What Will You Miss Most About City Opera?

It was a sad day indeed when New York City Opera filed for bankruptcy on October 3. We asked some members of the Juilliard community what they would miss most about the 70-year-old “people’s opera.” Want to read more or add your own thoughts? Add them at the bottom of the page or e-mail us at journal@juilliard.edu.

David H. Koch Theater

This building, the David H. Koch Theater (formerly the New York State Theater), was City Opera’s home at Lincoln Center for 46 years.


Richard Beeson (B.M. ’64, double bass) was a member of the New York City Opera Orchestra (1966-87) and the orchestra’s manager (1987-2000).
My first night, in February 1966, was the night N.Y.C.O. opened at its new home in the New York State Theater, and Plácido Domingo made his Lincoln Center debut in the title role in Ginastera’s Don Rodrigo. I had so many great memories of both performing and being backstage during those 34 years, but I guess what I’ll miss most is the sense of adventure the company had during most of that time.

Vocal Arts faculty member Steven Blier was a casting consultant under its final general manager, George Steel.
I shall miss two things most of all: 1. The operas. I first attended City Opera in 1963, when I heard Marlena Malas sing Tessa in The Gondoliers from Row H of City Center—an indelible impression, followed by so many others. City Opera did so much good, interesting, adventurous, generous work. It had both glamor and a feeling of community. 2. My job. I loved being part of that original team and being useful to the company and the singing community. I’m in mourning. 

Baritone Marcus DeLoach (B.M. ’96, M.M. ’98, voice) was a principal artist from 2000 to 2006.
Most of what City Opera achieved was won honestly by hard work and determination. The productions may have been rough around the edges at times, but until recently the company inhabited the real world. I will miss that realness.

Tenor William Ferguson (B.M. ’99, M.M. ’01, voice)  performed regularly with N.Y.C.O. in the 2000s and was to be in its Figaro this spring. 
I’ve never encountered a stronger sense of community and teamwork in an opera company than I did at City Opera. The people there cared about opera, the institution, and each other, and all were truly invested in the work we were doing and wanted it to be as good as possible. There was a spirit of everyone pitching in and giving a little extra in ways that weren’t expected that always brought a production together and made it special. To me, that’s what made City Opera so distinctive and remarkable.

Ara Guzelimian is Juilliard’s provost and dean.
So many of my early experiences of opera were with City Opera in its glorious Sills-Treigle-Rudel days. I will deeply miss its adventurous spirit as well as the forum it provided for generations of wonderful young American singers.

Soprano Yunah Lee (M.M. ’95, voice/opera) sang with the company from 1995 to 2010.
I very much miss working with City Opera at the New York State Theater, as it was known back then, right next to all the world’s most prestigious theaters and concert halls. For a little foreign student, it was a huge dream-come-true experience!

Teresa McKinney, Juilliard’s director of educational outreach, was City Opera’s director of education until 2011.
One sad part that not many people know about is that there are over 3,000 kids in school programs this year who won’t have the opportunity to be introduced to opera because of City Opera’s closing. That’s part of the collateral damage.

Roger Ohlsen (’84, voice/opera), a tenor in the company’s chorus for about 30 years, recalled a moment during the last night of the company’s final production at Lincoln Center, in 2011. 
I always found it comforting to be in the dark backstage. The stagehands were everywhere. The music was happening onstage. Everything was predetermined. Everything was perfect. And then one of the other tenors turned to me and said, ‘This is it. We will never be on this stage again.’”

Voice faculty member Sanford Sylvan is a baritone who performed with N.Y.C.O.
I can say one thing beyond the pain: I want to celebrate the extraordinary creative energy of Robin Thompson and Paul Kellogg, who allowed a group of colleagues to work in productions that were deeply satisfying to be a part of.

Vocal Arts faculty member Stephen Wadsworth wrote and directed for City Opera for many years.
I will miss that celebration of and springboard for American talent. I will miss that wartime vision of an opera for the people, which ripped the veil between the audience and the art and created a platform for Julius Rudel’s vivid exploration of the repertoire, which showed New York that opera was an ocean, not a pond; for [former Juilliard faculty member] Frank Corsaro’s productions of standard rep operas, which rewrote the rules for opera in the context of the American theater and of the 20th century; and for the insistence that the operatic repertoire must reflect life in America.

Vocal Arts faculty member Gary Thor Wedow frequently conducted the company’s productions. 
I will miss so many things—the great singers and orchestra, the adventurous repertoire, the unusual productions—but most of all, I will miss the incredible family of artists, devoted artisans and loving patrons who made it all happen: on stage, in the front of house, in the pit, and in the crazy beehive of activity back stage. It was a family that was particularly welcoming and generously supportive to young talented artists—often recent Juilliard graduates who were beginning their careers.  

Brian Zeger (M.M. ’81, piano) is the artistic director of Juilliard’s Marcus Institute for Vocal Arts.
As I was growing up, a couple of hours from New York City and hungry for the thrill that only live opera provides, New York City Opera was a crucial part of my diet, and it was meaty fare: Beverly Sills in Roberto Devereux, my first live Turn of the Screw and Frank Corsaro’s innovative productions made it feel like anything could happen. And watching newly minted Juilliard grads find their sea legs in roles large and small—that I’ll miss the most.

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