New York City Opera names new chief

Thu Jan 15, 2009 12:48am EST
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NEW YORK (Reuters) - New York City Opera named theater director and conductor George Steel as its new general manager and artistic director on Wednesday, hoping he can carve a future for the United States' second most important opera house.

Steel takes the place of Belgian opera director Gerard Mortier, whose appointment was announced in February 2007 but who backed out of taking over the company for the 2009-2010 season last November amid discussions over the size of his budget.

Steel, who takes up his new role on February 1, was executive director of the Miller Theater at New York's Columbia University for 11 years until 2008, then general director of The Dallas Opera.

Steel, 42, an active conductor and performer, said in a statement it was a great honor and responsibility to help build the future of New York City Opera, which was founded in 1943 as the "people's opera" and accessible for young U.S. singers.

"My goal is to help the People's Opera renew its indispensable mission as an important producer of early opera, a proponent of American singers and new works, a force for rediscovering vital but lesser-known works, and an originator of visionary productions of classic repertoire," he said.

Susan Baker, chairman of the City Opera Board, described Steel as "both a brilliant artistic producer and a highly effective institution-builder."

His appointment comes at a time when many opera houses and U.S. orchestras are finding it hard to raise funding and some are suffering from sluggish ticket sales, prompting cuts, cancellations and closures.

"We are confident that his strong, visionary leadership will take City Opera to a new level of artistic achievement and popular success," Baker said in a statement.

New York City Opera and New York City Ballet have undertaken a $200 million capital campaign to boost audience amenities and update facilities at their shared home, the New York State Theater, at the Lincoln Center.

During the renovations, City Opera is performing in more than 14 different venues across New York.

(Writing by Belinda Goldsmith, Editing by Miral Fahmy)