O P - E D
HOW TO SAVE NEW YORK CITY OPERA (AND WIN THE FUTURE)
from the Editors
6th June, 2011
Let’s be frank: New York City Opera is in something of a shambles. This cherished institution, self-described as “imaginative and adventurous” has indeed earned that reputation. It was not so long ago a force to be reckoned with, a game-changer. And in successfully changing the rules of opera - its standard becoming the industry standard - it has almost rendered itself irrelevant.
Or has it? As the company is now forced to reevaluate its entire existence, it has at this moment an extraordinary opportunity to become a leader again.
There is a brilliantly simple way City Opera could achieve this. In one bold move, they could refocus their jumbled identity and generate buzz while harboring and showcasing great American talent:
City Opera must restructure itself as an operatic troupe.
Here is NYCO’s underlying predicament as they now face a departure from the New York State Theater: when people choose to go to the opera, they usually know where they’re going (Lincoln Center), what they’re seeing (Traviata), and whom they’re seeing (Netrebko). You can remove one or two of these elements from the equation, but not all three. Very few people are likely to buy a ticket to see a lesser-known work in a temporary venue sung by singers they are not familiar with. (Nor is a board likely to want to invest in such ventures: too many unknowns.)
While I support NYCO’s commitment to new/underperformed works and believe the company can still be viable without a permanent home, this can only successfully be achieved if they forge an identity based on the one remaining element: the performers themselves. A beloved band of phenomenal singers could quickly replace a (less-)beloved building in the hearts of the opera-going public. Engaging a smattering of guesting soloists, no matter their quality, will not likely build a “brand” or a fan base as successfully.
City Opera should assemble a crack team of America’s best and most promising talent: a hand-picked troupe ten to twenty strong of singers who can sing and act, who are creative, intelligent, and hungry for the stage. These should be put through a rigorous (and perhaps publicized) auditioning process that tests their complete skill-set. The group dynamic and rapport that such a troupe can bring to the stage is rarely replicable among a cast of guest artists alone. We have this kind of versatile talent in New York, as well as the desire among singers to be a part of such a venture.
Create a Dream Team, and the public will follow them anywhere.
For too long - forever, really - Americans have had to ship themselves overseas to gain the experience that being part of an ensemble offers. The benefits so outweigh the challenges for singers that most are willing, even eager, to join an ensemble at a far lower pay scale than they earn for perpetually guesting, even while presenting a greater number of roles (5-10 in a season). So it makes economic sense, too. (Having a house troupe also ensures covers and jumpers-in at the ready, and cuts down on travel expenses.)
But most importantly, reinventing City Opera as a troupe would place it on the cutting edge again, would transform a sputtering institution into a crucible for opera. It could be the hottest ticket in town, a bellwether for the art form, a place where stars are born.
At a time when all bets are off for the very survival of this New York institution, City Opera needs to change the game again not just to survive, but to thrive. Finding another, smaller theater to call home, as many in the industry are suggesting, might be a positive step, but this alone does not offer a fundamentally new vision. What better, bolder way to shake up the status quo than to return to what matters most in opera: the singers themselves, individually and - even better - collectively.
City Opera is dead. Long live City Opera!
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