Lights Out for NYC Opera?

Lights Out for NYC Opera?
Marie Lenormand and Philippe Talbot in the New York City Opera's production of "Offenbach's La Périchole"
(Photo by Carol Rosegg)

Will opera disappear from New York City? Not quite, but the New York City Opera, one of the two major institutions based in Manhattan — the other being the Metropolitan Opera — is in trouble. According to a recent report in the New York Times, the company “will be forced to cancel most of its current season and all of its next season if it fails to raise $20 million by year’s end.”

Founded in 1943 under its first director, Laszlo Halasz, the original goal of the City Opera was to make the art form accessible to the masses (mayor Fiorello La Guardia famously called it the “people’s opera”). The last few years have been rough for the organization: In 2008, Gérard Mortier, former director of the Paris Opera, was scheduled to take the reigns of the company before abruptly resigning due to unforeseen budget cuts. A year later, as they were forced out of their home at Lincoln Center due to renovations, and drop in donations, it was reported that the company had incurred a $11 million deficit.

And the future is not looking good. According to reports, the $20 million the company is hoping to raise is double what they raised last year, and more than they have raised in better financial climates. “You can’t run the opera on a hope and a prayer,” said Charles R. Wall, the opera’s chairman. “You’ve got to pay bills. And you’ve got to raise the money to pay them. That’s the simplest way I can put it. And you cannot spend what you do not have.”

Not surprisingly, in a move that, according to the Times, “harks back to the company’s populist roots,” the City Opera is using Kickstarter to help raise funds (as of this writing, they’ve raised just north of $53,000). This may not be their best option. A quick look at some of the most popular projects funded through the site proves that it will be extremely difficult to raise $20 million. Spike Lee raised around $1.5 million for his vampire film, while the “Veronica Mars” movie raised just over $5 million. Both of these projects were considered massive success stories in crowdfunding.

Reaching out to the people to help keep the City Opera alive will prove one thing, though. Do people actually care about saving the opera of the people? The company may not like the answer.