In the early 1940s, during the darker days of World War II, New York Mayor Fiorello LaGuardia and philanthropist Newbold Morris decided what was needed for morale was an opera company that catered to plain, old fashioned people. To that end, they founded New York City Opera. Since that time, NYCO provided a rich mix of familiar operas along with contemporary works. It developoed quite a roster of world class talent: Beverly Sills, Norman Treigle, a young Placido Domingo and many others honed their craft first at City Center and then the New York State Theatre at Lincoln Center. Ticket prices were affordable. NYCO's leadership, from Julius Rudel through Beverly Sills and Christopher Keene to Paul Kellogg, insured the company lived up to its mission as The People's Opera.
Then, a dark day. Board chair Susan Baker decided NYCO's wheel needed reinvention. She decided to hire as Paul Kellogg's successor a man who never lead an American company or a company that didn't recieve at least 60% of its revenue from government subsidy. She promised him a production budget of 63% more than NYCO had ever spent, albeit in the face of a budget shortfall of $8 million. She even let him wait three years before taking over full time. During those three years, NYCO went dark for one year while renovations were performed on the theatre, including changing its name to the David Koch (yes, that David Koch). When the three years was up, this new, revolutionary, wheel changing manager, Gerard Mortier, decided not to come. He had discovered that NYCO had a pittance in subsidy, a large deficit and no chance of providing $60 million for productions.
Not deterred by this failure, our intrepid Ms Baker hired one George Steele, who had never managed a major opera company before. He decides to cut NYCO's season down and try to break its contracts with singers and musicians. Last month, he announced that NYCO will leave its newly renovated theatre for venues as yet unknown performing operas as yet unknown. At a time when subscribers should be renewing, NYCO is stuck in a holding pattern.
When pressed by the company as to his plans, Mr. Steele replied with a blueprint that is little better than operatic dinner theatre. Once again, he said that all contracts must be re-negotiated and singers/musicians must take a lot less. My wife sang for this company. She will probably never sing there again. In fact, if one reads between the lines, the next announcement from NYCO may very well be Chapter 11 bankruptcy. Therefore, all that is left for me to say is, "Wanted, for the murder of The People's Opera; Susan Baker, Gerard Mortier, George Steele and the New York City Opera Board of Directors.