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Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Glimmers of Hope for Troubled City Opera

Can this man save the City Opera?
Rufus Wainwright, composer of Prima Donna
The long-term future of the New York City Opera is anyone's guess, but indications exist that the hard-pressed opera company, which recently evicted itself from its home at Lincoln Center of four decades, is gearing up for some kind of season, probably starting in the Spring of 2012.

An e-mail sent this morning from the NYCO marketing department states that the United States premiere of the opera Prima Donna, the first opera from the pen of singer-songwriter Rufus Wainwright, is planned for next spring. Audiences will have their first chance to hear excerpts from the work in a free concert planned for June 28, 2011, as part of the ongoing River to River Festival.

Mr. Wainwright's opera had its world premiere in Manchester, England in 2009. The work was originally planned for the Metropolitan Opera, but a dispute between the composer and Met general manager Peter Gelb led to those plans being scrapped. Mr. Gelb wanted the opera to have an English libretto, but Mr. Wainwright insisted on setting the text in French. City Opera was quick to seize the opportunity to mount Mr. Wainwright's work.

The premiere of Prima Donna would mark the City Opera's second offering of an opera by a composer known for their work in another musical field in two years. The company's 2011 spring schedule was dominated by the New York premiere of Séance on a Wet Afternoon by Broadway composer Stephen Schwartz, which earned scathing critical notices and played to half-empty houses.

A reliable source has told Superconductor that the City Opera has entered into contract negotiations with the singers for the performances of Prima Donna. The same source also mentioned that the company has picked a performance space for their skeletal 2012 season. No further information is available.

According to this source, the City Opera will follow Prima Donna with a new production of Cosí fan tutte, the Mozart/da Ponte comedy centered around partner-swapping. Cosí is not the most popular of Mozart's operas, but at least it has the benefit of familiarity to what's left of City Opera's core audience.
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Critical Thinking in the Cheap Seats

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Since 2007, Superconductor has grown from an occasional concert or CD review to a near-daily publication covering classical music, opera and the arts in and around NYC, with excursions to Boston, Philadelphia, and upstate NY. I am a freelance writer living and working in Brooklyn NY. And no, I'm not a conductor.