Cue the fat lady? New York City Opera fundraiser falls short

Sarah Joy Miller as Anna Nicole in what could be the last staging by "the people's opera," New York City Opera. Credit: Stephanie Berger
Sarah Joy Miller as Anna Nicole in what could be the last staging by “the people’s opera,” the New York City Opera.
Credit: Stephanie Berger

With just under three hours left to go, the New York City Opera’s desperate bid to raise funds through a Kickstarter campaign seems like a nonstarter. As of 9:30 p.m., they’d only raised $296,361 of the $1 million that would be necessary to ensure that the company could finish out its 2013-2014 season.

Even if this tactic had been successful, it wouldn’t have been the end of the fight — by a long shot. An estimated $13 million in additional funds would reportedly be needed to secure the future of upcoming seasons.

Seventy years ago, Mayor Fiorello La Guardia called New York City Opera “the people’s opera.” But it’s not La Guardia’s era anymore. The people of today have spoken, and they aren’t reaching into their wallets to contribute to the opera company’s resuscitation. (This, in a world where contributors raised the $2 million needed for a “Veronica Mars” movie in 10 hours.) It’s a shame, considering how wholeheartedly the company embraced La Guardia’s epithet as a slogan and lived up to the legacy by offering affordable tickets as well as staging that appealed to a broad, common audience.

Most recently, that included “Anna Nicole” — yes, an opera about American pop culture phenomenon Anna Nicole Smith, who skyrocketed to semi-fame after appearing in Playboy, marrying a billionaire, getting her own reality TV show, losing her son to drugs and ultimately herself dying of a overdose at age 40. Clearly, this celebrity’s life has all of the makings of a scintillating theatrical saga. And it’s no wonder that the New York City Opera would choose this show to hopefully draw mass attention to a city staple in crisis during its timely Sept. 17-28 run.

As an opera, however, the presentation of Smith’s sad story only worked as large farce (unsurprising, considering that the libretto was by Robert Thomas, the man who brought the world “Jerry Springer: The Opera” in 2004). Although Sarah Joy Miller was an exquisite lead, both for her vocal talents and the nuances necessary to convey Smith’s famously big personality and lesser-known vulnerability, the story itself was begging for a vehicle with less class and more camp. The juxtaposition of high art and lowlife was amusing (a high soprano trilling prettily: “I’m gonna rape the goddamn American dream!”) but it’s a one-note, three-hour joke. The costumes, sets, large cast and other choices clearly flaunted a large budget. The same money thrown into a Broadway-style production of the same material perhaps would have been epic.

Alas, as it stands, the commendable bid for New Yorkers’ love does not seem like it was enough to save New York City Opera’s season. Albeit in a padded body suit, it appears that the fat lady — Sarah Joy Miller as Anna Nicole Smith in this case — has indeed sung.

Is this the end of accessible opera in one of the biggest art hubs in the world? Maybe New York City Opera will live on at least one show longer, if it manages to raise enough for the jeopardized production of Bach’s “Endimione,” which tenuously remains scheduled on NYCOpera.com for February 2014.


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