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Saturday, July 23, 2011

Read His Lips: No New Operas

City Opera mutes VOX.
Amid all the hullabaloo of this month's season announcement by the New York City Opera is the fact that the company appears to be cancelling VOX, the 12-year old ongoing laboratory for new and contemporary operas.
"I once caught an opera company THIS big!". City Opera GM George Steel.
No, he didn't really say that. Photo by William Wegman © 2011 the artist.
VOX was established in 1999 under former general manager Paul Kellogg, to serve as a space for neophyte opera composers to experiment with new staged works. The program proved popular, and  expanded under the leadership of current artistic director George Steel, adding the Words First program aimed at encouraging budding librettists in 2009.

With 10 new operas being accepted each year, the VOX program was among the highest priorities for  Mr. Steel, who has made his enthusiasm for contemporary opera quite clear to his audience, who made themselves absent from this year's NYCO premieres: Séance on a Wet Afternoon by composer Stephen Schwartz and La machine d'etre by John Zorn.

But when VOX came up at this year's press conference, Mr. Steel hedged his bets. "We're trying to find a way to continue it," he said. However, given his company's current self-imposed exile from Lincoln Center and its contract struggles with Local 802, the union representing the City Opera Orchestra, and AGMA, which represents the chorus, VOX has probably been reduced to another bargaining chip in talks that have yet to start.

With performances at NYU's Skirball Center and a recent expansion to Le Poisson Rouge, VOX was, for its first decade a free event for interested opera-goers. But this year, the City Opera decided to start charging $25 for tickets at NYU and $15 for Le Poisson Rouge. Given the minimal resources required to produce VOX operas, and the company's new-found enthusiasm for venues outside Lincoln Center, the continuation of VOX would seem like a no-brainer.

In its forthcoming season, City Opera will present Prima Donna as its one "new" opera. The work, written by popular songwriter Rufus Wainwright has already played in Manchester, England and in Ontario. But the genesis of Prima Donna (which was originally earmarked for the Metropolitan Opera stage) had nothing to do with VOX.

What's really weird about this story is that the City Opera still has a donation form on its site for VOX. However, composers seeking to submit their creations to the program this year have been informed that VOX is currently not accepting submissions for 2012. 

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