17 Oct 2005

Alex Ross on City Opera’s fall season

New York City Opera opened in February, 1944, at the height of the battles of Anzio and Truk. If skeptics thought it frivolous to start an opera company in the middle of a world war, Fiorello LaGuardia straightened them out: the music-loving Mayor believed that opera was essential to city life, and he wanted lower- and middle-class New Yorkers to have it at affordable prices, without pretension.

The company was then part of City Center, on West Fifty-fifth Street, which now concentrates on dance and musical theatre. The composer-critic Deems Taylor called the City Center Opera “democracy in action, a democracy realizing the work of the individual.” Tickets started at eighty-five cents—nine and a half dollars, in today’s currency—and topped out at $2.20. These days, you have to pay quite a bit more to get through the doors of what LaGuardia dubbed “the people’s opera company.” Tickets go up to a hundred and twenty dollars, which is more than most orchestra seats for “Spamalot.”

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