The Test of Time

If George Steel had said “I told you so” at the press event announcing the New York City Opera 2012-13 season, I don’t think anyone would have begrudged him. Of course, he’s far too charming, smart and gracious for that. But what he did say had the same effect: that the company was on track to close the current season with the first balanced budget in twelve years.

To that, it was almost incidental to know that the previous three productions had sold out and the May performances of Orpheus were expected to sell out. Less than a year ago, the best most could come to say about Steel’s plan to slash an unsustainable budget by sixty percent and take the company out Lincoln Center and into smaller houses in Brooklyn and Manhattan was that they hoped City Opera might possibly survived even as its “world class” status was in doubt.

For the fans and supporters of the company, the news today was a happy vindication. Along with announcing the four productions for next season, all new, Steel added the significant note that they would be returning to their truly historic home, the renovated City Center Theater (which no one moaning about the past last summer and fall could bring themselves to mention) and to BAM, spitting the season between the two, and had signed agreements with each theater to perform in each over the next three years. So even before following seasons are announced, New Yorkers know that the company will be there.

And they continue to be the people’s opera. Opera is not regularly programmed at BAM, but the new agreement means the borough has, in part, their own opera company, to go along with their symphony. That’s a wonderful thing. And the company is, as always, committed to making their art affordable, with a generous amount of $25 tickets for each performance and $100 subscriptions. To a question about ticket revenue and subsidies, Steel pointed out that all opera ticket prices are subsidized, including the most expensive seats at the Met, and that “if you’re going to subsidize ticket prices, make them affordable.”

Those affordable productions represent taste that is apparently knowledgeable and interested about the form and history of music drama. There is Thomas Adès Powder Her Face, produced by Jay Scheib, Britten’s mysterious The Turn of the Screw, in a production from Sam Buntrock that Steel promises will be terrifying, the original, rarely performed three-act version of Rossini’s Moses in Egypt, from Michael Counts, and under the Christopher Alden Offenbach’s comic La Périchole, another rarity. Anyone interested in opera would like a more extensive season, and Steel himself has set a target of eight to ten productions as a full-sized season. A year ago that seemed too optimistic. With a fascinating new season starting off with a balanced budget, after just one year of Steel’s new plan, that might turn out to be modest.

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