Readers who have followed the continuing saga of the NYCO archives will be saddened to learn that the orchestra and chorus were locked out of rehearsals today after a weekend of mediation- an action which presages the end of the company. This morning, I read (Facebook) the following letter from my colleague Amanda Edge who appeared in NYCO's La Traviata at the State Theater in Lincoln Center of the Performing Arts. I want to thank Amanda for allowing me to reprint her words on this page. She expresses the feelings and thoughts of hundreds of company members who have given their lives, love and art to a once glittering, prestigious and groundbreaking arts organization.
A Lincoln Center arts organization representing itself with a black hole. A marketing campaign featuring a smashed car and a man dressed like a gangster. An obscure repertoire with no proven public appeal. A general manager/artistic director with no experience running an opera company. Is it so difficult to venture that the decline of New York City Opera is not the inevitable result of a sagging economy, but is due instead to questionable-to-terrible repertory choices and gross mismanagement? Actually, there is little evidence to suggest that New York City Opera’s current management didn’t purposefully send the company into a nosedive.
I had the honor of dancing with the company in 2007, as the gypsy in New York City Opera’s popular La Traviata. And my longtime boyfriend Billy was – until this meltdown - the last remaining dancer on contract. So, full disclosure: my interest in NYCO definitely lands firmly on the side of the artists, the choristers, orchestra members, stage managers, and assistant directors. However, as someone with a 20-year performing career (New York City Ballet, Broadway’s Phantom of the Opera, and Twyla Tharp’s Come Fly Away), and as an opera-goer who has attended NYCO for over 2 decades (long before I ever met Billy in State Theater’s elevator #7) I also think I have a relatively educated idea of what’s good, and what audiences want to see.
A personal survey of my trips to the theater over the past several years proves that the arts at Lincoln Center – and in the city - thrive when savvy choices are made. While the stock market imploded in 2008, South Pacific played to sold-out crowds at the Vivian Beaumont and extended its limited run. The stunning production earned 7 Tony Awards and ran for over two years.
The New York Philharmonic continues to present appealing programs, giving us Brahms, Beethoven, Stravinsky, and Ravel, as well as Gershwin and Cole Porter. We’re buying tickets. At what will always be the New York State Theater to me, New York City Ballet has been thrilling audiences: Wendy Whelan in Diamonds or the drum regiment of Union Jack; Tiler Peck in Tchaikovsky Pas de Deux; Daniel Ulbricht in Prodigal Son. What’s not to love?
The Nutcracker was presented Live From Lincoln Center (on PBS and aired in movie theaters). Someone named Paul McCartney recently composed a score for the company. And, when New York City Opera sold a handful of their weeks to NYCB last year, story ballets like Midsummer Night’s Dream, Coppélia, and The Sleeping Beauty put families in the seats.
American Ballet Theatre’s Giselle at the Metropolitan Opera House last Spring: The 170-year old ballet was a hit, and the packed house jumped to its feet as the curtain closed. Thunderous applause and appreciative shouts filled the cavernous Met, and a number of fans rushed to the foot of the stage.
The School of American Ballet’s Gala Workshop at Julliard’s Peter Jay Sharpe Theater: The performance garnered a response that was loud, long, effusive and genuine as the ticket-buyers (who were not just parents!) enthusiastically celebrated a new group of future dance stars. There was not an empty seat at City Center this past November as the dancers of American Ballet Theatre soared in Twyla Tharp’s In the Upper Room. Billy Elliot, a phenomenal show that closed on Broadway this evening, won 10 Tony Awards and ran for over 3 years. We saw it twice, and would have gone back tonight if any tickets had been available. War Horse at the Vivian Beaumont: The magical puppets have been entertaining a captivated house, and it garnered 6 Tony Awards last year. I think there’s a puppet at New York City Opera too, but he’s of an entirely different sort.
Last year, while New York City Opera’s sparse, dissonant, and abysmal (and very expensive to mount) Monodramas was critically acclaimed in the New York Times, the glowing review of opening night neglected to mention that the theater was over 60% papered.
As a 16-year old studying at the School of American Ballet, I often signed out of my dorm room to cross the plaza and see New York City Opera. Standing room tickets were $10, and I attended beautiful productions of Madame Butterfly and Carmen. Charlie Wigler, a counselor at SAB, noticed my interest in opera; he asked if I had ever seen Cavalleria Rusticana and Pagliacci. I hadn’t, so a couple of days later he took my classmate, ABT’s Paloma Herrera, and me to the double bill, where we spotted Placido Domingo in the audience. The performance was riveting, and I was hooked. In the following years, I became a regular, attending tremendous productions of The Mikado, The Ballad of Baby Doe, H.M.S. Pinafore, Rigoletto, Brigadoon, Die Tote Stadt, Semele, Rinaldo, Candide, Carmina Burana, Prince Igor, La Rondine, and more (not typical offerings at the Metropolitan Opera). I listened to recordings of Boito’s Classical Sabbath from Mefistofele, and of Beverly Sills singing Villa from The Merry Widow. In both cases, I wept.
This weekend, the artists of New York City Opera were left to reject an insulting offer of $4000/year without health insurance (while George Steel makes $400,000/year in a true example of the 1% in America). What Steel, Charles Wall, and NYCO’s board have done is unconscionable; the pompous, selfish, elitist group has blithely defaced the people’s opera. The artists of the company, who were offered 80% below the 2011 national poverty level of $22,350, are the casualties of war. It appears that New York has lost New York City Opera, once a vibrant jewel in the artistic crown of this great city.
Download Beverly “Bubbles” Sills singing Villa. Sip a quality wine. And mourn the loss of her company.