New York City Opera to leave Lincoln Center, cut staff

Last Updated: Saturday, May 21, 2011 - 10:00

New York: The board of the financially troubled New York City Opera voted Friday to move out of its home at Lincoln Center, cut staff across the board and scale back its performance schedule as it fights for its survival.

Friday`s move comes as the 68-year-old organization deals with a dwindling endowment, a multimillion-dollar deficit, and contentious negotiations with its union staff.

George Steel, the general manager and artistic director of the opera, told The Associated Press on Friday that "the sacrifice will be shared from top to bottom in the company." Steel said the board`s actions will allow for further growth and he said he felt encouraged by the decision. He said an announcement on a new home would be made in weeks.

"This is certainly a serious transition for the opera ... but the thing that makes me optimistic is that I can see a balanced budget model for the company that will provide a foundation for sustainable growth."

The New York City Opera is revered as a pillar of American culture that has delivered daring new productions and built the careers of such stars like Placido Domingo, Renee Fleming and Beverly Sills.

But for some time, the opera has been struggling. The company`s endowment has dwindled from USD 55 million to USD 9 million, according to audits obtained by the reporters. And City Opera has put off announcing its 2011-2012 season as it faces a projected deficit of USD 5 million.

The board chairman last month personally contributed an emergency USD 2.5 million toward plugging the deficit, company officials said. It is also tussling over a new contract with its singers and production staff.

The New York City Opera has been at Lincoln Center, also home to the City Ballet and other artistic organizations, since 1966.

"We love Lincoln Center. It`s a wonderful place but the costs of being here is simply too high," Steel said.

Lincoln Center spokeswoman Betsy Vorce declined to comment.

Alan Gordon, executive director of the American Guild of Musical Artists, which represents singers, dancers, stage directors and stage managers, said the union`s members were "distraught" over the decision.

The move may save money but will do little to address the opera`s flagging ticket sales, Gordon said. He blamed Steel`s choices for shows, such as the recent production of "Séance on a Wet Afternoon."

"He refuses to program any of the big, solid operas that people do go to see," Gordon said. "If they want to be a regional, part-time, freelance theatre, then go with God, but that`s not the world that opera singers work in."

Steel would not say if the new home would be in the same district — or even in Manhattan — but said the board "had an idea" of where it would end up. "I don`t want to get into the detail of it," he said.

He also would not discuss the ramifications of the move, including whether the opera would be breaking its lease.

"We are sitting down with all of the stakeholders to discuss our departure, that means Lincoln Center, that means New York City ... it`s a complicated discussion," he said.

The board adopted a balanced budget Friday, but Steel would not divulge any figures.

"It`s significantly smaller than what we`re currently having, but it will permit us a tremendous reduction in fixed costs, which means we can put more money on the stage," he said.

The opera also announced plans for next season. Instead of five full-scale opera productions, there would be three, with two smaller-scale productions. Steel said the plan was in keeping with some of the smaller-scale productions the opera has been offering over the years.

Bureau Report



First Published: Saturday, May 21, 2011 - 10:00

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