City Opera’s farewell note

City Opera’s farewell note


norman lebrecht

October 01, 2013

Here’s the letter that supporters and patrons are receiving today. No admission of error or responsibility by the bumbling management team. Just thanks and goodbye. 

anna nicole


Dear John

It is with much regret that we announce the cancellation of the 2013-2014 Season.   New York City Opera did not achieve the goal of its emergency appeal, and the board and management will begin the necessary financial and operational steps to wind down the Company, including initiating the Chapter 11 process.

For seventy years, since Mayor Fiorello La Guardia established it as “The People’s Opera,” New York City Opera has introduced generation after generation of young singers who are stars in the making, brought the public exciting new works and compelling, fresh interpretations of classics, acted as a champion for American composers and performers, and ensured that every New Yorker can experience the live art of opera.

We thank you for your continued support over the years and for making New York City Opera truly “The People’s Opera.”

For questions regarding your subscription, please call 212.870.5600.

For questions regarding contributions, please call 212.870.5626

For questions about the City Opera Thrift Shop, please call 212.684.5344.

For any other questions, please call 212.870.5620.

Best wishes,

Description: Image removed by sender.

George Steel

General Manager and Artistic Director

New York City Opera


And here’s the union’s response:


Statement by Tino Gagliardi,

President of Local 802, American Federation of Musicians,

re: New York City Opera


New York NY—As the musicians of the New York City Opera have long feared, NYCO management’s reckless decisions to move the New York City Opera out of its newly-renovated home at Lincoln Center, slash the season schedule and abandon an accessible repertoire have predictably resulted in financial disaster for the company. Despite disagreement with this strategy, the devoted musicians made great sacrifices in wages and benefits to keep the Opera afloat. Lamentably, due to egregious mismanagement and a paucity of vision, instead of reaping the benefits of a strengthening economy, this most storied of cultural institutions now lies in ruin. Nonetheless, the world-class musicians of the New York City Opera orchestra believe in the possibility of a new beginning are committed to continue working together as a cohesive ensemble should the opportunity arise. They are eager to hear from performing arts venues, producers, and other cultural organizations who may be interested in keeping the company together. Their ardent hope is to continue to play the opera they love in a company with a respect for tradition and a bold vision for the future.


  • Una says:

    This is really bad news for unemployment in the US if nothing else, and where people are hanging onto their musical and salaried jobs like they are in Britain with so little freelance work as well. So little movement between the opera companies and the opera orchestras to go anywhere else except where they are in case they can’t pay the mortgage.

  • ed says:

    Dear Friends,

    Thanks to you all, especially those whose businesses went belly up (and that means you too CIty Opera), for bearing with us through a five year economic implosion with much more to come, after we stole trillions of dollars and millions of homes, lots of them yours, while manipulating every market, violating every antitrust law on the books (Goldman Sachs has always done that one so well whether its with energy or soda cans) and receiving lotsa welfare subsidies, to boot, from ‘our’ government (not ‘yours’) to the tune of billions, so that we can wash out our losses, show profits, and keep our top execs happy with undeserved bonuses and inflated stock and their girlfriends in diamonds and furs. Maybe the NY State Theater could be converted into a mausoleum for the Koch Brothers or a storage center for Quilted Northern tissue paper. Now that would make great people’s opera- opera to flush by.

    With best regards,

    George Stool (and not the one you sit on)

    Your neighborhood multinational bankster.

  • Marianne says:

    One fact that keeps getting lost in the coverage of this sad story is that New York City Opera hasn’t been in financial trouble for only ten years. It has been in financial trouble for most of its existence.

    When Beverly Sills became the company’s general director in 1979, her husband (no slouch as a businessman) reportedly took a look at the books and told her it was a hopeless cause. On occasion she would go into work on Monday morning needing to raise enough money to make that Friday’s payroll.

    When Sills and City Opera made their 1959 recording of The Ballad of Baby Doe, the prime directive was reportedly….”Whatever happens, just keep singing.” They couldn’t afford any retakes.

    Really, it’s a miracle the company lived as long as it did.

  • PK Miller says:

    Everyone is right on the money, no pun intended. I had no idea City Opera had been in financial distress so long as Ed/”Gorge Stool” has stated. I think, pre-internet organizations & boards could keep this sort of thing “in pectoris” as they used to say eons ago, when a Pope would name a Cardinal “in his breast,” to spare the Cardinal imprisonment or even death by a Communist regime. Who knew? How could we know? I will say again, if your audience doesn’t know where to find you they will not.

    Sometimes, a Board sees/hears what they want. I became President of the Board of an area non-profit re 15 years ago only to discover the Executive Director had been literally robbing Peter to save Paul, robbing Paul to save James, robbing James to save John and well, we were about out of apostles! I discovered our long-tenured Board treasurer lacked the acumen to fully understand the nature of government grants to non-profits. The agency Admin Assistant was also the fiscal officer which meant the Director did what he pleased.

    I will say, building on “George Stool’s” comments, we lack the public support for the arts in this country. We do not even fund public broadcasting so as to insulate it from political pressures or those of major corporate funders. The people of NY should be up in arms about this devastating failure. Just as the people of Minnesota should be cognizant of & furious about the debacle with the MN Orchestra. But there’s great public apathy. And yes, there’s great mismanagement by the City Opera Board. To expect to raise $7 million via Kickstarter in a 4-5 day period is as unrealistic as expecting NY’s Cardinal Dolan to celebrate a welcoming Mass in St Patrick’s for Dignity NY (LGBT Catholics)! Fundraising has to be an almost 24/7 endeavor. That includes the requisite merchandising: tshirts, coffee mugs, tote bags, & other overpriced tchotchkes. But especially in NY, the organization has to be hustling.

    Farewell, City Opera. It’s been fun. Adios, au revoir, auf wiedersehen, Goodbye!

    PS AFM please don’t whine. Perhaps had there been a concerted effort to KNOW what was going on & at least a proposal of working together when there was still time you would not be out of jobs.

    • MWnyc says:

      @ PK – “Everyone is right on the money, no pun intended. I had no idea City Opera had been in financial distress so long as Ed/”Gorge Stool” has stated. I think, pre-internet organizations & boards could keep this sort of thing “in pectoris” as they used to say eons ago”

      PK, I don’t think Ed addressed that. I think you mean Marianne, which in fact is to say that you mean me.

      Oh, City Opera’s troubles were quite well known by the ’80s, as was Beverly Sills’s rescue. (Arts people still look at her fundraising powers with awe.) But that was just about a generation ago. It’s not so surprising that regular observers, especially those not in the city, don’t know about it.

      That’s what journalists are for.

      I am surprised that so little of the current coverage of the company’s demise has mentioned that this wasn’t the first time City Opera was in trouble. Certainly some of the journalists who are covering the story know about that history; some even witnessed it.

      • ed says:

        Correct. It was Marianne (aka MWnyc), not I, that addressed the City Opera’s troubled financial history so cogently. I was off on a more systemic journey, but I appreciate learning what she has discussed, i.e., that even in good times the company was struggling. At the same time, as with so many other organizations the financial tsunami of 2008 and what it left in its wake, was destructive beyond measure, especially after the period of undeserved optimism of the Clinton years.

        • MWnyc says:

          I’m a he, by the way.

          As for the financial crisis – I think one of the reasons that American classical music institutions are believed to be on very shaky ground long-term is that they (the larger ones) is that, for a few generations now, their health has been tied to that of the stock and financial markets. During the ’00s, we had two major market crashes within a decade – something which hadn’t happened for nearly a century if not longer. Institutions can’t be sure what their endowments are going to be worth over the long term, let alone how much interest income they’ll be able to count on from them. Many donors (especially smaller ones) don’t know if they’ll be able to keep donating. And so on.

          No one has lived through a situation like this. No one can be certain how to handle it.

  • Marguerite Foxon says:

    Seeing any opera company close down is sad, but especially one with such a history as this. I learned a lot about the company reading Sills’ autobiography.

  • Daniel Kravetz says:

    New York City Opera was a PUBLIC institution created by local government to perform in public spaces owned by local government (New York City Center and the New York State/David Koch Theater) for the public good. It was government’s responsibility to keep keep the company running in a permanent home and keep its employees earning their living in the process. Local government came through to subsidize the building of two baseball stadiums and a basketball/hockey area for private owners in recent years. Shame on Mayor Bloomberg and his friends for not doing at least as much for an important PUBLIC institution that his predecessor Fiorello LaGuardia had created.

    • ed says:

      Amen. Your comment is right on target. And that is why NYC should have saved the company- NYC will soon have a sitting Mayor who could resuscitate it- and why the State of Minnesota should take over the Minnesota symphony (and while they are at it, form a state-owned bank similar to the Bank of North Dakota that would provide financial services much more cheaply to the State and its residents).

  • TKelly says:

    The blame for this lies squarely on the shoulders of Susan Baker…… stupidity, arrogance, wealth….. the 1% er to end all 1%ers……. from the minute she arrived in the building, there was less art and more bullshit…… cocktails and fancy balls that didn’t even pay for themselves….. the ridding of management that WAS working for the good of the company….. the installation and elevation of “DEVELOPMENT” know nothings who squandered and spent and belittled our product whilst raising VERY inadequate amounts of money…… and then getting drunk on fine French wine and flirting with a poisonous dwarf named Mortier who took all that he could get and gave us NOTHING….. a man who was and is detested in the majority of the arts world, fired from major opera houses and a very small man with a gimongous attitude of superiority who when he was hired, actually said he hated all opera composed by composers ending in I. He held the opening night of one of our operas to allow a sputnik like device to be put on stage and emit horrible tones to “test” accoustics when someone who knows more about sound, accoustics, music and the amplification of the human voice sat unasked in the sound booth…. however, Susan continued to extoll his virtues, even long after he revealed he had never been asked to help raise money. only to spend it at the state supported houses he had worked over in Europe.

    She forced out the only firm financial hand the opera ever had, telling the artistic manager he could get out too if he didn’t like it, which he did……. so… blame her… she had the opportunity to hire Francesca Zambello TWICE but forsook it for charlatans from Paris and Texas by way of the cocktail circuits of NYC and black box avant garde bullshit at Columbia. Damn you, Lady… your arrogant officiousness and stupidity destroyed a family of committed artists, technicians, staff who loved their jobs and each other…… damn your soul!

    • MWnyc says:

      TKelly, do we take it you worked at City Opera at some point?

      “She forced out the only firm financial hand the opera ever had”

      Whom are you talking about? Paul Kellogg?

      The first few years of Kellogg’s tenure were impressive, certainly. (I’ll always be grateful to him for staging The Mother of Us All at Glimmerglass and then bringing it to New York.)

      But it appeared to quite a few people that Kellogg had checked out for some time before he actually stepped down from that job.

    • MWnyc says:

      But yes, I think that when the history (or histories) of New York City Opera are written, Susan Baker will get more of the blame than any other individual.

  • Figarosu says:

    I worked at City Opera for more than 30 years and I can say that Tkelly knows what he’s talking about.

    • MWnyc says:

      Figaro, that’s clear enough with respect to Susan Baker. But does Mortier really deserve all of the scorn TKelly is heaping upon him? “Poisonous dwarf”?

      (Mortier was definitely aware that he would have to do a lot of fundraising that he never had to do in Europe; he addressed the issue numerous times in interviews. And Mortier did run the Paris Opera – no picnic, that – and appeared to do so more smoothly than several of his predecessors.)

      And what happened with Paul Kellogg? Why did City Opera seem so vital early in his tenure and so droopy by the end of it?