New York City Opera has gone from sold-out performances to selling off its remaining assets. After years of management issues, the famed opera company. which once was a staple at Lincoln Center, filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy, Oct. 3. The 2013-2014 schedule has been canceled.
Sets and costumes from productions that were part of the “glory days” of City Opera, are finding new homes with other opera companies. Some of these sets were designed by Maurice Sendak, the author and illustrator of the children’s book, Where the Wild Things Are. Others include a 1995 Emmy-winning telecast of Verdi’s La Traviata directed by Renata Scotto; a 1982 production of Leonard Bernstein’s Candide directed by Harold Prince and stagings designed specifically for Beverly Sills such as a 1968 performance of the the 19th-century opera, Manon, by French composer Jules Massenet.
United States Bankruptcy Judge Sean Lane of Manhattan approved for the remaining items to be auctioned. This will be done online, Dec. 12, 10:30 a.m. Tiger Remarketing Servicing LLC, will serve as the auctioneer and will receive 10 percent of the sale proceeds, including CDs and books from the opera company’s gift shop. Furniture from the administrative offices on Broad Street in Manhattan and backstage items including scenery, tools, stage curtains and fabric from the opera’s facility at New Windsor, New York, will also be sold.
City Opera was founded in 1943 for the purpose of making opera available to the public at reasonable prices. World War II was on everyone’s mind and, with it, people faced ration stamps and supply shortages. The Great Depression had taken its toll but gave way to government programs and contracts that offered jobs often war-related. Defense plants, shipyards and sewing uniforms were some of the jobs that put people back to work.
The company’s first director, Laszlo Halasz, wanted ticket prices to be kept low in order for opera to be affordable. The opera house was first located on West 55th Street at New York City Center. The first season opened in February 1944 and tickets ranged from 75 cents up to $2. It wasn’t possible to hire famous Metropolitan Opera singers but the opera company became a place for professionals who were just beginning their careers to get experience. New York City Mayor Fiorello La Guardia named City Opera “the people’s opera.”
Halasz had several ideas to bring opera to the people. He wanted foreign language operas to be sung in English so that American audiences could understand them. Also, under his leadership, the company produced its first world premiere Troubled Island, in 1949, by African-American composer William Grant Still.
Each director brought bold ideas and commitments to the table. When New York City Opera moved to the New York State Theater (later known as the David H. Koch Theater) at Lincoln Center in 1966, it continued to be a place where up and coming singers could get a chance and where audiences could experience opera in a more intimate setting. After Beverly Sills retired from singing, she took over as the company’s general director from 1979 to 1988. She raised millions of dollars yet lowered ticket prices in order to attract new audiences.
In recent years, the company had faced a lot of financial uncertainty. New York City Opera left Lincoln Center in 2011 and moved to 75 Broad Street in Lower Manhattan. In 2013, it needed to raise $7 million to stay afloat. That fundraising goal was not reached. It had no choice but to file Chapter 11.
This “people’s opera” has been important for performers and audience members for 70 years. The items that are to be sold can be seen by clicking on the link below that says auction items. New York City Opera will be remembered for its sold out performances and its commitment to opera.
By: Cynthia Collins