isn't there and it's time to change or go away.

I mean, look at their season. Figaro (blarg, like anyone needs another production of figaro), Bluebeard (I love it, but really?), some Bach, okay, and a new opera based on the life of Anna Nicole Smith. I love new music, but just because something is composed or an opera company doesn't make it somehow worthy of being beyond the need to turn a profit to exist. Tons - TONS - of amazing music exists today that has no trouble sustaining itself. Art changes, and that's okay. Really it is. If people would rather throw their $50 at Fiona Apple or Savages or whomever, and not at City Opera for another production of Figaro, then so be it. I love opera, but honestly I usually spend my very limited discretionary music-seeing monies in other places, because I just don't really feel like I need to see another Bartok or Bach production. Just because you do Mozart is not a good enough reason to be continually bailed out. It really isn't.
posted by Lutoslawski at 10:48 AM on October 1, 2013 [40 favorites]


First of all, opera has not disappeared from NYC, but it has been diminished. But what if it did disappear? I don't know how I feel about it. On the one hand, yes, it's sad that an art form will no longer be expressed there, but on the other hand resources are always going to be limited, including resources for art. Why should the money go to opera, but not to any number of other musical forms which could also stand to be financed? If an art form no longer speaks to a sufficient number of people, whose fault is that, and is it wrong for other musical forms to speak to more people?

Again, whose fault is that? We can say that more should have been done to expose people to opera so that more people could become passionate, enriched, and thus supportive, but whose job is that? City Administration? Why should they privilege opera over, say, hip-hop? Why should the public purse support one, but not the other? I'd love to support both... and a million others, but that question of 'why this and not that' will be present for much more than the biggest purse in the world. So choices have to be made. Not 'why opera', but 'why opera rather than x'.

I am not an enemy of opera - far from it. I grew up surrounded by the sound of opera - my father is a huge fan and has an astounding collection of opera records, which were played constantly. We went to performances, we attended events, my father supported opera in a myriad ways.

But I also recognize that the world has not been made to cater to my cultural background. The world is ever changing. And sometimes change means the disappearance of worthy things... to be replaced by other worthy things - or not, as the case may be.

Opera will be around for as long as anyone reading it today is likely to be around, and much longer than that. But it may be a good time to ask questions about what demands public support, and what is just an expression of a particular perspective perhaps in opposition to a changing world that has an equal claim on the public purse.
posted by VikingSword at 10:52 AM on October 1, 2013 [3 favorites]


Live musical theatre, at least in New York, is doing as well as it's ever done.

Well, that depends on your metric I think. Financially, sure. The unholy marriage of Broadway and Hollywood has enabled insane ticket prices and a steady flow of tourists lining up for "recentish popular movie now with songs." But compared to half a century ago, there are very, very few productions, and especially very, very few original works.
posted by Lutoslawski at 10:54 AM on October 1, 2013 [12 favorites]


Opera will be around for as long as anyone reading it today is likely to be around, and much longer than that. But it may be a good time to ask questions about what demands public support, and what is just an expression of a particular perspective perhaps in opposition to a changing world that has an equal claim on the public purse.

Could not agree more. QFT.
posted by Lutoslawski at 10:55 AM on October 1, 2013 [3 favorites]


> Why the hell not? They are a business.

If the only art we have is art that is profitable, then we're going to get a lot of mediocre art competing for the least common denominator.

> another Bartok or Bach production

If the music world were as socially Darwinian as you are suggesting, we might have neither Bartók nor Bach.

Almost everything Bartók did during his life was financially unsuccessful. He lived off research grants and the like.

Bach was more popular but did not support himself by playing for popular audiences, but rather by having a series of rich patrons - the equivalent of "government grants" in today's world.
posted by lupus_yonderboy at 10:56 AM on October 1, 2013 [18 favorites]


That said, while this is sad news, it might well be that opera has become a relic and the city of New York cannot support two opera companies...
posted by lupus_yonderboy at 10:57 AM on October 1, 2013 [3 favorites]


I mean, look at their season. Figaro (blarg, like anyone needs another production of figaro), Bluebeard (I love it, but really?), some Bach, okay, and a new opera based on the life of Anna Nicole Smith.

For many years their main selling point for me was that they did a reasonably good production of Don Giovanni around every other year, while the Met didn't have a production of it for around 15 years until last year, with ghastly reviews.
posted by elizardbits at 11:00 AM on October 1, 2013 [2 favorites]


He lived off research grants and the like.

Bartok lived off his "teaching" salary from Columbia, where he remained on the payroll for most of his life while never taking a student.

I guess it comes down to taste, but I would argue that this whole model of "profitable art necessarily means shitty art" is incorrect. I think it's just been true for so long that the Old Arts have been unprofitable while being considered 'better' than New Arts that we as a society have made this false inverse thing between money and quality art. Lots of rich musicians make incredibly good art.

This is not to say that I think we ought to turn our opera companies into corporations and deprive them of all public support. On the contrary. But they get a lot of philanthropic dollars every year. Throwing more grant and gift money at them is not going to solve the long-term problem that is Funding for Old Art.
posted by Lutoslawski at 11:02 AM on October 1, 2013 [1 favorite]


This sucks. My company builds opera scenery, those can be huge jobs. A few years ago we saw several opera companies close their doors. I hoped we were past all of that now.
posted by MrBobaFett at 11:02 AM on October 1, 2013 [1 favorite]



posted by Navelgazer at 11:04 AM on October 1, 2013


For many years their main selling point for me was that they did a reasonably good production of Don Giovanni around every other year, while the Met didn't have a production of it for around 15 years until last year, with ghastly reviews.

Well, if you were to pick one of the two opera companies to close, City Opera is certainly the bigger loss imho. And while I'm probably too quick to dismiss Mozart (I have a personal distaste for Mozart that probably colors my comments here), I think that, honestly, keeping a multi-million dollar organization running in the red every year in order to produce opera staples on steady rotation is just not a workable model.
posted by Lutoslawski at 11:05 AM on October 1, 2013 [1 favorite]


It is said when art forms die. It is sad when cultures die. It is sad when species die. It is sad when people die. It is sad when the sun sets.

The sun's going to come back up in the morning.
posted by Aizkolari at 11:07 AM on October 1, 2013


The sun's going to come back up in the morning.

No way of knowing you'll see it, though.
posted by telegraph at 11:08 AM on October 1, 2013 [1 favorite]


Bach was more popular but did not support himself by playing for popular audiences, but rather by having a series of rich patrons - the equivalent of "government grants" in today's world.

Also wanted to mention that Bach having rich patrons is really actually equivalent to having rich patrons today (like Bloomberg, in City Opera's case). Major donors are still the backbone of these organizations. Government grants are spectacularly shitty forms of funding.

I'm not saying we shouldn't increase NEA or NEH funding. I'm not saying people shouldn't still give their donations to these organizations. But that has to be balanced with the earned income piece. Arts organizations have to cultivate and maintain an audience.
posted by Lutoslawski at 11:10 AM on October 1, 2013 [3 favorites]


That's not the opinion of most European countries. Especially not places like Sweden, where rock bands can get grants. Not saying it has to work that way, just that the alternative isn't like, appealing to the youth. That's impossible. It's the disappearance of an entire art form. Which before capitalism, happened over hundreds of years so it didn't seem so bad. Now it can happen in a decade. You can get sad about it, and I do, but you can't change it by telling Opera companies to bootstrap themselves or something.
posted by Potomac Avenue at 11:13 AM on October 1, 2013 [1 favorite]


I'm not a live music person, or a classical music person. I don't even go see movies in the theater anymore. Every now and then I buy a concert ticket in a burst of optimism but when the night rolls around I am tired, my knees hurt and I resent rushing out to stand on a concrete floor and have my ears damaged - even when I love the music.

So I am kind of an ordinary Joe with no real arts background but I will say when I went to see Opera about 15 years ago for the first time it completely blew my mind. It was incredibly emotionally powerful. I was overwhelmed with feelings. Emotions just washed over me like tsunami wave after tsunami wave.

I've been back only a few times in various cities. The tickets are expensive and up until the last few years I have been pretty poor (thanks student loans - paid off next month woo!) however it has almost always been powerful. Opera is, quite frankly, an enormous entertainment bang for the buck. I say this as a complete opera ignoramus. I can't even begin to imagine how awesome it is when you really understand and know what is going on both in and and behind the scene.

Seriously, even if you think Opera would totally not be your thing, go and see a good one and make sure. I'd put my discovery up their with drinking Belgian beer in Brussels or falling in love for the third time or so.

Just make sure you get seats where you can see the teleprompter so you know what is being said, pick a known great opera and from a good traditional company - experimental stuff can be fun or quirky but that dilutes the full Opera experience. Then sit down and prepare to experience the emotional equivelent of the Maxell Tapes guy
posted by srboisvert at 11:14 AM on October 1, 2013 [11 favorites]


Bach was more popular but did not support himself by playing for popular audiences, but rather by having a series of rich patrons - the equivalent of "government grants" in today's world.

I've given this a ton of thought. A few years ago, I was on a discussion panel for a French radio program at the Cannes film festival (where I had a film), and I was there to give the perspective of an American producer. I rather shocked the others by being strongly supportive of the whole idea of public support for the arts, though I did think the Europeans should reforms somewhat how the support their film industry.

I am a supporter of public financing of art. Yes, it's an extremely fraught subject - who chooses what to support and why. Most of such supported art will be trash of no value. But then, most art produced is trash of no long term value. But back in the past "rich patrons" were just as qualified - or not - to pick and choose whom to support. In some ways, there is no sure-fire method of picking only "worthy" art for support.

So inevitably there will be inefficiency and waste and unfairness and stupidity and prejudice and so forth. But there really is value in supporting art that cannot survive - at least initially - just in the commercial sector. I'd liken it to the search for a life-saving drug - a thousand compounds may be examined ("wasted" money), but it's all worth it for that one drug that is actually found.

And that brings us to the present topic. The one thing it's not worth spending very limited money on, is an already extremely well established art form - indeed by centuries - how does it help us to find new music and art by financing a millionth performance of Carmen?

Going back in time - the one thing that those patrons did that worked, was financing art that was relatively new and fresh. That's what we need today, not financing art forms which don't push art forward.
posted by VikingSword at 11:15 AM on October 1, 2013 [6 favorites]


I would argue that this whole model of "profitable art necessarily means shitty art" is incorrect

I guess you would argue that if you could find anybody to claim that. Well, this promises to be a long thread, so maybe you will!

I think the view that leads you to be sad about an opera house closing is more like: "a culture where the only art is profitable art will be narrower and less interesting than it could otherwise be." Now that claim is not obviously right! But it's also not obviously wrong, the way the one you proposed is.
posted by escabeche at 11:17 AM on October 1, 2013 [1 favorite]


People are reading way too much into the "business plan" comment. A business plan is a plan to pay the bills and keep the lights on. Non-profits have them too.
posted by downing street memo at 11:23 AM on October 1, 2013 [16 favorites]


The fat lady sings in the end
posted by Renoroc at 11:25 AM on October 1, 2013 [3 favorites]


A business plan is a plan to pay the bills and keep the lights on. Non-profits have them too.

This is all I'm saying. Public funding is important, but unless you have a realistic, workable plan in place to balance the books (which City Opera just doesn't), it isn't going to work out. Arts organizations have got to get away from the annual bail-me-out thing.

It should be noted that in 2007 it looks like City Opera netted $13,000,000 in ticket revenue. In 2011, they netted just $3,000,000 (while the ED made $320,000. Interesting but no judgement really). Clearly, something is going wrong. I believe, and I think some of their recent past annual revenues show, that the audience is there. They just needed to figure out how to reach them.
posted by Lutoslawski at 11:29 AM on October 1, 2013 [3 favorites]


I'm so fucking sick of things that shouldn't be run like businesses being expected to have business models.

Foremost of which is "providing something that people like."
posted by jpe at 11:30 AM on October 1, 2013 [1 favorite]


> People are reading way too much into the "business plan" comment.

The actual comment included:

> They have a product that they deliver to an audience. The onus is on them to make that sustainable and workable.

so I think that's clear enough.
posted by lupus_yonderboy at 11:30 AM on October 1, 2013


> Public funding is important, but unless you have a realistic, workable plan in place to balance the books (which City Opera just doesn't), it isn't going to work out.

OK, I think we basically agree on this, and it's just terminology. Back to the fat lady not singing...
posted by lupus_yonderboy at 11:31 AM on October 1, 2013 [1 favorite]


The Anna Nicole show is done by the people who did Jerry Springer, and it is supposed to be brilliant.
posted by PinkMoose at 11:32 AM on October 1, 2013


The classical arts have become the entertainment "boy toy" of the wealthy - this includes most classical museums. The so-called "best" companies play in venues that price most people out - and if you get a discount ticket you are so far away from the stage that one feels like one is experiencing the performance in a detached way.

Go look at the cultural pages of any large city newspaper. The big day for these venues is the "opening gala" when the wealthiest patrons get to prance in front of each other and bob to the latest modern music after the "opening night" is over. Of course, classical venues are happy to be supported by the wealthy, because that's what it takes - and after all, this is America, where it's almost always about the money.

Also, look at the sheer lack of exposure that the great classical arts get in the media that young people are exposed to. As the Internet shines in the faces of young people, how much of that is represented in the classical arts - in classical music. Not much. If one doesn't get exposure to this stuff at an early age, it's often a long road to discovery at a later age (not universally, but this is a fact).

In some ways, the venues that "play" that classical arts are themselves to blame for this. It's kind fo ironic that the people who are most generous in their donations to these venues - for all the connections they have to power, including within and of the media and government - that they don't work much harder than they do to use their network to generate sustainable business models for these institutions that would all-but-eliminate the need for groups like the NYC Opera to have to go hat-in-hand every few years (all-too-often, every year) for money to stay afloat.

Another thing: kids are not introduced to playing instruments like they used to be; they rarely get a chance to sing in school - music and art are the first to go in our pathetic "results-based" education (with "result" meaning you pass a test to get to the next level, until you reach the final level of "success" by making it into a college that costs $30K a year, with poor prospects of paying back the loan necessary to achieve that "result" - that's another thread).

Instead, I see kids all over playgrounds in my neighborhood bobbing and weaving their heads game-based music; or, playing toy "instruments" that are programmed to get a result if the kid presses on a button. (the fad for guitar games in this sector is something that I personally find sad, because it makes kids think they are learning something, but all they are doing is entertaining themselves).

Anyway, a bit of a ramble here, but there are lots of reasons why the NYC opera and others are having trouble. The irony is that opera was at one time a far more humble thing, like the theater. It was more a thing that the common man/woman would go to experience.

Sure hope the NYC Opera gets back to presenting. How can anyone fathom that something like this would cease to exist, or become less-and-less accessible to human hearts and minds. Yes, things change, and musical tastes evolve, but there is something wanting in a tradition like ours, where as Harold Rosenberg wrote, the thing that seems nearly most valued is the "tradition of the new". What I see in Rosenberg's insight is the yawning lack of perspective that young people today are induced to due to media's concentration of ever-newer forms of stimulation, with tradition - including foundational arts like opera fading to black. It's not too late, but we're near a tipping point re: whether or not the opera and other classical arts will become an almost exclusive domain of the wealthy, who will keep ponying up because those gala opening nights have become indispensable element of high-end community status seeking.
posted by Vibrissae at 11:34 AM on October 1, 2013 [3 favorites]


...and a new opera based on the life of Anna Nicole Smith...

It's not over until the wait, what?
posted by furtive at 11:35 AM on October 1, 2013 [1 favorite]


OK, I think we basically agree on this, and it's just terminology. Back to the fat lady not singing...

/hugs and puts on some Maria Callas.
posted by Lutoslawski at 11:35 AM on October 1, 2013


I very strongly disagree with this. Shouldn't be run like businesses? Why the hell not? They are a business.

Exactly. Non profits are businesses, they simply do not have shareholders. One should not mistake a well run, well organized, properly funded, broadly supported organization as being the same thing as an evil, soul-sucking corporation (as some would argue).

Having worked with numerous non-profits over the years I can tell you what separates the successful, long serving ones from the dead organizations walking: running them like businesses. Cleveland has one of the largest non-profit sectors in the country and a very strong, willing donor pool. The number of poorly run organizations who are merely trying to eek by an existence without properly serving their target audience is mind boggling to me and in recent years there has (thankfully) been a major consolidation of non-profits.
posted by tgrundke at 11:41 AM on October 1, 2013 [2 favorites]


As a data point: my teenage daughter loves the Opera, and goes often. So it's not all gray-hairs.
posted by Windopaene at 11:42 AM on October 1, 2013 [1 favorite]


I would argue that this whole model of "profitable art necessarily means shitty art" is incorrect

I guess you would argue that if you could find anybody to claim that. Well, this promises to be a long thread, so maybe you will!


Hi! Well, there was that Nickleback thread from a little while ago, and then Thomas Kincaide. Depending on how much of a hipster one is, there's also the entirety of mass market pop music. And mall stores selling bronze statues of eagles catching salmon. So, I don't think it necessarily means shitty art, but producing art with profit motive foremost in one's mind would lead to those things in some circumstances, or possibly Jeff Koons or Damien Hirst.
posted by LionIndex at 11:43 AM on October 1, 2013


However, whenever I go see a play or a classical performance, I can't help but notice a sea of grey-haired heads. Why do these art forms seem to be dying out? How come we see them as the property of the elite and superannuated? Have these institutions simply done a poor job reaching out to younger audiences? Or has the under-60 crowd all been corrupted by mind control rays emanating from their smartphones, rendering them incapable of enjoying any song that doesn't contain the words "My" and "Humps"?

Here are a couple of impressions I have with opera:
- It feels harder to get them to take my money. If I'm going to a similarly priced show (Cirque Du Solei?), or a movie, I can usually get a good seat at short notice and/or on a good night without much fuss. It's not always true, it depends on a lot of things, but it just seems kind of easier elsewhere to put down my money and be rewarded for it.

- Ticket prices are on par with other shows (like aforementioned Cirque Du Solei), but much of the production values are not, so you've kind of got to already like it as there is enough competition that opera doesn't really stand out. This is a somewhat unfair comparison, because opera requires a lot more musicians, and Cirque Du Solei has evolved a very efficient business model that I would hate to have to try to better, but at the same time, it's also part of the lay of the land.

Perhaps not so much as the elite as the postwar, European immigrant population who loved that type of music

I think this is big. It needs to be music that was around you when you were growing up. If the music isn't familiar, that diminishes a lot of the appeal. (Or it does for me.) As music distribution methods have exploded and evolved, and new music production has exploded, traditional music performance is sharing more and more of the stage with other kinds of music and doesn't have the same slice of hearts and minds growing up.
posted by anonymisc at 11:45 AM on October 1, 2013 [1 favorite]




Goodbye.
posted by Elly Vortex at 11:46 AM on October 1, 2013


I think programs like Play! A Video Game Symphony and Final Fantasy: Distant Worlds have done a good job of exposing young(er) audiences to classical music, but these events generally only come to town once a year (or once every couple of years), which is probably not enough to keep the younger generations interested in classical music, or considering the symphony as an option for a night out. The Seattle Symphony has a lot of performances that are very reasonably priced, but even so, unless you live in downtown Seattle, the actual cost of "a night at the symphony" is several times the ticket price (transporation, parking--oh my god, Seattle parking, food, etc.) all of which often means the symphony gets passed over in favor of more affordable entertainment.

I wish there were more local, community opera houses and symphonies that made these arts more approachable and affordable to the masses. People might actually be more interested in Bach if they knew that the cellist was Bob from the hardware store.
posted by xedrik at 11:59 AM on October 1, 2013 [2 favorites]


It needs to be music that was around you when you were growing up.

I got exposure as a child both through being taken to the opera as part of educational experiences (frex, summer camp took us to the Santa Fe Opera, which I still love) and through Bugs Bunny. What's Opera, Doc? (I was too old for Animaniacs to be childhood exposure, but it's the same principle.)

I don't have kids, so I have no idea what sort of musical cartoons or other approaches to the classical/opera repertoire like that are out there now. I actually am not that keen on my local opera company, but I live in Austin and I was spoiled by HGO and Santa Fe. Instead I get my classical fix through chamber music, which is a lot less expensive to see because it requires fewer musicians.
posted by immlass at 12:02 PM on October 1, 2013


Some more background from an older NYTimes piece:
The company began running mounting deficits in 2003. After flirting with leaving Lincoln Center for artistic reasons, it decided to stay when its longtime home, the New York State Theater, was given a major renovation and renamed for its benefactor, David H. Koch.

But going dark for the 2008-9 season while the theater was being rebuilt proved costly. The company lost a year’s worth of ticket sales just as its deficits were growing unmanageable.

That season, the troupe raided its endowment, withdrawing $24 million to pay off loans and cover expenses. The move, coming just when the endowment was already depleted by investment losses brought on by the financial crisis, had long-term repercussions: While the endowment once provided the company with more than $3 million a year in investment income, it now produces less than $200,000 a year.
Then they left Lincoln Center, started having less shows, which meant they had less subscribers, and the result was pretty inevitable.
posted by smackfu at 12:04 PM on October 1, 2013


City Opera can blame no one but itself.

New York has no trouble at all supporting hundreds of cultural institutions, including dozens with cost structures at least as formidable as those faced by the City Opera. All those richer grayer people gladly pay the high ticket prices at the Metropolitan Opera, or the NY Phil, or the Carnegie Hall subscription series, etc.

Every year hundreds of people move (geographically or economically) into the position of being New York arts philanthropists of major or minor degree, and the City Opera's inability to obtain their patronage or that of the many thousands of incumbent donors, is also on them.
posted by MattD at 12:06 PM on October 1, 2013


Opera has never, in its entire history, been much of a money-making venture. It has always depended upon the largesse of governments and/or wealthy patrons. Suggesting that NYCO or any other opera company ought to be able to figure out how to turn a profit on opera just doesn't reflect an understanding of how opera works. Sure, Broadway shows might be able to turn a profit for the length of a run, but there is simply no comparison. Just looking at orchestral resources, an opera like Tosca will employ around 45 orchestral musicians, whereas a musical like The Lion King will have more like 23 and one like Rent will have perhaps 4. This is a huge difference. Similar comparisons can be made with respect to choral resources, soloist costs, set costs, etc.

Anyway, as others have pointed out, the NYCO everyone is now mourning died several years ago when the company went dark for a year and entered into the disastrous experiment with Mortier. During that time, all the money went to the cool kids over at the Met, and the Board of NYCO didn't do what a board is supposed to do when presiding over such an abject failure of their own leadership, namely coughing up millions of dollars out of their own pockets and those of their friends. After that, the company we all knew and loved was effectively dead.

That said, I can't help but think that the eventual end of NYCO was written long ago when they moved into the State Theater at Lincoln Center, and in some ways they were killed by their own success. There was a time when NYCO was the only place you could go to see "big house" productions of Handel, bel canto and modern/contemporary operas in New York City, or any kind of avant garde/modernist productions of standard repertoire operas. But eventually, due to cultural shifts at least partly inculcated by NYCO itself, their next-door neighbor started to do Handel operas and some of the lesser known works of Rossini, Donizetti and Bellini, and even the occasional new opera or weird staging. Audiences no longer needed to go to NYCO for those things. And the same thing continued to be true for most of the standard repertoire operas. I'm not sure I've ever attended a standard repertoire production at NYCO that didn't have a friend in the cast, and I don't recall a full house at any of those I did attend. And here is where the location at Lincoln Center comes into play: Fundamentally, productions at NYCO were "big house productions" just like they were at the Met, except with an orchestra that isn't as good, worse production values and without the famous singers. On the other hand, if NYCO had been in a 1,000 - 700 seat house, there would have been plenty of reasons to prefer seeing an opera in this intimate setting with up-and-coming singers versus seeing the famous folks in the Met's barn. Opera in a house of that size is an entirely different experience. But since the two houses effectively produced the same species of operatic experience, many audience members decided there just wasn't a reason to go to NYCO for a lesser version of what they could get next door.
posted by slkinsey at 12:08 PM on October 1, 2013 [9 favorites]


But going dark for the 2008-9 season while the theater was being rebuilt proved costly. The company lost a year’s worth of ticket sales just as its deficits were growing unmanageable.

Ah, that makes sense. I was wondering why that season had basically no ticket revenue and figured it must be something like that.

It looks like it never recovered from that. Ticket sales remained very low after.
posted by Lutoslawski at 12:09 PM on October 1, 2013


However, whenever I go see a play or a classical performance, I can't help but notice a sea of grey-haired heads. Why do these art forms seem to be dying out?

Just because they appeal to the older age group doesn't mean they are dying off, because there are always more people joingin the older age group. Those grey-hairs now were the people screaming at the Beatles or the Rolling Stones, and certainly weren't listening to opera on their record players.
posted by smackfu at 12:10 PM on October 1, 2013 [1 favorite]


I wish there were more local, community opera houses and symphonies that made these arts more approachable and affordable to the masses.

It takes more than just availability and low cost.

I live not far from LACMA. Every Sunday, there is a FREE concert performance by world class musicians. Works by famous and less famous composers. I went with my wife for Beethoven, Brahms, Grieg and Martinu. At least 80% of the audience were past middle age. At least 80% were foreign origin (mostly Russians). At least 90% were white or Asian. You see the problem. On a positive side, the audience was super enthusiastic - standing ovations, hooting, cries etc.
posted by VikingSword at 12:11 PM on October 1, 2013


Well, that depends on your metric I think. Financially, sure. The unholy marriage of Broadway and Hollywood has enabled insane ticket prices and a steady flow of tourists lining up for "recentish popular movie now with songs." But compared to half a century ago, there are very, very few productions, and especially very, very few original works.

There are hundreds of original productions on any given day/night in Manhattan, some with music, some without, at moderate prices. They are just not located in Times Square's 8 block radius.
posted by thinkpiece at 12:15 PM on October 1, 2013 [1 favorite]


And that brings us to the present topic. The one thing it's not worth spending very limited money on, is an already extremely well established art form - indeed by centuries - how does it help us to find new music and art by financing a millionth performance of Carmen?

Going back in time - the one thing that those patrons did that worked, was financing art that was relatively new and fresh. That's what we need today, not financing art forms which don't push art forward.


I see the point that you're making here. I agree with it on one level - we should try to direct money (especially public money) towards projects that "push us forward," rather than freshly warmed versions of the same old thing over and over again.

The problem with opera, though (and orchestras, theater, etc.), as opposed to film or the visual arts, is that the performances that appear to be the Same Old Thing are really the one of the best ways to introduce new audiences to what's been done in the past. (Sure, there are recordings, but I don't think they meet that need in the same way.) I suppose that I think about the millionth performance of Carmen as serving the same purpose as the Monet or AbEx paintings hanging out most art museums. It's not necessarily meant to be pushing the art form forward or encouraging more of the same; it's a record of where it's been, and a way to get newcomers (schoolkids, etc.) interested in it and its history. Of course, the problem is that the overhead for the performing arts that meet this kind of need is much, much higher (and the space, time, and other resources much more limited) than what's required to display most artworks.

The balance between old and new could certainly be shifted quite a bit, but I think it would be as misguided to stop funding the performance of Mozart, Carmen, or what-have-you for umpteenth time as it would be to shutter everything except the contemporary galleries in a typical art museum. Each generation needs opportunities to experience the earlier stuff, even if it seems like more of the same to those who are working at the forefront of the field.
posted by Austenite at 12:18 PM on October 1, 2013 [2 favorites]


I'm sad to hear this because I like opera, but this specific event doesn't deserve a government bailout. If we're going to do that, it should be to give emerging, underdog artists and art forms their chance. Opera, on the other hand, has had every chance. It has a huge infrastructure, it has centuries of history, it has some extremely wealthy supporters -- the only thing it doesn't have is a good-sized group of people who like it! And if the extremely wealthy supporters are now peeling away . . . they have that right. The government doesn't have any obligation to keep any given art form going on life support, especially since it can't support every declining art form, and how would you pick? Should the French government have pumped money into academic painting as realism and impressionism overtook it?

Enough people like opera that it's almost certainly not going to vanish in my lifetime. But it could become a minor art form . . . and that wouldn't be a disaster. It would be sad if it got to the position that, say, oratorio is in -- if you live in a major city, you have the opportunity to see maybe two or three per year, because most people just don't pay attention to oratorio -- but it wouldn't kill me and it wouldn't kill the art form.

And about "profitable" art: nobody's saying that art needs to be profitable, just that to the extent it incurs expenses it needs to find a way to pay for them. A ton of indie rock is not at all profitable, but the musicians keep doing it because it doesn't demand huge amounts of money they don't have. Most visual art, even film art at this point, can be done cheaply. But if the nature of your art form is such that it can't be done by young obsessives with jobs on the side who are content to break even, there needs to be some way of paying the bills that isn't "raise everybody else's taxes." That's just the cost of the art form being like that.
posted by ostro at 12:21 PM on October 1, 2013 [1 favorite]


There are hundreds of original productions on any given day/night in Manhattan, some with music, some without, at moderate prices. They are just not located in Times Square's 8 block radius.

My comment was in relation to the statement about "live musical theatre," of which there are most certianly not hundreds of original productions in Manhattan every day (and the numbers of which have been waning drastically for 70 years). I am aware actually that you can see a play in a non-broadway house, thanks. (And who knew the Flea was doing so well!)
posted by Lutoslawski at 12:23 PM on October 1, 2013


It seems like mismanagement contributed to their downfall, including alienating much of their base of support (who included donors).

It also seems to be a slow-motion collapse over the past decade as the Opera ate into its endowment (which was supposed to provide annual revenue to finance operations).

Very sad, but even a person like me with very little disposable income is always sure to check the operational viability and management of whatever organization I am making a donation to.
posted by KokuRyu at 12:23 PM on October 1, 2013


...financing art that was relatively new and fresh.


It's new and fresh to every new generation, and why shouldn't they have a chance to enjoy it?
(Thanks, Austenite for expanding)

I've as much chance of seeing NY opera at this time in my life as I have of walking on the moon, but I'd rather my taxes went to art then frickin' bank bailouts or supporting DoD waste.

♪.
posted by BlueHorse at 12:25 PM on October 1, 2013 [1 favorite]


You know, I do think this is very sad, because City Opera was a great institution, but I'll admit I'm also a little irritated by what seems to be the notion that City Opera and the Met were the only two places in New York to see opera and now it's down to one.

American Lyric Theater, American Opera Projects, Beth Morrison Projects, Bronx Opera Company, Center for Contemporary Opera, Chelsea Opera, Citywide Youth Opera, dell'Arte Opera Ensemble, Downtown Music Productions, Encompass New Opera Theatre, Gotham Chamber Opera, HERE, Manhattan School of Music, Morningside Opera, On Site Opera, OPERA America, Opera Breve, Opera Moderne, Opera Omnia, Opera on Tap, operamission, OperaOGGI New York, The Indie Opera Podcast, the little OPERA Theatre of NY, Underworld Productions Opera, Vertical Player Repertory.

We're talking about NEW YORK CITY, here.
posted by kyrademon at 12:33 PM on October 1, 2013 [8 favorites]


Well, that depends on your metric I think. Financially, sure. The unholy marriage of Broadway and Hollywood has enabled insane ticket prices and a steady flow of tourists lining up for "recentish popular movie now with songs." But compared to half a century ago, there are very, very few productions, and especially very, very few original works.

How many of the first 20 Tony Award winners for best musicals (from Kiss Me, Kate to Cabaret -- mostly a bunch of classic shows heavy on the Sondheim, and Rodgers and Hammerstein) were original works by your standards? I count 10 based on novels or books, and 7 based on plays (one based on a teleplay), and only 3 of the 20 that are actually new material. Yes, they adapt movies now more than plays or books, but just because South Pacific and Fiddler and Sound of Music and My Fair Lady have eclipsed their source material doesn't actually make them any more original than the current crop.
posted by Homeboy Trouble at 12:46 PM on October 1, 2013


I was using original to mean original, as in not a revival. All of the shows you cited are certainly original.
posted by Lutoslawski at 12:49 PM on October 1, 2013 [1 favorite]


A lot of the problem is the presentation of the opera - not the whole stage thing, not the singing ladies, but the sit-down, shut up presentation. If you had to go see your favourite popular beat combos like that, it'd be hard to muster up a lot of enthusiasm.

Classical music used to be a hootenanny for the upper classes. Literally - people would talk and mingle whilst the music played. Now? That sort of socialising would be unheard of. I don't know what made the change, but any social event that requires a strict adherence to a set of rules that are just plain unfriendly isn't going to last. This is the long death-spiral of opera, and we get front-row seats.
posted by The River Ivel at 12:51 PM on October 1, 2013


kyrademon, none of the places you listed produce fully orchestrated, costumed and staged original language productions of full scale operas with artistically mature casts.
posted by slkinsey at 12:54 PM on October 1, 2013


Classical music used to be a hootenanny for the upper classes. Literally - people would talk and mingle whilst the music played. Now? That sort of socialising would be unheard of. I don't know what made the change,

As I heard it told, it was the middle class getting in on it as a class-marker and being Very Serious about appreciating this upper-class-marker art.

Billy Connolly had an (otherwise unrelated) humorous observation to do with middle class people being Very Serious about social status, contrasted against how it isn't a Big Thing for both people who have had it from birth, and people who have no illusions that they will ever have any.

That said, if you were there for the performance rather than for socializing with the performance as backdrop, it seems like it would kind of suck to have half the audience whispering away.
posted by anonymisc at 1:41 PM on October 1, 2013 [1 favorite]


any social event that requires a strict adherence to a set of rules that are just plain unfriendly isn't going to last.

Like the movies?
posted by modernserf at 2:29 PM on October 1, 2013 [1 favorite]


As I heard it told, it was the middle class getting in on it as a class-marker and being Very Serious about appreciating this upper-class-marker art.

A more charitable hypothesis is that middle class people could only afford to go hear the symphony once in a while and wanted to actually listen to the music they were paying to hear.

Chatting with your friends during the first performance of Beethoven's Ninth Symphony? That's like bathing in champagne and lighting your cigarettes with hundred-dollar bills.
posted by straight at 2:37 PM on October 1, 2013


Chatting with your friends during the first performance of Beethoven's Ninth Symphony? That's like bathing in champagne and lighting your cigarettes with hundred-dollar bills.

Yeah, just because the rich folks couldn't be bothered to pay attention to the musicians doesn't mean that's the right approach.

They had a metric crap-ton of breathtaking paintings and sculptures all over their mansions that I bet got ignored every day, too.
posted by Celsius1414 at 2:39 PM on October 1, 2013


Ticket prices are on par with other shows (like aforementioned Cirque Du Solei), but much of the production values are not...
Huh? For a brief three years I had season tickets to the Seattle Opera, and what always blew me away was the multi-media extravaganza that I got see when I went.
I would argue that "production values" for a top-notch opera company are far above those of Cirque. Consider:
-A professional orchestra and conductor
- A professional chorus
- The cast of the opera - all professionally trained, and the 'stars' often of a magnitude that isn't heard everyday
- The scenery (and in some operas, there's a LOT of scenery!) - which recreates so many different places/times
- The lighting - which combines with scenery for sometimes-ethereal results
- the sound engineering - who must cope with, and make sound magnificent, all those live voices and instruments.
I've always said that there's something to entertain every minute of any opera.
posted by dbmcd at 2:40 PM on October 1, 2013 [1 favorite]


> "kyrademon, none of the places you listed produce fully orchestrated, costumed and staged original language productions of full scale operas with artistically mature casts."

Has anyone told that to, for example, Bronx Opera? Because I imagine the seasoned performers in their upcoming fully orchestrated, costumed, staged, original language full scale production of Mechem's The Rivals are going to be a little surprised to be told that they are not artistically mature.

Look, I understand that yes, City Opera did occupy a niche, along with the Met, that might be called Big Opera. But there is more to opera than simply Big Opera, and NYC is actually an excellent place to find it.
posted by kyrademon at 3:02 PM on October 1, 2013 [1 favorite]


So this seems sad. But then I think, 'maybe NYers are spending their money on art which is more accessible for the general populace'. Maybe the money they needed was donated to school art programs, afterschool art programs, supporting fledgling artists that do public works or teach others.


All in all, it's just money. And its being taken out of OPERA! (Which is, let's be honest, for only a certain kind of spectator), and MAYBE given somewhere else where it will have a greater impact.

I'm also all about cutting funding for polo so that money may be spent on sports equipment for kids.

But yeah, they needed $7M and there is no guarantee that the money that they would require via donations are going to be given elsewhere.


Wait. Check out these salaries.
posted by hal_c_on at 3:02 PM on October 1, 2013


Alex Ross doesn't come out and say it, but strongly implies that NYCO failing has more to do with the board of directors screwing up than the relevance of opera in 2013. Some people I've spoken to who know people actually working at City Opera seem to think the same thing.
posted by lownote at 3:05 PM on October 1, 2013


Speaking as a 20 year old who's now had a modest amount of exposure to opera through my parent's work, my impression has been that I connect a lot more with modern operas than the classics. Maybe it's mostly for reasons beyond the actual harmonic and melodic structure. There's librettos in English I can follow, or contemporary plots I can relate to more in my everyday experience even if it's not in English, and the potential for incorporation of things like newer musical trends and electrified instruments. Bach or Bartok are simply not things I have grown up with enough to overcome these hurdles.
posted by solarion at 3:08 PM on October 1, 2013


All you blowhards that cringe at the thought of public funding for the arts - oh my Lord, how can we ever cross such a line - might want to take a look at how many of your taxpayer dollars are going to your local football team.
posted by phaedon at 3:32 PM on October 1, 2013 [6 favorites]


dbmcd, I've been to amateur theatre productions with better sets/props/costumes than some Seattle Opera productions I've seen. (Meanwhile the set engineering on display in a cirque show is often staggering, partly because they can have the show and the entire "building" fundamentally designed for each other).
Yes, other Seattle opera productions I've seen have had great sets etc. So there seems to be significant variance, or I've had bad luck. I haven't been enough to know why that is. (I don't recall if there were indications they'd invested the budget heavily elsewhere in the production, or if they were trying something different, or if it was just a lesser production / seasonal thing, or something else entirely)
My impressions may be colored because my first introduction was one of the underwhelming affairs.
posted by anonymisc at 3:33 PM on October 1, 2013


I had a subscription to this season. I enjoyed Anna Nicole, was really looking forward to Bluebeard's Castle at St Anne's Warehouse, was happy about early(ish) opera being put on in the form of Endimion (by Johann Christian Bach, btw) and while I wasn't as excited about Figaro it is/was a Christopher Alden production and NYCO was the only place (in NYC) to see anything by the Aldens until the Met finally had David Alden for a Ballo.

NYCO's last several seasons have been very interesting but the biggest problem has been that they've been so short. But they didn't have the money to put on a longer season. Or have a full-time orchestra and chorus and keep stars around. Or have a full-time home. I have (elsewhere) seen a lot of complaining about how they left Lincoln Center but that was a symptom, not a cause. Same with raiding the endowment. They slashed their operating costs and were running much better but they couldn't rebuild their endowment or even climb out of debt.

NYCO used to be a big deal; putting on 130 performances a season with world class singers, new operas - many of them commissioned and premiered by NYCO - and interesting productions while the Met was far more conservative.

But the Met has picked up some of that slack, putting on more daring productions and more modern operas. Nos is currently in rep, A Midsummer Night's Dream starts next week and the week after that Two Boys opens, which will be the first opera I see by someone younger than I am (and that I follow on Twitter).

NYCO has had the fine companies listed by kyrademon (fantastic comment!) nipping at it's heels. I saw L'incoronazione di Poppea a few weeks ago by Dell'arte, would be seeing Gotham's Baden Baden collection if I weren't going to be out of town, I will probably see Chelsea's production of The Tender Land (which NYCO premiered), etc. And many of these small opera companies are actually affordable (on the order of $30 for GA seats).

NYC should be able to sustain two major opera companies. As much as I have enjoyed the NYCO works (with great production values) I have seen over the last few years they have been in a downward spiral for years and, sadly, the NYC opera scene will be better with them gone.
posted by mountmccabe at 5:13 PM on October 1, 2013 [1 favorite]


"Wait. Check out these salaries."

For director level in NYC, they're not insane or anything. And if you need $7 million, an extra $100,000 isn't what broke the bank.
posted by klangklangston at 5:33 PM on October 1, 2013


*sigh* Check one thing off my list for my someday NYC visit.
posted by _paegan_ at 5:40 PM on October 1, 2013


I haven't been in NYC long enough to have as much of an attachment to NYCO as it was. They've been in trouble (happens when your endowment payout drops from $3 million to $250k) borrowing against that history for several years and have finally come up (way) short in part because that history is also against them. They haven't been able to live up to that history since the twin hits of the financial collapse and the lost of the season while the State Theater was being renovated knocked them down.
posted by mountmccabe at 5:40 PM on October 1, 2013


...check out these salaries.

Well, it's not as much as some CEOs....

Seriously, I wonder how much of it went to artists and musicians (and damn, I don't begrudge anyone in the art field making a living wage) vs how much went to the administrators.

One of the worst things about this is that once more, art gets gutted. How many employees are now out on the street--from musicians to stagehands to lighting experts and theatrical costumers?

I wouldn't be surprised if this wasn't a three pronged issue. The first is political--someone pissed off the powers that be, and they've withdrawn support. Second, some poking around would reveal malfeasance. Third would be just plain old greed mixed with stupidity. One or more of the administration sucked to hard on the tit.
posted by BlueHorse at 8:13 PM on October 1, 2013 [1 favorite]



posted by Cranberry at 12:41 AM on October 2, 2013


Seriously, I wonder how much of it went to artists and musicians (and damn, I don't begrudge anyone in the art field making a living wage) vs how much went to the administrators.

I think most of the musicians involved here already lost their good gig when they left Lincoln Center and trimmed down the number of performances and made them contractors. At that point, the ones who could went and found a full time job.
posted by smackfu at 5:58 AM on October 2, 2013


Has anyone told that to, for example, Bronx Opera? Because I imagine the seasoned performers in their upcoming fully orchestrated, costumed, staged, original language full scale production of Mechem's The Rivals are going to be a little surprised to be told that they are not artistically mature.

With all due respect to Bronx Opera -- and I should hasten to add that (1) they are a fine company with a distinguished history, and (2) that many of my friends have performed there -- this is a company that singers performs with in order to get experience and exposure, not after they have experience and exposure. Singers who are getting paid regional gigs with any regularity do not, for the most part, sing with Bronx Opera. Nothing wrong with that, and I'm not sure this is part of their mission.

Similarly, looking at the other fine companies brought up by kyrademon and mountmccabe, such as Gotham Chamber Opera, Chelsea Opera, Opera dell'Arte and so on. . . These are for the most part producing chamber operas and/or full size operas reduced to chamber scale. All these groups are great, but none is a replacement for the kind of high production value, 45 piece orchestra, full chorus, cast with experienced/seasoned leads, professionals even down to the walk on-parts, full scale productions of operas from the standard canon that NYCO was doing. None of them has the ability to do a full presentation of Tosca, for example, or anything on that scale. This is why they do so much quirky modern repertoire, chamber operas, Mozart and light bel canto that can be effectively reduced or performed with small orchestral forces, and early opera.

As much as I enjoy these genres and styles of presentation, I think it's unfortunate that there is now only one place you can go to see presentations of the majority of the operatic canon in its full form in NYC: The Met. After the Met, mostly what you get are limited budget chamber-scale productions and/or "productions with young (read unpaid) singers." None of these has any kind of equivalency to what NYCO was doing. As kyrademon acknowledges, these companies are doing a different species of opera. The problem, as I outlined in my earlier post, was that even while NYCO was up and running, there was no longer enough of a difference in the later years to distinguish their presentations from those at the Met. Its too bad that we don't have a resident regional company regularly presenting full-scale operatic productions in a 1,000 seat house, because this is an experience NYC is lacking. In my opinion, it's also easier to connect with the performance in a smaller house, and I have to believe that watching Traviata from the back rows of a 700-1,000 seat house is much more likely to produce a future consumer of opera than watching it from the back rows of a 4,000 seat house or watching unpaid singers in an English translation with a 1/2-size orchestra. Meanwhile, you can't get all that much smaller than 1,000 before the size of the theater and the economics of production start to limit what you can do.
posted by slkinsey at 7:32 AM on October 2, 2013


I think we're more in agreement than I had thought, then, slkinsey (except perhaps about English translation, but that's a fight I apparently lost with the rest of the opera-going world a few centuries before I was born.)

I'd mostly just wanted to point out that those mourning the Total Death Of Opera In New York were being a bit premature.
posted by kyrademon at 8:53 AM on October 2, 2013


kyrademon, my beef with opera in translations is that it is almost always infelicitous to both the voice and the ear. English just doesn't sing, sound, accent, meter or rhyme the same way as Italian, French or German does. Meanwhile, the fact that supertitles are possible for most any company with a laptop and a projector has effectively eliminated the raison d'etre of opera in English translation. It is, in fact, much easier to understand the meaning of the texts with original language singing and supertitle translations than with English translation singing. That said, I don't have any problem with operas where English is the original language. I also don't mind, if it's something like an operetta, for the dialogue to be in English and the music in original language.
posted by slkinsey at 8:51 PM on October 2, 2013


> "kyrademon, my beef with opera in translations is that it is almost always infelicitous to both the voice and the ear."

Almost all English-language opera translation has been ruinously bad. But it doesn't have to be. It's easy to find counterexamples from similar media. Les Misérables, for one - how many casual viewers are even aware they're watching an English-language translation of a French-language musical? Most likely assume that, while it was based on a French novel, the musical itself was written in English. And that's a translation I would rate as "pretty good."

Les Misérables has the same issues with sound, accent, meter or rhyme that any opera does. So why did it end up with a pretty good translation? Because the Royal Shakespeare Company spent two years developing an English language translation for performance. Most opera translations, on the other hand, have basically been hacked together by amateurs.

This has turned into a cyclical, self-fulfilling prophecy. People in the opera world believe that English-language translation is bad. No group with the resources to actually put in the work to commission and develop a good translation has ever bothered to do so. People go to hear the half-assed translations that result from the occasional toe-dip into the idea and go away thinking, yep, translation sounds like crap. (People like Andrew Porter, and the Ruth & Thomas Martin team, I'm sure had good intentions, but their translations are frankly not good.) It's rather sad, since a single good translation could of course be used by multiple groups.

Meanwhile, in the world of musical theater, extremely complex rhyme schemes and meters have been routinely translated back and forth across language barriers for decades. Fiddler on the Roof has a popular Japanese version. There are Brecht/Weill songs which are better known in English than German now. Disney actually has a massive department devoted to this and only this. No one working in that genre believes that translation is infelicitous to voice and ear, because there are so many examples to the contrary after a strong tradition of translation that developed seasoned pros.

Because of this, if you suggested, say, that there was no reason to do Three Penny Opera in English now that it's possible to project supertitles, most everyone would wonder why you would bother with such a clumsy method.

But *shrug* I accept that I'm in a tiny minority. The opera world isn't going to change just because I want it to. I don't even know if it would really help broaden the audience base, although I suspect it might. But while I'll never accept the argument that it can't be done well just because it generally hasn't been done well.
posted by kyrademon at 3:16 AM on October 3, 2013 [1 favorite]


I would argue that the French-language version of Les Misérables was quite different. I'm basing this on listening to (and reading the lyrics of) the French concept album but also quoting from the Wikipedia article, talking about preparing the West End production: "Kretzmer's work is not a direct "translation" of the French, a term that Kretzmer refused to use. A third of the English lyrics were a 'rough' translation, another third were adapted from the French lyrics and the final third consisted of new material. The majority is performed in recitative style; the vocalists use natural speech delivery, not musical metrics." I am not sure how that would fly on the regular in opera.

There are certainly some operas that would translate better than others and yes, translations could be a lot better overall.

That being said I just watched the Kenneth Branagh The Magic Flute, with translation/adaptation to English by Stephen Fry and Branagh and I kept wishing for subtitles because I couldn't tell what they were saying. (I needed the subtitles for NYCO's Powder Her Face and wished I had them for Written On Skin, too).

Also world-class opera singers have engagements in opera houses around the world (in a way that Broadway-style singers don't, I believe); this would be far less reasonable if they had to learn a new version of the opera (in addition to learning the new production) in each new country.

There is certainly a place for opera-in-translation. And with better translations tastes may change again. Personally it's a point against but not a dealbreaker. Which means I am still feeling wary about the Met's upcoming Die Fledermaus (though this may have more to do with Sams).
posted by mountmccabe at 5:38 AM on October 3, 2013


I found this interview with George Steel quite interesting. Excerpting from several of the answers:

"And it almost worked! It gave us two more full seasons and two balanced budgets. Our first season away from Lincoln Center we sold every ticket to every show. We also made more money per night than ever, so we were a much better machine at selling the seats we had."

Then after that was the 2011-12 season which they almost had to cancel but managed due to some big donations from foundations (buying up all remaining tickets, which were then sold to the public for $25 each).

Anyway, back to Steel:

"When I arrived in 2009, the board had produced a turnaround plan that was never going to work. Their $30 million budget included $16 million of income that just wasn’t there."

"The first year after I arrived, we raised $15 million.... My second season, we raised $18 million. We were doing well. But we had no tolerance for error, and this year we couldn’t raise enough in the time we had. "

So too much of their already reduced budget (Mortier had been told something around $60 million) was based on donations. And those donations dried up as it became more and more clear that the company wasn't about to get back to where it was (both physically and in quantity of productions).

Something that hasn't been mentioned in this thread is that this $7 million wasn't all they were asking for. This chunk would make it so they could finish the 2013-14 season. They also noted that the next fundraising push would happen immediately after and that if they didn't raise another $13 million by December 31st they would have to cancel the 2014-15 season. This $7 million push was just to extend the life of NYCO for another 8 months; it wasn't even going to be enough to put them on a solid foundation.
posted by mountmccabe at 6:12 AM on October 3, 2013


> "That being said I just watched the Kenneth Branagh The Magic Flute, with translation/adaptation to English by Stephen Fry and Branagh and I kept wishing for subtitles because I couldn't tell what they were saying."

If you want me to add additional rants about how the currently preferred "operatic" vocal style mangles comprehensible vocals, I can provide that, too. ;)
posted by kyrademon at 6:50 AM on October 3, 2013 [1 favorite]


In Banff they had to switch the Opera program to "Opera as Theatre" to keep it viable. They put on two pieces during the program with several nights of performance each, but rarely does the house pass 200 in a 950 seat venue. The marketing profile for the audience is entitled "In Praise of Older Women".
posted by furtive at 6:32 AM on October 5, 2013


In looking for big donations to help save NYCO George Steel took David H. Koch (after whom the State Theatre is now named) to Anna Nicole but that backfired since Old Man Marshall had owned 16% of Koch Industries and Koch felt that the Marshall family might not be pleased with further donations to the company.

That and more at the latest NYT article on the downfall.
posted by mountmccabe at 8:35 AM on October 5, 2013


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