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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 © 2019 by Paul J. Pelkonen. For more about Superconductor, visit this link. For advertising rates, click this link. Follow us on Facebook.

Monday, December 8, 2014

The Return of New York City Opera?

New York's "other" opera company may be back from the dead.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Back from the dead? The City Opera may be rising from the ashes.
Art by John Byrne from X-Men #135 © 1978 Marvel Comics.

In an astonishing early Christmas gift for the opera lovers of New York, the New York City Opera may be about to rise from the ashes of Chapter 11 bankruptcy. An agreement was reached today between the remaining City Opera and New York City Opera Renaissance, a new 501(c) organization dedicated to resurrecting the destitute opera company and returning it to the campus of Lincoln Center.

Founded by Mayor Fiorello LaGuardia, the New York City Opera enjoyed a long existence in the ears and hearts of New York opera lovers, mounting shows first at City Center and then at the building that was once called the New York State Theater at Lincoln Center. In a series of triumphant seasons, artists like Plácido Domingo, Beverly Sills, Samuel Ramey and David Daniels were brought to the attention of listeners, and the company existed as a more experimental alternative to the Metropolitan Opera next door.

Following the death of artistic director Christopher Keene and a flashy but expensive partnership with the Glimmerglass Opera, City Opera entered a period of downturn and misfortune. Matters became worse when the company was forced to pay its musicians and choristers while the State Theater was closed, renovated and renamed after oil baron David Koch. With a chunk of the endowment spent, the company's downward spiral worsened. Following an ugly orchestral lockout, they left Lincoln Center and eventually declared bankruptcy. City Opera's last staged production was Mark Anthony Turnage's opera Anna Nicole at the BAM NextWave Festival in 2013.

The turnaround was triggered by the board of directors of the extant New York City Opera, who voted to recommend to the U.S. Bankruptcy Court the sale of the name "New York City Opera" to the NYCO Renaissance group. The sale will include the name, all related intellectual property and the NYCO Thrift Shop. The fate of the company's remaining endowment money remains undecided.

The effort to resurrect City Opera is being spearheaded by impresario Michael Capasso, whose own Dicapo Opera, a longtime institution on Manhattan's Opper East Side, also ceased operations last year. The deal, announced today in a press release, installs two New York philanthropists at the helm of the new corporation's board, with $2.6 million raised as seed money.

The philanthropists are Roy G. Niederhoffer, who will serve as Chairman of the Board and Jeffrey Laikand who will serve as President. Both men are former officers of the old City Opera board.

Another key step to rebuilding City Opera was an agreement announced between NYCO Renaissance and Local 802, which represents the orchestra players of the defunct City Opera orchestra. A memorandum of agreement exists for a five-year contract for the players. However, that is subject to ratification of said agreement.

“This is a very positive development for New York’s arts scene and for opera fans everywhere," union representative Tino Gagliardi said in a statement. "The musicians of the New York City Opera are an important part of the cultural landscape of New York City, and having them play once more at this beloved company would be a truly wonderful thing for fans of opera around the world, and for our City. We look forward to the next steps in this process, and to New York City Opera providing audiences with performances of grand opera once again.”

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