Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Is City Opera Worth Saving?

Posted By on Tue, Sep 10, 2013 at 10:47 AM

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New York City Opera ticket stubs
City Opera was founded in 1943 and quickly dubbed "the People's Opera" by Mayor LaGuardia—and lemme tell ya, The People certainly ain't living up by Lincoln Center. Its populist profile and reputation for casting younger, up-and-coming singers in more adventurous fare aligns neatly with Brooklyn's image as Manhattan's cutting-edge cousin. But though it makes so much sense for City Opera to become Brooklyn Opera, it isn't so simple as picking up and moving across the bridges. "Some people associate Lincoln Center with the only cultural activity in the city," the company's chairman told the Wall Street Journal. "People were horror-stricken. You don't cross the river. It was more parochial than you would believe." (Sadly, we can believe it.)

And thus the company has been having a hell of a time fundraising, announcing this week that if it doesn't raise $7 million by the end of the month, it's canceling the rest of its season; if it doesn't raise $13 million more by the end of the year, it's canceling next season, too. "Last year, City Opera made more from its Thrift Shop… than from its endowment," the Times reported. I finally returned to City Opera in 2009, its second-to-last season in Lincoln Center, this time as a critic with press tickets to see Hugo Weisgall's Esther, a popular favorite in 1993 that hadn't been seen since. The matinee I caught was crowded with uppertown bluehairs, but no single production, or even handful, could save the troubled institution.

The question is: is it worth saving? I owe my amateur opera fandom to City Opera, for exposing me (and a bunch of other gross freshmen) to the grandest of art forms—and the Metropolitan Opera, and every other local company, owes every ticket I've ever bought and every positive review I've written about them to that first time the curtain went up on Mozart's wacky fantasy. (Maybe kids today get introduced to opera through the Met's outdoor HD screenings in late summer?) I have a soft spot for City Opera. plus its work in recent years has still often been great—or at least interesting—but if I don't let such sentimentality cloud my thinking, I worry that even if the company hits this suddenly announced fundraising goal, how long before it needs another quick infusion of cash? And then another? And another? At the risk of losing access to Anna Nicole press tickets, maybe it's finally time to put this storied beast to bed, and to encourage young Brooklynites to start something new, something fresh, from the ground up, to take its proud place.

Follow Henry Stewart on Twitter @henrycstewart

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