This is a sad day for opera lovers. According to recent news reports in the New York Times and on Bloomberg.com, the New York City Opera will cede four weeks of its fall season to the New York City Ballet, the primary tenant at the recently renamed and renovated David I. Koch Theater. In exchange, the struggling company gets a $9 million dollar payment. Apparently, the change is permanent.
Founded in 1943 the City Opera has traditionally "kicked off" the opera season for New Yorkers from its Lincoln Center home, as it would open three weeks before the Met. Known for producing many modern and off-beat works, City Opera has been home to notable singers like soprano Lauren Flanigan, bass Samuel Ramey and mezzo Lorraine Hunt Lieberson, whose 1997 appearance in the title role of Handel's Xerxes spear-headed the baroque opera revival of the last decade.
However, since moving to Lincoln Center in 1966 the company has always toiled in the shadow of the Metropolitan Opera next door, competing with the bigger house for artists, donations, and audiences. The competition became one-sided when City Opera went dark for the 2008-2009 season, following the abrupt departure of artistic director Gerard Mortier. Under union contract, the company was forced to pay its singers and orchestra members--which resulted in a catastrophic drain of $23.5 million.
The short 2009 Fall season was a successful comeback, with a revival of Esther starring Flanigan and an acclaimed re-thinking of Don Giovanni that packed in audiences and presented the kind of audacious theater that the NYCO is known for. This latest announcement, however, may drive this once-great opera company deep into the minor leagues.