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Why You Should Care That the New York City Opera Is Dead

Why couldn't a storied institution, which launched the career of Placido Domingo, flourish in one of the most cosmopolitan cities in the world?

Associated Press

The New York City Opera is done. After a mad scramble which involved crowd-sourcing and looking for money in all the wrong places, the company announced on Tuesday that it would file for bankruptcy tomorrow. "There have been many, many generous donors -- a lot of people appreciate what the New York City Opera does, and it does a wonderful thing. But right now we don’t have the $7 million that we need to go forward with the season," the opera's lawyer, Kenneth Rosen, told Bloomberg. Spokeswoman Risa Heller told The New York Times administrators are taking the first steps "to wind down the company."

Any time an arts institution in a city shuts down, it brings up the question of whether or not people appreciated its works. The inevitable question: does the New York City Opera's closing mean the appreciation of opera is dying, even if the Metropolitan Opera is still going strong? And, further: why couldn't a 70-year-old arts institution, one which helped launch the careers of Placido Domingo, Jose Carreras, and some of America's brightest stars, flourish in one of the most arts-appreciative, cultured, cosmopolitan cities in the world? 

Back in 1943, the New York City Opera was created as "the people's opera"—its main mission was to make opera accessible. That makes its closing and the events leading up to its demise more painful. In September, City Opera said it needed to raise $7 million by the end of the month — the final gasp after a few years of tough financial struggle. "City Opera has been struggling for years, facing mounting deficits that have forced it to raid its endowment and, in 2011, to leave its Lincoln Center home to become an itinerant troupe," The New York Times reported last month. "It also drastically cut back on the number of operas it gave each season — from 115 performances a year a decade ago, to 16 last year. This summer its cash crisis became acute," the paper added. 

Its last-ditch effort was a Kickstarter campaign which didn't even meet half of its $1 million goal. Perhaps that's the most pertinent message— the people's opera put some of its future in the hands of the people, and the people didn't even fund it to half of its goal. "Where was Bloomberg in all this? Where was former Mayor Giuliani, for that matter, whom I heard speak at NYCO a decade ago? A real tragedy," wrote one of the company's 2,108 Kickstarter backers.

Bloomberg, well known for being a patron of the arts, said last night that the city government would not play the hero the opera was looking for. "The business model doesn’t seem to be working," Bloomberg told The New York Times last night, adding that "city government can’t go and support all of the arts institutions." The company now faces a future which will either involve it being slashed and liquidated, or sold to another institution. "Saturday night’s performance of Mark-Anthony Turnage’s opera Anna Nicole at the Brooklyn Academy of Music stands to be the company’s last. Its first performance, of Puccini’s Tosca was given in 1944," the Times reports.

This post originally appeared on The Atlantic Wire.

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