Guest Commentary

Volume 112, No. 2February, 2012

William Bolcom

‘In order to save NYCO, a new general manager and a new board need to be found’

The situation at the New York City Opera reminds me of the Detroit Symphony manager who didn’t take a reduction during the worst of their troubles (from her $300K salary). George Steel came from the modern-music world (Miller Theatre at Columbia) after a short haul at Dallas to take this job, and it’s certain he didn’t make any $324,000 up there, successful as that series was under his direction.

He seemed a decent guy when I met him, but I wondered then whether he was the right choice anyway. A Miller Theatre concert is a neighborhood affair; most of the players can walk home to their Upper West Side apartments after concerts. An operatic singer has often come some distance to work for about a month – sometimes longer – at an opera company, and that company needs to provide a temporary home.

Working on the production of the three operas I wrote for Lyric of Chicago gave me an insight to what singing artists need; like actors in a theatre, so often singers will hang up pictures or bring special pillows into their dressing rooms to make them feel at home. No hotel room will give that sense of groundedness; this is a need totally out of the experience of a locally based new-music producer of concerts. Even though NYCO drew on New Yorkers certainly more than LOC draws on Chicagoans, many artists here also came from elsewhere for productions. Taking the NYCO out of its house was to me the death of the company, because it leaves performers homeless.

Is there anyone at 802 who has any connection with City Center? Now that Paul Taylor, I’m told, is hoping to leave there to go to the David Koch Theatre (sharing with New York City Ballet), NYCO could conceivably go back to its former home, where I always felt it was more comfortable; the NY State Theatre was designed to minimize ballet-slipper squeaks, and singers there always sounded to me as if singing from across Columbus Avenue. I’m reminded by powerful donors I know here that there is no shortage of money if there is a focused need, and moving City Opera back to 55th Street seems to me a reasonable objective. In order to save NYCO, a new general manager and a new board need to be found. Otherwise this city will have only one major opera house, wonderful as it is.

The writer, a world-famous composer, is the winner of the 1988 Pulitzer Prize, the 2006 National Arts Award and the 2006 Musical America Composer of the Year.