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After 70 years of soaring voices and outsized emotions, the New York City Opera is readying itself for closure following bankruptcy proceedings, ending weeks of speculation about its fate. Reached by email and telephone for comment about the reported closures, City Opera spokeswoman Risa Heller provided Hyperallergic an excerpt from its published statement:
New York City Opera did not achieve the goal of its emergency appeal, and the board and management will begin the necessary financial and operational steps to wind down the Company including initiating the Chapter 11 process.
For years, the City Opera had been battling financial difficulties, frequently running a deficit that it resolved with withdrawals from its endowment and other belt tightening and fiscal maneuvering. Chorus and orchestra members took 2012 pay cuts of over 80%; in 2011, the City Opera made the fateful decision to leave the Lincoln Center. Homeless and performing far fewer shows (16 this year to 115 a decade ago), the Opera declared in September that it needed to raise $7 million by the end of the month in order to pay for the rest of its season. It followed this up on Thursday, September 26 with a vote establishing October 1 as a deadline to meet its multimillion-dollar goal, with bankruptcy impending in the event of failure. As part of this effort, City Opera sought to raise $1 million in a monthlong Kickstarter launched on September 1; this failed when the campaign concluded yesterday with a total of $301,019 raised from 2,100 backers.
Today the institution cancelled the remainder of its 2013 season (three shows in all) and began the process of filing for Chapter 11 bankruptcy. The New York City Opera, second in line to the New York opera throne, is dead. This leaves the state of arts and the opera in New York in an uncomfortable position. It was an open secret, for quite a long time, that the City Opera was bad off. Sales have been down. The exodus from Lincoln Center was disastrous.
The fact is the City Opera’s administration inflicted a plague of financial sores upon itself, but it is also true that the opera is increasingly a smaller part of many of our lives, if it has a part at all. Both factors combined to sink the City Opera — it wasn’t just bad bookkeeping. Which begs a larger question: what’s left? In March 2012, Alex Ross wrote in the New Yorker of “[a] downturn for opera in New York City.” Could we view the loss of the City Opera as a careen, a free-fall for opera, then? It’s hard to see a good outcome here for the many musicians, actors, and stagehands, many of whom already took steep pay cuts and are now presumably out of jobs.
To its end the City Opera was recognized as a significant and pretty risk-taking opera theatre. Its last show was a well-reviewed look at the tragicomic life of Anna Nicole Smith, whose story now takes on a macabre second life as the City Opera’s swan song.
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