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Final curtain falls on New York City Opera

1 October 2013, New York, US

NYCO's general director George Steel
NYCO's general director George Steel(Photo: René Perez)

New York City Opera has announced it is to close and file for bankruptcy in its 70th anniversary year, after failing to find the US$7m (£4.3m) needed to deliver its planned season for the year ahead.

The decision to cease operating was taken when an emergency appeal for a total of $20m (£12.3m) to continue the 2013/14 season and plan for future years produced just one-tenth of its target by the end of September.

In an email to subscribers, artistic director and general manager George Steel said: ‘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.’

The company’s demise follows a long series of setbacks, including a substantial loss of revenue in 2008-09 during the refurbishment of the David H. Koch Theater (formerly the New York State Theater), where the company had been resident since 1966. This arrangement ended in 2011, when a review of NYCO’s business model concluded that the company should move out of its Lincoln Center home altogether.

This decision worked in the short term, allowing NYCO to continue producing some critically acclaimed work as an itinerant troupe; yet without a permanent home the company’s number of performances fell drastically, resulting in a loss of ticket revenue. Combined with a sharp fall in investment income from the company’s endowment (down from US$3m per year at its peak to less than US$200,000 today), reliance on fundraising became greater than ever.

Early in September, in a last-ditch attempt to save the company from immediate closure, an online crowd-sourcing campaign was launched to raise $1m, but only brought in just over $300,000.

Founded in 1943 to provide ‘cultural entertainment at popular prices’, New York City Opera had staged 29 world premieres and 62 US and New York premieres by the end of its 2012/13 season. The company’s ethos of making opera affordable to the city’s residents had earned it the nickname ‘The People’s Opera’.

Julius Rudel, 92, the maestro who helped to build and lead NYCO in its heyday, told the New York Times, ‘I would not have thought in my wildest dreams that I would outlive the opera company.’ He added: ‘I think it’s a real operatic tragedy.’


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