Did the fat lady sing for New York City Opera? And is this an operatic omen?

In a dramatic move that deserves its own aria, New York City Opera, the very first tenant of the center known as Lincoln, announced that it was up and moving.


No one, including NYCO, knows.

The question on everybody’s mind . . . is this the end of New York City Opera?  And, gulp, is this the beginning of the end for opera???

It’s a challenged art form, no doubt.  As less and and less people are brought up on it, less and less people are supporting it (either through ticket sales or donations).

Unfortunately, I think that in 10 years, the end of NYCO’s reign at Lincoln Center will be remembered as the closing that was heard around the world.  More closings will follow.  The audiences are shrinking, which means the business model will have to correct itself by decreasing supply.  Ironically, competitors, like The Met (who has done a kick ass job of making opera relevant), will benefit.

What does this mean for our closely-related industry?

We’ve seen our audience contract in recent years.  We’ve seen our ticket prices increase in recent years.  And we’ve seen a billion other entertainment options pop up in your pocket!

It’s essential that we get out ahead of the opera so we’re not faced with a similar breaking news item in 10 years.

But I’m not sure we can.

In fact, I’ll predict right now that one of the major non-profit theaters in this city will go out of business in the next decade.  Which one?  Simple – whichever company chooses to produce shows that no longer feel relevant to today’s theatergoer.

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  • djk says:

    It’s really great you’re discussing opera on this blog- and I agree that theatre has a lot to learn from the problems currently facing opera and classical music- but I disagree with your takeaway from this situation. The problem is that NYCO has been doing the kind of work that appeals to newer, younger audiences, but Lincoln Center is not where that audience wants to go. If NYCO does continue, and I think it will, I think the move from Lincoln Center will, indeed, be something heard round the world- the kind of bold move needed to keep opera relevant. Steel could have decided to stay at Lincoln Center, and abandon his vision of what opera needs to be, and staged warhorses and catered to the existing opera audiences. Instead, he’s dared to flout the safe move, and do something daring. While the decision may have come as a result of a not-so-great situation, I think it’s an exciting step for NYCO.

  • Paul Mendenhall says:

    Opera has been dependent on patronage by the wealthy from it’s beginnings. Outside of Italy, it has never really been a “popular” artform. I am not aware of it’s ever having been self-sustaining, let alone profitable. So it is hard for me to extrapolate anything from it’s current financial malaise to other forms of theatre.
    I think that basing producing decisions on perceived “relevance” is a quick route to bankruptcy. Was T.S. Eliot’s twee cat poetry “relevant” to the 1980s? Was an ancient legend about Mozart and Salieri “relevant” to 20th century Broadway? I could go on and on. What matters is intrinsic merit and entertainment value.

  • WillV921 says:

    I heartily disagree. NYCO closed due to poor fiscal management and a lazy board of directors. The current Executive Director inherited an enormous deficit the likes of which few people can even conceive. The dwindling ticket sales for this organization were partially due to uninteresting programming but also because of direct competition with the MetOpera, a series of shut downs and a continuous flow of bad PR (much like this blog). Theatre has other companies in the same situation (Pasadena Playhouse comes to mind). Look to other opera companies nationwide and you’ll see that opera is alive and well in the USA.
    To Paul Mendenhall: Please tell the Germans with the Wagnerian Bayreuth, the Austrians with the Staatsoper, the french with the L’Opera Garnier and the English with both English National Opera and Royal Opera House Covent Garden that opera has never been popular. I think you’ll be surprised (especially by the Wagner fans…they’re intense).

  • Larush62 says:

    TO: Ken Davenport
    Message flagged
    Wednesday, May 25, 2011 10:43 PM
    Well…it’s probably true that, in general, opera audiences have dwindled some in the last decade in this country (the sad closing of Opera Pacific and Baltimore Opera), but the Met is doing better than ever. It’s hard to get a ticket to many things (many shows sell out) and I’ve seen many more younger people attending. They’re doing something right and I think other companies in this country need to follow suit…if they can afford to, of course! I guess that’s the problem. It seems business, marketing and artistic creativity have never been more needed than now. By the way, I recently tried to get tickets to Cosi Fan Tutte in Paris 2 months in advance and it was sold out! Opera, I happily can say, will surely be with us for a long time, but this country needs to find more creative ways to get audiences and really think about their programming. Along with the classics we need to program interesting contemporary works and rarely performed ones as well. It has to be kept interesting. And opera directors need to learn how to find a way to be innovative while also staying true to the opera’s text and music. I find most opera failures occur because of ridiculous direction.

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