Bankrupt NY City Opera May Be Revived on Purchase Campus

Three weeks into the bankruptcy of New York City Opera, there’s discussion in opera circles about how to reconstitute it under a different management to provide the country’s most populous city with an alternative to the Metropolitan Opera.

“Many people are talking about the need for a second company, with a similar role New York City Opera had,” Gail Kruvand, chairwoman of City Opera’s orchestra committee, said in an interview on Saturday. “We continue to hope that will arise.”

In one scenario, the new company would rehearse and perform about 30 miles north of New York City at Purchase College, State University of New York, founded by Governor Nelson Rockefeller.

The campus has an active music program and hosts a new two-week summer residency for the National Youth Orchestra of the U.S., established by Carnegie Hall. Peter Sellars directed innovative Mozart operas there in the 1980s that attracted New York crowds to such as stagings as “Marriage of Figaro” set in a luxurious duplex.

“Effectively they’d have a home away from home,” Thomas Schwarz, the president of the college, said in an interview. “I’m certainly open to having that conversation. I just don’t know with whom.”

Otherwise Kaput

Absent a miracle or merger, the current iteration of City Opera, founded in 1943, is kaput. George Steel, the artistic director and general manager, and managing director Andrea Nellis remain employed to assist in its winding down, according to a declaration by Steel filed on Oct. 3 in U.S. Bankruptcy Court in Manhattan.

The company is expected to pay the two managers about $30,000 for 30 days, according to an Oct. 3 filing. Risa Heller, a City Opera spokesman, said the two are sharing the sum.

City Opera filed for bankruptcy after an emergency fundraising campaign to raise $7 million in September fell short. In all, it raised $1.5 million, Kenneth Rosen, a lawyer for City Opera, said at an Oct. 10 hearing.

Assets were $6.7 million and debt $3.6 million, court papers last week said. But some funds “are subject to donor restrictions,” said a filing. They have strings attached.

To cut costs, Steel in 2011 decided to remove the opera from Lincoln Center. The opera shared what is now the David H. Koch Theater and occupied subterranean offices.

The new offices in lower Manhattan, where some 30 staff members gathered toward the end, cost $37,887.88 a month. It is officially vacant this Thursday.

Refund Question

City Opera sought permission to immediately refund about $300,000 in tickets for canceled performances and pay as much as $12,475 in severance to each of the employees it fired just before bankruptcy.

Nicole Stefanelli, another lawyer representing the opera, said maintaining its reputation is a priority.

“Honoring customer obligations is something that the opera has always done in the past,” she said at the Oct. 10 hearing.

This is not a view shared by unions once associated with City Opera that are now creditors. The idea of “any reputational harm” that failing to speed refunds “could have on future business operations is simply too remote or speculative,” they said in a joint objection.

In 2011, the last year for which compensation was disclosed, Steel earned $340,000 in pay and benefits and Nellis made $69,000. She arrived that September, according to court papers. The next bankruptcy hearing is scheduled for tomorrow.

The case is New York City Opera Inc., 13-bk-13240, U.S Bankruptcy Court for the Southern District of New York (Manhattan).

Muse highlights include Jeremy Gerard on theater, Greg Evans on TV.

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