By MICHAEL COOPER
After the curtain fell Saturday night on New York City Opera’s production of “Anna Nicole” at the Brooklyn Academy of Music, a few chorus members wiped their eyes as they took their bows: it would most likely be the final performance in the storied company’s 70-year history.
Absent the kind of deus ex machina that has saved the day in so many of the convoluted opera plots the troupe has performed over the years, City Opera will start shutting itself down next week if it fails to raise $7 million.
City Opera’s board voted on Thursday to begin filing for bankruptcy and start dismantling itself if that goal was not met by Monday. Going into the weekend the company had raised less than a quarter of what it said it needed to stay in business.
So Saturday night’s final performance of Mark-Anthony Turnage’s “Anna Nicole,” — an opera it produced with the Brooklyn Academy of Music about Anna Nicole Smith, the tabloid television star — was also expected to be the company’s swan song.
The night was very much like the death scene of an American opera company that was known for championing new works, helping start the careers of major singers including Beverly Sills and Plácido Domingo, and making opera affordable and accessible.
City Opera has been struggling for years, facing mounting deficits that have forced it to raid its endowment and, in 2011, to leave its Lincoln Center home to become an itinerant troupe. It also drastically cut back on the number of operas it gave each season — from 115 performances a year a decade ago, to 16 last year. This summer its cash crisis became acute.
When it was founded 70 years ago, City Opera was called “the people’s opera” by Mayor Fiorello H. La Guardia. At its first performance — of Puccini’s “Tosca,” in 1944 — ticket prices ranged from 85 cents to $2.25.
There were no curtain speeches or fund-raising appeals from the stage at Saturday night’s performance, which drew a young, enthusiastic crowd. Some company members printed handouts urging people to contribute $1 toward the company’s Kickstarter campaign to help raise the money it needed. “Tell Everyone,” the small handouts urged.
As audience members headed for the exits on Saturday night, the demise of the company seemed to be on the lips of as many people as the demise of the operatic heroine they had just witnessed.