(Feingold’s article appeared on Theatermania, 10/25.)
Though many people trace the beginnings of New York City Opera's downfall to its 1966 move from New York City Center to a new home at Lincoln Center (in what was then called the New York State Theater), the events that led to NYCO's filing for bankruptcy last month actually occurred far more recently. As a surprising recent article by James B. Stewart revealed in The New York Times, the cold fiscal facts had little to do with either the company's artistic profile or the "business model" on which it was run, although both could be said to have helped grease the company's steep downslide. Ultimately, the cause was sheer, and shocking, monetary mismanagement, under former board chairman Susan L. Baker's aegis: Beginning in 2008, the company's substantial endowment ($51
million as recently as 2001) was simply thrown overboard in a series of panicky gestures that actively shriveled both NYCO's producing presence and its financial stability.
Raids on a nonprofit institution's endowment, as Stewart points out, can only be made after clearing
a series of legal hurdles. The mayor's office, the city's Department of Cultural Affairs, and an assistant to the state's Attorney General all signed off on the deal — though the last of those, at least, saw fit to attach to her approval a list of stringent restrictions (apparently not all heeded by the
board). Under this less than vigilant custodianship, City Opera rolled rapidly downhill to its inglorious mid-season termination.