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New York City Opera Shutting Its Doors After 70 Years

By Louise Burton on Oct 01, 2013 11:25 PM EDT

In a tragedy worthy of opera itself, the New York City Opera has breathed its last.

NYCO had announced in early September that it would need to raise $7,000,000 by the end of the month in order to keep its doors open. After an emergency fundraising drive, the company succeeded in raising only about two million dollars during that time, according to City Opera spokesperson Risa Heller.

The company even took the unusual step of launching a fundraising campaign on Kickstarter, with the goal of raising one million dollars of the $7,000,000 goal. That campaign, too, fell short--attracting commitments for only $301,019 from 2,108 supporters.

When a last-minute reprieve never came, the company announced on Tuesday that it would shut down and file for bankruptcy protection. The remainder of the 2013-14 season has been canceled, including productions of Johann Christian Bach's Endimione, Bartók's Bluebeard's Castle and Mozart's The Marriage of Figaro.

Many critics point to actions taken by general manager George Steel as contributing factors in the company's demise, including his decision to move the opera company out of its Lincoln Center home and instead present operas at several city venues. Another decision seen as disastrous was cancelling the entire 2008-09 season while the company's Lincoln Center auditorium was being renovated.

There will be time to piece through exactly what went wrong at the company. For now, plenty of people are disappointed and angry over the abrupt closure of the company that launched the careers of so many international stars, including Plácido Domingo, Beverly Sills, Renée Fleming and Samuel Ramey.

Chief classical critic Anthony Tommasini wrote in the New York Times, "City Opera bravely championed works by living composers, including pieces that had not gotten their due, like Richard Rodney Bennett's 1965 Gothic horror tale, The Mines of Sulphur, which faded away but then became an improbable hit at City Opera in 2005, after a tryout at the Glimmerglass Opera."

Tommasini maintained, too, "The company also gave us fresh takes on standard repertory, with young, emerging singers who cared deeply about acting and embraced the chance to be part of a lively ensemble enterprise."

Many readers posted their reminiscences about favorite City Opera performances in response to a New York Times request, including one reader who seemed to echo Tommasini's assessment:

"I remember going to La Bohème at NYCO about 10 years ago and being moved to tears, something that never happened to me at the Met's productions of the same opera. Maybe it was because the cast got to really spend time together as an ensemble... All I can say is that the acting (physically and vocally) was so 'real' and affecting because of that sense of ensemble."

City Opera was founded in 1944 to bring opera to the masses, and stayed true to that vision through 70 years of presenting standard repertory and new works, with young singers who were deeply committed to their art. The "people's opera" of New York City will be deeply missed.

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TagsNew York City Opera, Risa Heller, Kickstarter, George Steel, Anthony Tommasini, New York Times, Bartok, Mozart, Placido Domingo, Renee Fleming, La Boheme, Richard Rodney Bennett, The Mines of Sulphur