December 7, 2014

The Tragedy of the New York City Opera Archives

It will come as no surprise that the two most read posts on VoiceTalk concern the demise of New York City Opera and the drowning of its archives in hurricane Sandy. 

The drowning itself erased 60 years of New York City Opera's history; submerging photographs, recordings, scores, orchestra parts with annotations, playbills, original drawings, set designs, financial information and god know what else under 8 feet of water. Of course, no one really knows what was lost because the archive was uncatalogued when water poured into the basement at 75 Broad Street, where it was taken after being removed from Lincoln Center. However, reports made to this writer by those who handled the material suggest the loss of priceless information. 

Of course, the administration announced that the sunken soggy mess would be restored, an arduous and expensive proposition. However, as of this writing, nothing more has been heard of the archive's fate. All this comes to mind as New York City Opera is slated to emerge from bankruptcy court in the first weeks of 2015. 

The situation is all the more tragic when one considers that the New York City Opera archive was offered to the New York Public Library of the Performing Arts, not once, but twice. However, those offers were retracted by the last administration, which thought itself better equipped to administrate its own history and then housed it in the worst possible environment—the first law of archives being the utter avoidance of basements, where water damage is a real and present danger. Hubris, abject ignorance, dumb luck or stupidity, it all amounts to the same thing: the cultural history of New York City Opera now lies in the memory of the diaspora who performed and worked for the company.

I believe it's time to reassess the business acumen of the self-appointed masters of the universe.

Note: January 13, 2016. While the company formerly known as NYCO has emerged from bankruptcy, the fate of the NYCO archive has not been reported and is presumed to be lost. 

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