Barring a miracle, it appears the New York City Opera will file for bankruptcy next week and begin winding down operations.
The NYCO has been trying to raise $7 million before the end of September. So far, according to the NYT, they’ve managed to raise $1.5 million. They even have a Kickstarter: the goal is $1 million, but they’ve raised $194,549 (at this writing) with three days to go.
How did they get to this point? And how can New York City not be able to support two major opera companies?
…the company began running sizable deficits in 2003, and went dark for the 2008-9 season while its longtime home, the New York State Theater, was given a major renovation and renamed for its benefactor, David H. Koch. In doing so, it lost a year’s worth of ticket sales. Then the company raided its endowment, withdrawing $24 million to pay off loans and cover expenses.
The company cut back from “115 performances of 17 different operas” a decade ago to “16 performances of 4 operas” last year. The smaller number of performances has, in turn, resulted in a smaller number of patrons, and a smaller number of potential donors.
Apparently, the NYCO was in Lincoln Center up until 2011; then they moved out, and are now “an itinerant troupe at theaters across the city”. This may also have something to do with their problems. (I was confused about why NYCO was in Lincoln Center if the NYST was their home; if I understand Wikipedia correctly, NYST is actually part of Lincoln Center.)
And because they raided the endowment, the annual income from that source is now less than $200,000 a year – “less than City Opera makes from its Thrift Shop on East 23rd Street in Manhattan”. (If you try going to the Thrift Shop website, you’re confronted with an uncloseable fundraising appeal that completely obscures the rest of the content. Oh, wait; I hit the back button a couple of times and managed to close the fundraising appeal. Would you like to buy a piano? That’s a trick question: nobody wants to buy a piano.)
(O.M.G. Okay, I have to purchase this. If only as a gift.)
The back and forth in the NYT comments section is interesting, to the extent that any web comments section is interesting. Some folks complain about the unwillingness of the wealthy to step up and bail out the opera, others complain that of course the opera is failing because they present crap like “Anna Nicole” (while others point out that “Anna Nicole” is a critically acclaimed modern opera), and there’s a lot of blame for the management and board of NYCO.
There’s not really much more I can say about this, though I do find it interesting. I would be sad to see an opera company close down, in much the same way I’d be sad if a local restaurant that I liked closed their doors. On the other hand, it seems like the closure is the result of ten years of poor decision making, and there’s nobody to blame but NYCO itself.