New York City Opera Board Backs Steel’s $7 Million Appeal

The New York City Opera board said it continues to back General Manager George Steel after he announced that the company needs to raise $7 million this month or the first opera of the season would be the last.

Members of the orchestra called on Steel, who took over in February 2009 and is also artistic director, to resign. The opera “finds itself on the brink of total fiscal failure,” said Gail Kruvand, chairwoman of the orchestra’s negotiating committee, in an e-mail yesterday.

Two years ago, Steel oversaw the “dismembering” of the onetime neighbor of the Metropolitan Opera, in the words of protesters such as director Hal Prince. Steel slashed productions and abandoned the company's Lincoln Center home among its cost-cutting measures.

“The precipitous move from Lincoln Center in 2011 alienated patrons and audience members alike,” Kruvand said.

Chuck Wall, chairman of the board and a former vice chairman of Philip Morris International, the world’s largest publicly traded tobacco company, said Steel has done a “heroic job.”

“George has, and always has had, the complete support of the board,” Wall said in a statement yesterday forwarded by Risa Heller, an opera spokeswoman.

The $7 million that New York City Opera needs this month is nearly seven times the ticket sales of 2011-12.

Founded in 1943, it has taken to the online fund raiser Kickstarter to raise $1 million of the $7 million. As of 6:50 p.m. eastern time Sunday, it raised $8,318 from 102 backers.

“We have reached a crossroads: Simply put, we need capitalization, both for the rest of this season and for the company to continue forward on solid financial footing,” Steel said in a statement.

The opera needs an additional $13 million by year-end to pay for future seasons, it said.

“Anna Nicole” is to begin Sept. 17 at the Brooklyn Academy of Music. The show about the surgically enhanced heiress Anna Nicole Smith had a well-reviewed premiere at London’s Royal Opera House. The remainder of the season is scheduled for El Museo del Barrio in upper Manhattan, St. Ann’s Warehouse in Brooklyn and New York City Center.

In 2011-12, the company received $9.7 million in grants and contributions, half of the amount of five years earlier, according to audited financial statements. Ticket sales in 2011-12 were $1.1 million, down two-thirds from the previous season.

It received permission in late 2008 and early 2009 from the New York attorney general to borrow $24 million from its endowment. Its investment income in 2011-12 was $150,000, down from $4 million in 2006-7.

Muse highlights include Elin McCoy on wine, Warwick Thompson on U.K. theater and Scott Reyburn on auctions.

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