THE BLOG
07/14/2011 05:07 pm ET Updated Sep 13, 2011

A New Era for City Opera

This week, New York City Opera announced that it is open for business with a new season, while embracing a new and exciting future.

For 68 years, New York City Opera has been at the forefront of the nation's operatic life. As we move into a new era for the Company, we will hold fast to that same spirit of innovation and excellence that has made us indispensable on the world stage ever since Mayor LaGuardia himself tore the first ticket in 1943.

If New York is defined by two things, they are change and resourcefulness. And City Opera is New York to the core. For a new era, we have forged a new model for the Company, one that will reverse a decade-long trend of debilitating deficits, and -- more important -- will invigorate our bold mission of access and artistic excellence.

"The People's Opera" is leaving the travertine fastness of Lincoln Center and coming out to meet the people of New York: in Brooklyn, in Harlem, in Central Park, on the West Side, the East Side -- wherever New Yorkers live and love their favorite opera company.

By taking advantage of the hundreds of performing spaces in New York, we will match each opera with a theater that ideally suits it. And by doing so, we will weave New York City Opera directly into the fabric of New York City, neighborhood by neighborhood, street by street -- within arm's reach of more New Yorkers.

Make no mistake: times are tough. We are leaving the David H. Koch Theater at Lincoln Center, simply put, because we can't afford it. The Board's decision to leave our home of 40 years was by no means easy; rather it was driven by serious financial necessity.

Over the last 10 years, revenues and expenses at the Opera have diverged dangerously. The Opera has suffered under a crippling structural deficit, despite mighty efforts to increase revenues to meet ever-growing expenses. Instead, operating deficits accumulated to a truly staggering total of $47 million over that 10-year period. Even in the not-for-profit arts world, deficits are not a simple bookkeeping problem -- they are very real and have dire consequences if unchecked. More deficits on that scale will sink the Opera.

After a decade of frustration, City Opera will at last change course, choosing the tough road of tackling head-on the expense side of our budget. It is no longer an option to continue suffocating under $18 million in annual fixed costs.

Beyond leaving behind the expense of the Koch Theater, we are making other critical changes to the financial structure of the Opera. We have eliminated 14 staff positions, a stark and difficult decision. Even though critical to the Company's survival, downsizing is no less painful. We have reduced staff salaries. And we are seeking significant changes to some of our labor contracts, which are currently designed for a scale of operations we simply can't afford for the foreseeable future.

We expect a "full and frank exchange of views" as we hammer out new labor contracts. The hurly burly of labor negotiations engenders its own political theater, but I try to stay focused on two important truths. First, the changes we need will be genuinely difficult for the people involved. There is no softening that fact. But second, and equally important, if we did not achieve fundamental change in our labor contracts, the Opera simply could not continue to exist.

Since we announced we were leaving the Koch Theater, we have been invigorated and heartened to hear strong opinions from many quarters about New York City Opera's past and future. We have always been New York's home team, and our fans are passionate and opinionated, as fans should be.

However, we are embracing the future not paralyzed by regret, but rather charged with enthusiasm and possibility. The good news is this: the glories of City Opera's present and past portend a future of enormous promise and innovation.

As we leave Lincoln Center, we take with us a glowing legacy of artistic achievement, and we leave behind a gloriously renovated theater with splendid acoustics. And I should add that the door is not closed -- we can return whenever it makes financial sense.

For now, however, our new home stage is New York City itself -- a glittering theater with eight million seats.