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Gerard Mortier resigns from New York City Opera

November 7, 2008 |  4:50 pm

Mortier After promising to revolutionize the opera scene in New York, Gerard Mortier has announced to New York City Opera that he can no longer run the company in the current economic climate.  He had been guaranteed $60 million for his first season of productions, set to begin next fall.  But funding has fallen substantially short, and just over half that sum is all the company's board can now offer.

The new $36-million budget, Mortier pointed out, is smaller than that for the smallest opera house in France and about one-tenth of what he has at the Paris Opera, where he is in his last year as director.  With no funds for innovation, which Mortier has done pretty much nonstop since his appointment at Lincoln Center was announced in 2007, he told the New York Times that he had no choice but to resign.

This has suddenly made the company, which is currently operating with a skeleton staff, seem extremely lackluster.  Mortier had instigated a renovation of the acoustically inadequate State Theater and therefore confined the current season to select concerts around the five boroughs and a concert performance of Samuel Barber's "Antony and Cleopatra" at Carnegie Hall.  The concerts and the work on the hall will continue, but the adventures Mortier had announced for next season won't. 

New York will lose not only its first staging of Messiaen's "St. Francois d'Assise" but also a long-awaited revival of the Philip Glass/Robert Wilson classic, "Einstein on the Beach." Thus ends a presumed rivalry between a Mortier City Opera and NYCO's far wealthier neighbor, the Metropolitan Opera, which is trying to update under Peter Gelb.  Mortier had hoped to make City Opera a showcase for new work and for the venturesome directors to whom he is close, particularly Peter Sellars and Wilson.  The Belgian impresario had also commissioned for City Opera an opera by Charles Wuorinen based on "Brokeback Mountain" and one on Walt Disney by Glass.  Mortier says he will try to find other companies that will take these new works on.

The fallout of this situation may also reach Los Angeles; an effort was being make to bring the "Einstein" production here, possibly under the auspices of Los Angeles Opera and/or UCLA Live.  That hardly seems likely now, unless other companies can also be persuaded to help mount the expensive production.  It does mean, however, that "Brokeback" and the Glass work are now fair game for poaching.

Mortier's resignation caps a depressing week for American opera.  On Tuesday, Opera Pacific canceled the remainder of its current season, including the West Coast premiere of Ricky Ian Gordon's "Grapes of Wrath." And Thursday, Edo de Waart, who began as chief conductor of Santa Fe Opera last summer, said he could no longer continue to conduct at a 7,000-foot elevation.

-- Mark Swed

Photo by Eckehard Schulz / Associated Press

Comments () | Archives (2)

Unexpected, but not surprising. Opera has always been dependent on the kindness of (rich) strangers, whether subsidized or not. The fewer rich strangers, the more difficult it will be for opera as well as other fine arts to exist.

Maybe this signals the ushering in of "poor opera" productions!

How dare Mr. Mortier to take away our season at NYCO for 2008-2009!!! When I first learned that instead of a wonderful season with interesting works there will be some stupid concerts in the boroughs of NY, I knew right then that Mortier's goose had been cooked. It was the kiss of death. The core audience of NYCO is made of Manhattan crowd, people who either hold subscriptions or opera loving buffs who live 10 minute walk or a 10 minute taxi ride from the Lincoln Center- who might decide to see an opera half an hour before the curtain time. And who is going to schlepp to Staten Island to hear songs, bits of modern contemporary music or obscure compositions???? And how do people suppose to get home from such venues in Brooklyn and Staten island? Did he really expect the older folks, who would take Tosca or Carmen at any time of the day to schlepp to the ends of the earth? Mr. Mortier, as a foreigner, perhaps does not know that for Manhattanites, Brooklyn and Staten Island might sound as far away as Mars. So, who would go? Music students? Nope.. They hear such music at their school, and everyone can hear it for free at Julliards public concerts..

It is so sad that Einstein on the Beach is not happening. Maybe Met will pick it up as a bargain now... And these renovations... For what???? NYCO's obsession with acoustics is simply insane.. It has been going on for 12 years as I remember-- no one is happy with the sound at the New York State theater. While Mr. Mortier tried to fix it by eliminating the first two rows in the orchestra, he practically obliterated the audience! NYCO audience ran away from the empty house and went on to bond with the MET! Like myself, for instance. Instead of buying 10 seasonal tickets at NYCO, I bought the seasonal tickets at the MET, and continue to buy additional tickets as well. And as soon as Mr. Gelb replaces the old relic productions (Tristan and Isolde) with the newer ones, a la the cirque du soleil (such as Damnation of Faust turned out to be), the MET will be the hottest venue in the world, by which I mean it will attract much wider audiences, as it becomes very user friendly.. As per Tristan and Isolde, as history shows, the slow and poor economic times result in the most opulent, decadent productions! More power to it. Minimalism on stage (cold and bare, gray and static tristan) is not in vogue now. So what I liked in 1999-- seems so boring and outdated in 2008!!! Anyways, as soon as the old productions will be "renovated" MET will rule. NYCO has to rely on something else. Maybe just indeed mount new operas? But if MET is going to that, maybe NYCO should stick to the war horses like traviata and aida??

PLEASE, save NYCO.. let's not allow this opera company go to the dogs...


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