miércoles, 4 de enero de 2017



The director Harold Prince unveils a model of the set at a rehearsal of New York City Opera’s revival of Leonard Bernstein’s “Candide.” Credit Ian Douglas for The New York Times

A few weeks ago, a little more than three years after New York City Opera declared bankruptcy and was left for dead, its unlikely reincarnation was proceeding in a rehearsal studio near Herald Square.

Eyeglasses pushed up on his forehead, the theater legend Harold Prince was back in his director’s chair and, at 88, leading the recently resurrected opera company in its first rehearsal for his new production of Leonard Bernstein’s “Candide,” a work he had made a hit for the old City Opera three decades ago.
 “I’m so excited that we’re actually working at City Opera again, which is where we should be,” Mr. Prince, whose Broadway hits include “Cabaret,” “Sweeney Todd,” “Evita” and “The Phantom of the Opera,” told the assembled cast.

Joseph McKee in City Opera’s 1986 production of “Candide.” Credit Sara Krulwich/The New York Times

Just getting to this point was a coup for the fledgling company, which still has only six full-time employees — fewer than the City Opera Thrift Shop on East 23rd Street. It was less than a year ago that it emerged from bankruptcy under new management after a bitter court fight and began staging operas again. Now it must woo back audiences and skeptical donors, and navigate a cultural landscape that has changed dramatically since the heyday of the old company.
 Bernstein’s effervescent setting of Voltaire was not a success when it had its premiere in 1956. It was Mr. Prince who helped re-establish the reputation of “Candide” by reworking it and mounting a string of successful productions in the 1970s, in Brooklyn and on Broadway, and then, in 1982, at City Opera. Now the new version of the company is looking to him to help re-establish its own reputation as it works to recover from bankruptcy, and to dispel the lingering bad taste left by the extraordinary financial mismanagement that led up to it.

The “Candide” gamble seems to be paying off, at the box office at least: The company extended the run, which opens Jan. 6 at the Rose Theater at Jazz at Lincoln Center, to 10 performances from the originally planned six after it got on track to sell 80 percent of its tickets.
 Michael Capasso, the impresario who put together the plan to reorganize City Opera and bring it out of bankruptcy — beating out several more-established suitors despite the doubts of some in the opera world — said that he marveled that things had come so far. “When you think of where we were a year ago, I pinch myself when I get up in the morning,” said Mr. Capasso, now the company’s general director. “I’m going to rehearsals for this ‘Candide,’ and Hal Prince is in the room, and we’re operating. A year ago, we were this close to the whole thing blowing up.”

Beverly Sills, second from right, backstage at City Opera in 1986. Credit Sara Krulwich/The New York Times

Watching Mr. Prince run rehearsal was like a mini master class in direction. He used flattery: “I probably shouldn’t be saying this, but this is certainly as good a company as we’ve ever had.” He used humor, telling the cast (five and a half weeks before opening night): “I will do my damnedest to learn all your names — just give me about six weeks.”
 And he grew serious.
 “Within the confines of the material, you’ll find that you’re playing real people, as outsized as they may be,” he said, growing animated. “The bottom line, seriously, is you play those people. They’re grotesque, they’re flamboyant, but they’re real — they’re real within the structure. It’s funny, it’s a very thin line between playing people you believe in, and at the same time performing. But it’s very important: You don’t make fun of them.”

The company hopes that its new “Candide” — which stars Jay Armstrong Johnson in the title role; a newcomer, Meghan Picerno, as Cunégonde; and Linda Lavin as the Old Lady — will prove a turning point. A few weeks after emerging from bankruptcy last year, City Opera returned with an uneven production of Puccini’s “Tosca” that cheered longtime fans happy to see them back in business, but did not win over skeptics. Some of the company’s subsequent presentations were better received, and “Candide” will be its biggest production yet.
 In many respects, the opera company must be rebuilt from scratch: Most of what the old company did not sell off during its fiscal crisis was later auctioned off during bankruptcy.

“Candide” cast members, from left: Jessica Tyler Wright, Keith Phares, Linda Lavin, Gregg Edelman and Jay Armstrong Johnson. Credit Ian Douglas for The New York Times

“We’ve got to buy everything: stage managers’ boxes and wardrobe dollies and clothes racks,” Mr. Capasso said in an interview in his new office in Carnegie Hall Tower, where he said the company had gotten a great deal on a sublet. “We don’t own instruments anymore — everything was liquidated. We have to rent percussion, rent a harp. We had to buy a coffeepot.”

Perhaps more challenging, it must find its niche at a difficult moment for its art form. The Metropolitan Opera continues to dominate the city’s opera scene, attracting superstars and mounting opulent productions. It faces financial challenges and box-office struggles of its own but has worked to slough off its old reputation for stodginess, staging new works and rethinking old ones — territory once dominated by City Opera — alongside a flowering of smaller, scrappier companies. On the same night that “Candide” is set to open uptown, the New York premiere of Missy Mazzoli’s well-reviewed new opera “Breaking the Waves” will be presented downtown by the Prototype festival, which has established itself over the past few years as a cool, vital presenter of new work.

Mr. Capasso said that he had programmed City Opera’s first full season as a sort of template of where the company hopes to go. He included a popular favorite (the season opened with Leoncavallo’s beloved “Pagliacci,” paired with a little-done Rachmaninoff opera, “Aleko”); a past rarity (Respighi’s “La Campana Sommersa”); an opera in Spanish (“Los Elementos,” a Baroque work by Antonio de Literes); and a contemporary work (it will give the New York premiere of Peter Eotvos’s “Angels in America,” based on the Tony Kushner play, on June 10). “Candide” will be the first in its series of seminal American pieces with ties to City Opera’s history.

The finances of opera remain tough. One reason some doubted that Mr. Capasso would succeed in his plan to take City Opera out of bankruptcy was that his old company, Dicapo Opera Theater, closed owing money to its musicians and singers, and was sued by the musicians’ union over back pay. But Gail Kruvand, the chairwoman of City Opera’s orchestra committee, said that all payments to musicians have been made on time and that “in general, orchestra members are very happy to be working together again as a part of the company.”
Harold Prince, left, and City Opera’s general director, Michael Capasso, at a rehearsal. Credit Ian Douglas for The New York Times

Mr. Capasso said that City Opera expected the company’s budget to be slightly more than $7 million this year, down from the roughly $10.5 million that it had planned to spend in the season that was curtailed by bankruptcy. (The Met, by comparison, spends close to $300 million a year.) He added that while the company’s coffers were starting off relatively full, thanks to a multimillion-dollar bequest, it was working hard to raise money. The company’s board, whose chairman is Roy G. Niederhoffer, an investment manager who was a member of the old City Opera board, now has 10 members and is looking to expand. The company has raised $800,000 this year toward a $1 million matching gift from an anonymous donor, Mr. Capasso said, and this fall it hired its first development director.
 But all-important foundations are still watching and waiting. “They all say they’re happy we’re back,” Mr. Capasso said. “They’re happy to see what we’re doing, they like the programming, we seem to be going in the right direction — ‘and get through this year and then come and see us.’ Which is reasonable. I can’t expect people that were giving a half a million dollars a year to this company historically to just go back and do it all again without seeing some kind of a record.”
 Of course, there is no better testament to the dangers of naïve optimism than “Candide.” But the opera ends with “Make Our Garden Grow,” an uplifting paean to the virtues of creating a future through simple hard work.
 This finale is one area, Mr. Prince said, where he has something new in mind.
 “It’s Lenny’s glorious anthem, it’s really gorgeous, and you’re all in it,” he told the cast, as he explained his determination to connect with the audience in a new way. “It’s going to have a very different read from any time previously. And I think it’s a good time for it.”


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