Gail Kruvand was an assistant principal bass player in the New York City Opera for 22 years. “I took lots of auditions, all over the country, before I won this position, and for me it was like, wow! I really felt like I’d arrived.”
She played her final show with City Opera on Saturday, a performance of Anna Nicole.
“It was really sad. We were celebrating our great times that we had together,” she says of the orchestra and chorus. “This dissolution and this bankruptcy of New York City Opera is not going to take away our memories.”
On Tuesday, Artistic Director George Steel announced in an email to subscribers that the company was beginning Chapter 11 bankruptcy proceedings after failing to raise $7 million dollars needed to keep the company afloat.
A last-ditch effort to raise $1 million on Kickstarter ended Monday after only reaching a third of that goal.
Shortly after Steel’s e-mail went out, the performers released a statement of their own through the American Federation of Musicians, blasting Steel and the rest of management for the “reckless decisions” they say landed the company in its current predicament.
The most reckless of all, Local 802 President Tino Gagliardi said, was the company’s decision to leave its home at Lincoln Center in 2011. At the time, the move was expected to save the company money.
As the musicians of the New York City Opera have long feared, NYCO management’s reckless decisions to move the New York City Opera out of its newly renovated home at Lincoln Center, slash the season schedule and abandon an accessible repertoire have predictably resulted in financial disaster for the company. Despite disagreement with this strategy, the devoted musicians made great sacrifices in wages and benefits to keep the Opera afloat. Lamentably, due to egregious mismanagement and a paucity of vision, instead of reaping the benefits of a strengthening economy, this most storied of cultural institutions now lies in ruin.
According to bassist Kruvand, who was also an ex-officio member of City Opera’s board of directors, it cost the company a total of $4.5 million to operate out of Lincoln Center.
“For that $4.5 million they got executive office space, they got rehearsal space, they got a wig shop, they had a costume shop. They had everything under one roof–rooms for coachings of the singers and performance space and a theater.”
When City Opera left Lincoln Center, not only did it lose access to those institutional benefits, the company was also performing fewer shows in smaller venues. Predictably, it was not able to sell as many tickets.
Ticket sales plummeted from $12.5 million in 2006 to $2.9 million in 2011, according to figures provided by the musicians’ union. Spokesperson K.C. Boyle believes that low ticket sales were compounded by selection of productions, “Instead of mounting popular productions, George Seele typically went a more experimental route, and at one point, one of the productions only yielded a 36 percent attendance rate.”
The Voice made multiple attempts to get comment for this piece from City Opera’s spokesperson. We will update if they choose to respond.
Of course, this wasn’t the first time that City Opera had found itself in dire financial straits–it has struggled since the very beginning, almost shutting down after its first season 70 years ago.
“This time it’s different,” Kruvland says. “We have no home. We have no sets, we have no repertoire that they can go to and say ‘We can mount this.’ [At Lincoln Center] in a week we could put on Madam Butterfly. We don’t have those sets anymore. They were sold. Our music library was destroyed in the Superstorm Sandy flooding.”
She adds, sadly, “The company has really been systematically dismantled.”
Still, the orchestra–and for most members, City Opera has been a part-time gig for the last couple of years–hopes to find a way to continue playing together. Kruvland admits however, no opportunities appear to be on the horizon.
“We look forward to playing opera together again–and I don’t know how that’s going to come to pass.”