Sunday, September 08, 2013

Any Billionaire Opera Fans Out There?

New York City Opera needs $7 million by the end of September and $20 million by the end of the year, or the company will cancel most of this season and all of next season, according to a report in the NY Times.

They are soliciting donations on their web site and....there is a Kickstarter campaign as well, to raise the first million. It has reached the grand sum of $4,433 as of right now.

Folks, you need a new development department. There are dozens of rich people out there who could bail you out by writing a single check. Where, for example, is David H. Koch? Didn't he donate a few bucks to renovate your theater?


Anonymous said...

The fact that opera scores contain much fine music doesn't in itself justify staging operas in the way they are usually. In most operas the narrative, the sets, costumes, lights, all of it is essentially redundant or at least secondary to the music.

I really think there is something incontinent, and uneconomical in both monetary and other senses, in an artform that takes the length of time, the resources, the people, the money, to tell its stories. Those enormous, ugly sets to distract from the acting, or to convince the audience that there is anything remotely of merit aside from the actual music itself which is where the REAL DRAMA happens.

Anonymous said...

I'd welcome more of this in the opera world:

Forget staged, semi-staged or even notionally visual. The singers were lined up behind their music stands. The conductor was confined to a chair. This was a static Tristan und Isolde, even by concert version standards. But four enthralling hours proved that sometimes the music really is all that matters.


Elie Hampton said...

George Steele, whether good intentioned or not, needs to accept responsibility for this. The Met doesn't even launch Bluebeard's Castle or Endimione as their main productions, because those productions cater to such a SMALL, exclusive group of opera-goers, not the masses that City Opera was known for. I know it is going to irk Mr. Steel to no end to have to say this: to get their fan base back they needed to stick to the classic sellers: Carmen, Barber of Seville, etc. Perhaps, Steel also failed to concentrate on up and coming NY or American talent, so the masses can cheer on. That is the whole premise: Popular opera and rising talent for the masses. Instead we got avant-garde for the few.

Steele's quest to be modern and creative and "edgy," creating the slow demise of interest in NYCO, proves that he doesn't know what he's doing.

Doesn't NYCO realize that those avant garde (which, I guess, is the best way to describe them) productions are destroying the company? Opera’s creatvity constantly changes .... with old sets and/or new sets adhering to the composer's story and wishes - that creativity comes in the singing - (the voice itself), the interpretations - singer, conductor, stage director - and that combination changes constantly which is why people can see 3 Butterfly's in a season, 3 Figaro's, etc.... At least that's what it used to be until avant garde productions took over and the thought "once is enough!" prevailed.

I and many of my friends saw "Powder Her Face" and have no desire to ever see it again. And you can bet none of the little start-up companies, or opera scene workshops will ever "do that opera" and whether the administration doesn't care about that fact is dangerous... Those little companies, singers and supporters are some of the backbone of future generations of support and talent. Good luck
to the music teacher who takes his class on an opera field trip to see it - for it says nothing - nothing, that is, about the art form. That seems to be inconsequential to NYCO.

Bring in an administrator who understands opera, singing and the opera lovers who patronize and pay money to see it. See it even more than once a season! When I think of how many people I know who wish to see an opera, but can't afford it, it makes my stomach turn.

Lisa Hirsch said...

Anonymous: Sounds like you'd just as soon be home listening to recordings as seeing opera on stage, if you consider the theatrical elements to be that unimportant. Different strokes! For me, one of the great things about opera IS the combination of music and drama.

I see that you didn't emphasize Intermezzo's sometimes in quoting her, too. That's a crucial word in the quotation.

Lisa Hirsch said...

Elie Hampton: um, wow, really? NYCO should perform standard works, even though they have no permanent house, sold off their sets and costumes, and have no full-time orchestra? When the Met has a house, productions, an orchestra? How would you expect NYCO to compete with the Met in standard rep?

You also seem to have missed decades of NYCO history in which it performed more interesting, modern, and unusual rep than the Met, whether new American operas such as Baby Doe or Esther (there's an esoteric piece for you) or Baroque opera (Cleopatra and other works).

The Met has had Bluebeard's Castle in its repertory for 40 years, though it hasn't been performed in more than a decade. The reason it's not performed often isn't lack of audience: it sold out semi-staged and concert versions at major orchestras around the country within the last few years. It's not performed very often because it's hard to figure out what to put on a good double bill.

You may have also missed the fact that the recent NYCO productions sold well. And also that financial mismanagement of NYCO goes back to before Steele's tenure. He inherited a company that had missed an entire season and where the board grossly mismanaged choosing a general director by picking Gerard Mortier. Hiring Steele may also have been a mistake, but after the mess the board left him, well, it would have taken a genius to rescue the company.

Apparently what you want to see is popular works, nothing very new or "avant garde." Perhaps the Met's schedule would be more to your taste. It would be a complete disaster for NYCO to try to compete with the Met's greatest strengths.

As I said: different strokes. But your complaints don't add up very well.

Henry Holland said...

When I think of how many people I know who wish to see an opera, but can't afford it, it makes my stomach turn

Oh, that pile of lies AGAIN. I got a brochure from the LA Opera this past week for their 2013/14 season, you can get $19 tickets to all of their productions. Sure, the tickets are at the top of the upper balcony, but so what, you can see the stage and the sound is great up there.

San Francisco Opera has standing room, it's $10, about half the cost of a movie ticket these days.

San Diego Opera's cheap seats are $35, far less than a play or Broadway show.

etc. I still remember getting in to it with a guy on a blog about opera ticket prices and he finally admitted that he wanted to pay $20 to sit in the 10th row center at the Met. Well, NO.

He inherited a company that had missed an entire season and where the board grossly mismanaged choosing a general director by picking Gerard Mortier

Gerar Mortier ran La Monnaie, the Salzburg Festival and the Paris, plus he founded the Ruhr Triennale arts festival (where the incredible Die Soldaten I saw in New York originated). The NYCO is peanuts in comparison to those posts, he wanted to do it because he was cashiered out of the Paris Opera job due to France's strict retirement age for civil servants (which is what the Paris Opera director is) and wanted to try his hand in New York.

What the board did wrong was lie to Mortier. They lied to him about the budget that would be available, they lied to him about the refurbishing of the acoustically awful, ballet-centric building they were in, they lied to him about fundraising.

They had to close the State Theater for the upgrades, he had a full schedule of opera-in-concert, talks, presentations planned for the time off.

Lisa Hirsch said...

You're right about Mortier, and yet: a lot of people predicted Mortier would never show up, for one reason or another.

Anonymous said...

Mr. Hampton,

It's disingenuous to say the the Met "doesn't launch" (odd phrasing) "Bluebeard's Castle" as its "main production." In both the 1974 and 1989
Met productions, "Bluebeard's Castle" shared a bill with another one-act work ("Gianni Schicchi" and "Ewartung," respectively). It can hardly be claimed that the the Puccini and the Schoenberg were the main events and the Bartok the secondary one.

Mr. Hampton follows his paragraph on the unsuitability of "Bluebeard's Castle" and "Endimione" as repertory choices with a statement about George Steel's [note the correct spelling] "quest to be modern and creative and 'edgy.'" If (as the paragraph sequence implies) Mr. Hampton is still talking about the works themselves rather than the productions, how does he account for the inclusion of "Partenope," "Moses in Egypt," "La Perichole," "Don Giovanni," and (in fact) J.C. Bach's "Endimione" in the NYCO schedules?

The logic of Mr. Hampton's third paragraph escapes me. If "opera's [changing] creativity" depends, inter alia, on "the interpretations [of
the] stage director," it's unclear why new productions have endangered that creativity. Perhaps what he really means is that opera changes "creatively" as long as the new productions are ones that he approves of.

It would be interesting to learn how Mr. Hampton can be so certain (it's a "fact," he claims) that small opera companies and workshops will never produce "Powder Her Face" in the future. Crystal ball?

I assume that Mr. Hampton doesn't intend his thrice-repeated "the masses" to be condescending, but the word's history makes it so. Moreover, in New York City, especially, audiences who attend and enjoy "Carmen" and those who take pleasure in "Bluebeard's Castle" can hardly be neatly separated into "the masses" and "the few."

Finally, although the burden of Mr. Hampton's posting concerns what he sees as the sadly inevitable result of inappropriate repertory choices and directorial license at NYCO, he switches subjects in his final sentences and laments the inability of some would-be opera goers to afford tickets----a situation he finds "stomach-turning." Is George Steel to be blamed for that as well?

Lisa Hirsch said...


Henry Holland has left a new comment on your post "Any Billionaire Opera Fans Out There?":

He was committed to the job until it became clear that the board had lied to him. He planned out the entire first season, was planning the second one to include a Michael Haneke Cosi Fan Tutti --which of course put the lie to all the nonsense written that he was only going to progam 20th century stuff-- and so forth.

Admittedly, the whole situation with the Wagner sister(s?) was poorly handled but by that point, the whole thing was such a mess as to be untenable.

I only care about this 5 years later because I think he could have really shaken things up in New York, given people a viable alternative to the Met and in terms of NYCO, gotten them out of that horrible performing space. Now it looks like NYCO will cease to exist by the end of the year, George Steel will probably get another job somewhere and the Met is more omnipresent than ever.

Lisa Hirsch said...

Just realized that the Elie Hampton above is the same individual who claimed on opera-l that there has never been and it's doubtful there will ever be "a great female composer."

So you're ignorant about the history of NYCO, ignorant about the place of Bluebeard in the repertory, and ignorant about music history.

Lisa Hirsch said...

Anonymous responding to Elie Hampton: thanks, smart comments.

Anonymous said...

Opera, as an art form, will survive. The child who gets malaria will not.


Lisa Hirsch said...

Are you Peter Singer, by any chance? False dichotomy: children with malaria (and other diseases) will die whether I give money to that particular cause or not.

Lisa Hirsch said...

And I posted what I think of such dichotomies about a month ago.

Anonymous said...

It's about the moral obligations of the affluent. Re-read his argument:


Lisa Hirsch said...

I'm talking about the argument he made a few weeks ago in the Times.

Rebecca Trepsin said...

This comment struck a chord:

"Professional opera singer with decades of experience as a chorister then soloist here and I am surprised to say I agree with the author. For all the reasons Hamilton cited and this: my intimate experience with the art in big city companies both a little smaller and the same size as City Opera tells me the art is often promoted and promulgated by legions of narcissistic and inartistic idiots who could care less about truly good art but sure as hell love living some sort of 20th century ideal of an artistic high life. Backers of and in many cases artistic directors are bean counters anyway and they make idiot decisions artistically that drive the damned audience they so desperately need away. I became an opera singer out of love for the art; even after decent professional success I grew to loathe the profession because of the people running it. Opera can be a transcendent experience. It rarely is, anymore. Companies have to step away from high-dollar, high concept and high-priced artists who are often only a tenth as good as their agency promotes them to be and focus on the thing that still draws audiences outside the U.S.; storytelling, acting and superior musicianship.... I fear that will never happen and it will remain a kind of boutique form of art—unless, perhaps, it goes on a figurative diet and back to brass tacks.

I firmly believe you don't need much money to make something beautiful; I've watched truly ecstatic performances with just a piano and three artists clad in concert dress. It's too bad opera as it is today may never admit that this can be"

Lisa Hirsch said...

Rebecca - what's the source of that long quotation? Who said that, and can the person cite any specifics?

Unsourced quotations just aren't all that useful in a discussion like this. There are creeps in every walk of life and every organization. That isn't news to most adults.

Lisa Hirsch said...

AND on a completely different subject, an anonymous person has submitted a comment with a link to a posting elsewhere in the blogosphere that is, for no apparent reason, nasty to someone I count as a friend. The anonymous person did say it's off topic. True, and I'm not publishing the comment.