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Sinking City Opera Company Rehires Manager, Snubs Artist Union

George Steel, general manager and artistic director of the New York City Opera. Source: New York City Opera via Bloomberg
George Steel, general manager and artistic director of the New York City Opera. Source: New York City Opera via Bloomberg

Dec. 2 (Bloomberg) -- The New York City Opera renewed the contract of its general manager and artistic director, George Steel, as the company continued on its uncertain path into a diminished future.

Steel, who oversaw the company’s departure from its Lincoln Center theater, earned $407,560 in pay and benefits in 2009, according to the opera’s tax return. His contract runs for three years, though it remains unclear what he will manage.

Steel's pay, excluding benefits, is $324,000, said Risa Heller, a spokeswoman. Steel was not available for comment, she said.

The company has no permanent home and only a vestigial staff.

Early yesterday, contract talks with unions representing singers and musicians ended in an impasse.

Singers urged patrons to snub the company that has snubbed them.

“You need to be aware that every dollar that you contribute to City Opera is being wasted,” Alan Gordon, national executive director of the American Guild of Musical Artists, wrote to patrons in a letter he shared with the press.

Big Deficits

City Opera proposed reducing annual pay for singers and musicians 90 percent to about $4,000, according to AGMA and Local 802 of the American Federation of Musicians.

For the season beginning in February, the opera plans to present four operas at three venues around the city, beginning with “La Traviata” at the Brooklyn Academy of Music.

In the 2006-07 season, the company presented 12 operas at its former home at Lincoln Center.

Without an agreement, performers will strike and City Opera will become “an itinerant, small-scale opera company, performing in bizarre venues with volunteer and student singers,” Gordon wrote in the letter.

City Opera said in a statement that the unions ignored “the opera’s financial situation and demanded huge guarantees for work that won’t be realized, wage increases and full-year health coverage for mere weeks of work.”

The company has had to dip into its endowment in recent years and has experienced chaos at the top. City Opera said it accumulated $44 million of deficits during the past decade.

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

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Manuela Hoelterhoff at mhoelterhoff@bloomberg.net.

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