Is City Opera Worth Saving?

09/10/2013 10:47 AM |

New York City Opera ticket stubs

When I graduated college, I quit my video-store gig, assuming that now I was owed one of those jobs everyone had told me about it before I matriculated; turns out, you’re not really qualified to do anything with a philosophy degree. So I quickly started looking for retail work again, landing an interview at the thrift store run by City Opera on E. 23rd Street. I wasn’t really qualified to manage shopwindow mannequin displays, but somehow I made it through two rounds of interviews, I think because I was the only candidate who regularly went to the opera.


I saw my first, The Magic Flute, on October 9, 2001 from the Fourth Ring of the New York State Theater: Row D, Seat 4. That was my first year of undergrad, and the program at CUNY I’d joined committed to broadening our cultural exposure: that was also the fall I first saw the great Cherry Jones on stage, in Major Barbara. I would spend the next few years listening to my two-CD recording of The Magic Flute, but I wouldn’t return to the opera until 2004; when I did though, it was as a subscriber.

I still have the ticket stubs, with their perimeters of bumpy torn-perforations, as they’d arrive at the beginning of the season in one large sheet I’d have to fold up carefully and stash away in a dresser drawer. I saw The Marriage of Figaro and La Traviata and Madama Butterfly and The Pearl Fishers; next season I saw Turandot and The Barber of Seville and Don Giovanni. One of the great things about living in New York is that if you’re young and want to familiarize yourself with the classics of the stage, whether it’s Shakespeare or Rossini, you don’t have to huddle over a book or a stereo: you can save your money and go see them for yourself, as you were meant to.

So when I showed up to that interview in 2006, it wasn’t just as a kid who liked opera and knew how to work a cash register: it was also as a season-ticket holder to the parent organization. The manager was almost beside himself: “you’re like our dream come true,” he said—someone to whom the company had introduced itself through educational-program outreach that had turned into a financial supporter. That was the opera company’s dream, not the thrift shop’s; I didn’t get that job. And, to be honest, I didn’t go back to City Opera for a while; around the same time, my buddy from another country (read: worldly) persuaded me to go to the world-renowned Metropolitan Opera across the plaza; one look at those red-carpeted staircases and I never wanted to set a shoe again in the what would soon become the David H. Koch Theater.

The renaming of the New York State Theater came after a yearlong renovation, one that required City Opera to close shop for a year right as the financial crisis settled in—a bad time to lose box-office revenue; a perfect storm of troubles (which you can read more about here) led the company to leave its long-time Lincoln Center home in 2011, becoming instead a roving troupe that visits different venues around the city: El Museo del Barrio, City Center, BAM. The latter always made the most sense to me as a new home for the deracinated organization.