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Breaking: Mortier Backs Out of City Opera

Tessa Farmer's Little Savages (detail) (Fairy attempting to ovi posit in roof of fox's mouth) (2007).

New York City Opera, which was supposed to catapult into the future with a radical new general manager, a philosophical overhaul, and a vaster budget, finds itself teetering on a cliff instead. Gerard Mortier, the controversy-loving impresario who was to have taken over next September, has backed out, leaving the company’s future in a haze and its planning in disarray. It was always clear that Mortier’s plans would be expensive; he insisted from the beginning on a $60 million annual budget, a number that seemed like a stretch but not an impossibility for a company accustomed to budgets in the $40 million range. When the financial crisis caused fund-raising efforts to stall, however, Mortier and the board reached a stalemate over how extensively his plans could be trimmed. In the end, the company has scrapped his inaugural season, which was to have begun with Stravinsky’s The Rake’s Progress and included a run of Messiaen’s huge Saint Francois d’Assise at the Seventh Regiment Armory and a revival of Philip Glass’s Einstein on the Beach. No substitute plans have yet been announced. The news could hardly come at a worse time for City Opera, which has temporarily vacated its home at the New York State Theater during renovations, has been presenting a truncated season of concerts, and has already had to lay off some staff.

Photo: Getty Images