Tag Archives: Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts

stop picking on NYC Opera!

New York City Opera faces will try to meet their grave financial challenges head-on with a new business model.

You  manage an opera company. Your expenses exceed your income. That is the scenario you inherited when you stepped in as general manager and is expected to be the scenario moving forward.

If you don’t come up with a new business model that allows you to operate with the funds you can expect to have, you’ll have to close your doors.

(By the way, you don’t have a goose that lays golden eggs or a big fat money tree in your backyard last time you checked.)

What do you do? One option is to do what managers are paid to do. You manage. You manage so that you can continue programming in fulfillment of a company’s mission. Or you fold your cards, pick up your hat, and say, “Sayonara, suckers. Let all this big mess be someone else’s problem.”

George Steel, General Manager and Artistic Director of the New York City Opera, hasn’t folded his cards or hung his head. He’s managing an organization just as he’s been charged to do. What should have been or might have been didn’t pan out to be, so he’s trying to move forward with a new business model that allows New York City Opera to continue to do what it was established to do.

“But they won’t be paying union chorus and orchestra wages any longer?” Wouldn’t it be wonderful if they could? I’ve certainly enjoyed those aspects of seeing shows at presented by New York City Opera that add immeasurably to the production values of each show.

But who’s going to pay the professional musicians? New York City Opera can no longer afford their Lincoln Center home, but people are expecting them somehow to continue to shell out union wages for musicians? That’s like a homeless person keeping a building contractor on retainer because that’s what he used do when he had that good job and that beautiful house that everyone admired and loved to visit.

I live in Central Pennsylvania where many businesses are still trying to recover from the economic downturn that began in the last decade. Historically, even in the past 10-15 years, these family- and closely-held businesses might have been very successful, generating x-amount of revenue.  Because of the recession or market forces or changes in their industry, many business leaders are having to define a new normal. That means they’ve realized they no longer run a company that generates x-amount per year,  but 1/2  x-amount. In fact, they might never generate x-amount again–ever.

These business owners have come up with new business models to stay in business. Because they would be irresponsible–no, not just irresponsible–stupid business people if they failed to search for and then put in place ways to keep the business afloat that their father or grandfather founded decades ago, under different market conditions, which is now entrusted to them.

New York City Opera is trying to cope with a new normal. I’m sure they’d love to stay in their beautiful, newly refurbished Lincoln Center home and retain their accomplished union singers and highly skilled orchestra members, but they can’t afford to do so and also remain solvent.

And please don’t start with the argument that they did unpopular, esoteric shows and that’s why they are in trouble. Under Steel they produced Don Giovanni, for pity’s sake, an opera potboiler if ever there was one. Oh, and Elixir of Love, and the very entertaining new musical by Stephen Schwartz, Seance on a Wet Afternoon. And they paid tribute to Leonard Bernstein with the New York premiere of A Quiet Place. Imagine that! Honoring Leonard Bernstein at Lincoln Center.

New York City Opera has come up with a new business plan that allows them to continue doing what they were founded to do–produce opera for the citizens of New York. It’s just that they are producing opera all across New York City instead of making New York (and the rest of the world) come to them. It’s a brave, interesting model that might just work. I’m very much looking forward to traveling to different parts of New York to see their 2011-12 season and hope I get the chance to do so.

Unless you have any better ideas or can lay a golden egg for them, then it’s time to give Steel and his organization a chance to move forward with a new New York City Opera.


Filed under 21st Century Opera, North American Opera, Op-Ed, Rant