Unions Ask N.Y. Attorney General to Stop Lincoln Center Getaway

Unions representing New York City Opera singers and musicians petitioned New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman yesterday to block the company’s plan to leave Lincoln Center.

The move, the unions asserted, would violate agreements approved by the state allowing City Opera management to borrow $24 million from its endowment to cover operating costs at Lincoln Center.

“NYCO’s move from Lincoln Center has breached its fiduciary duty,” said the letter from the American Guild of Musical Artists and Associated Musicians of Greater New York.

The action came four days after the Paul Taylor Dance Company said it will step in to help fill the vacancy created by City Opera’s exit from the David H. Koch Theater at the Upper West Side complex.

The unions’ letter cited emergency agreements in late 2008 and early 2009 between the company and the attorney general’s office permitting the opera to borrow from its endowment to pay bills. The company is obligated to repay the $24 million, according to a court order.

In an April 2009 filing required to secure a loan from a fund set up by Lila Acheson and DeWitt Wallace, the founders of Reader’s Digest, the opera company said its assets included “a prominent location at the heart of the most important cultural campus in the world,” and the “imminent opening of a newly renovated theater.”

Can’t Pay Rent

City Opera will quit Lincoln Center because it no longer can cover costs there, Artistic Director George Steel said at a press conference last week. Steel said by performing at smaller venues around the city, with orchestras and choruses of various sizes, it can survive without further raiding its endowment.

The off-campus plans have provoked protests by artists who have performed at the opera and would void the most recent contracts with the singers and musicians.

The Wallace fund, the source of the $24 million, was set up in 1982 to benefit Lincoln Center’s constituent companies. The unions said that leaving Lincoln Center “flouted” the fundamental purpose of the fund.

In May, AGMA, which represents singers, stage directors and stage managers, had appealed to the National Labor Relations Board to block City Opera’s exit. AGMA Executive Director Alan Gordon said he didn’t know whether the request of the attorney general will prove effective.

“I have no idea whether they’ll do anything, but you gotta try,” he said.

A spokeswoman for Schneiderman confirmed that the office had received the letter and declined to comment. Schneiderman’s father, Irwin Schneiderman, is a former City Opera chairman.

Maggie McKeon, a City Opera spokeswoman, called the letter “another distraction from the real issue. We take strong exception to the suggestion that we have misled anyone. That accusation is ridiculous.”

On July 14, Paul Taylor Dance Co. said that it will present its 2011-2012 season at the Koch Theater, from March 13 to April 1, 2012.

To contact the writer on this story: Philip Boroff in New York at pboroff@bloomberg.net.

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Mark Beech at mbeech@bloomberg.net.

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