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Our motto: "Critical thinking in the cheap seats." Unbiased, honest classical music and opera opinions, occasional obituaries and classical news reporting, since 2007. All written content © 2016 by Paul J. Pelkonen. For more about Superconductor, visit this link. For advertising rates, click this link. Follow us on Facebook.

Friday, July 15, 2011

Requiem for the Audience

or...Yet Another Post About the City Opera

"One sound, one single sound. One kiss, one single kiss.
A face outside the window pane. However did it come to this?"
--Pink Floyd, "Yet Another Movie."
There's a problem with letting billionaires name things.
 Image from The Simpsons © 1994 Gracie Films/FOX Network.
In a theater that used to be named for the great state of New York, there used to be an opera company.

The New York City Opera was conceived in 1947, blessed by Mayor Fiorello LaGuardia as "the people's opera." Hizzoner tore the first ticket in two. The company flourished, despite being stuck in the difficult-to-manage space at City Center and being seen as an upstart "little brother" to the mighty (and well-heeled) Metropolitan Opera.

When Lincoln Center opened, City Opera settled into its new digs at the New York State Theater, a vast, democratically conceived limestone-and-concrete edifice that made up one of the three noble theaters that had landed atop what used to be the West Side slums. The Met was right next door, but the scrappy City Opera held its own for many decades.

The artists were happy, secure in their new home: the people's opera in the people's theater.

The slow, agonizing death of New York City Opera, helped along by the recent decision by general director George Steel to uproot the company from this cozy little home is not just about the loss of jobs or some effort to "dismantle" the company or shut out the union musicians who are its lifeblood.

The decision of City Opera, which forsook Lincoln Center in April in order to "go rogue" with a half-season of four operas performed at three locations around the city, is a horrible one. It is difficult for the artists and musicians, who find themselves reduced to a "pick-up" ensemble.

But here it will be postulated: this decision has the worst consequences for the audience, who have to follow the opera company's skeleton crew around the city like they're playing some bizarre operatic version of Midnight Madness.
"Um, Mr. Burns, I don't think we can mount a Franco Zeffirelli
production of Die Zauberflöte in that model airplane."
 Image from The Simpsons © 1994 Gracie Films/FOX Network.
This is about an opera company board that pays their fearless leader a six-figure salary while refusing to earmark any money for their musicians and choristers. Those fine hard-working artists face salary reductions from around $35,000/yr to a mere $5,000, reflecting what's happened in this American economy.

It's about that same leader having the unmitigated nerve to go on Huffington Post (another company that doesn't believe in paying its employees) and writing an "article" that is essentially a retread of the same flip platitudes that characterized the press conference which he gave last Tuesday at the Guggenheim Museum. I know. I was there.

It's about the massive donation made to the State Theater by a certain former Libertarian candidate for vice president-turned-billionaire. Much like the Simpsons' Montgomery Burns, Mr. Koch renamed the building after himself, (a name which this publication prefers not to use.) The State Theater was built for the people, not for David Hamilton Koch. They never should have allowed this man to rename the theater. That was the death knell, the funeral bell for the former "people's opera."

The people's opera company has left the people's theater.

In its place: humiliation of the singers, musicians, choristers and audience that once made up the lifeblood of a pretty good opera company.

Turn out the lights.
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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.