New York City Opera was founded in 1943 to provide financially accessible opera performances to a wide audience—opera that would reflect the company's commitment to innovative repertory choices and the development of American opera.
With the populist mayor Fiorello LaGuardia among its founders, City Opera was dubbed "the people's opera company." Ticket prices have always reflected the company's initial commitment to making the finest opera available, regardless of the prospective audience member's economic status. To this day, targeted promotions, custom subscription packages, and always-reasonable individual ticket prices have made City Opera a viable option for the widest possible audience. In 1983, City Opera pioneered the use of supertitles in this country, opening up the art form to countless millions who might otherwise be averse to the idea of foreign language librettos.
In addition, City Opera seeks to engage a future audience for the art form by continuing to develop its education and outreach programs. Today, the company offers arts-in-education programs to 12,000 students in over 75 schools.
Contemporary Rep: From the outset, City Opera has been an innovator in its choice of contemporary repertory. Several major 20th century works, including The Love for Three Oranges, Ariadne auf Naxos, and Wozzeck, received their American and/or New York premieres at City Opera. Over half of the works that City Opera has presented since its founding were written in the 20th century, including works by Bela Bartok, Benjamin Britten, Aaron Copland, Philip Glass, Hans Werner Henze, and Kurt Weill.
Unusual Rep: City Opera has continually reintroduced unjustly neglected works to audiences hungry for nonstandard repertory alternatives. Some of these, like Boito's Mefistofele, Janacek's From the House of the Dead, and Delibes' Lakmé, have become City Opera signatures. The company was also the first in New York to rediscover and stage Verdi's Macbeth, Donizetti's Anna Bolena and Roberto Devereux, Handel's Julius Caesar, and Monteverdi's Orfeo in New York. Under Paul Kellogg's leadership, City Opera has focused much of its attention on long-neglected works by baroque composers like Gluck and Handel. In doing so, the company has played the role of catalyst, contributing to a veritable baroque renaissance.
New York City Opera has always been a sanctuary for American opera. The work of American composers has comprised approximately one third of the company's repertory over the years. Nurturing American operatic expression, shaping an American aesthetic, City Opera has adopted several homegrown works as signature pieces, including Carlisle Floyd's Susannah, Douglas Moore's The Ballad of Baby Doe, and Leonard Bernstein's Candide.
In recent seasons, City Opera has enjoyed successful productions of Tobias Picker's Emmeline, Carlisle Floyd's Of Mice and Men, Jack Beeson's Lizzie Borden, and Virgil Thomson's The Mother of Us All. In the fall 2000 season, the company presented Central Park, an evening of three one-act operas that was co-commissioned by City Opera and featured the work of three American composers: Richard Beaser, Michael Torke and Deborah Drattell.
Perhaps the most powerful representation of City Opera's commitment to the future of American opera is its annual Showcasing American Composers series. The springtime program showcases twelve new American works-in-progress over a two-week period. It is a rare opportunity for composers and librettists to hear their developing work performed by a full orchestra and a first-rate company of singers. Opera administrators from across the country have also made a point of attending the showcase, as it is a very practical means of scouting new work for future production. The public is invited to attend free of charge.
Finally, City Opera has always championed the American "voice." Having launched the careers of Samuel Ramey, Sherrill Milnes, Carol Vaness, and Beverly Sills, to name a few, City Opera remains home to some of the world's top American singers, including Lauren Flanigan, David Daniels, Amy Burton, and Mark Delavan.