Bloomberg News has released a story online that says George Steel, the newly hired general director of the Dallas Opera, is in talks with New York City Opera for a possible position there as general manager. It would be something of a “Hail Mary” pass for the NYCO because the seriously troubled company currently has no home — its venue at Lincoln Center is undergoing $100 million in renovations — and last month, it lost Gerard Mortier, the Paris Opera impresario who was hired only last year to save it.
According to the Bloomberg report, Steel confirmed the negotations with NYCO through his spokeswoman, Aleba Gartner. But Gartner added that “nothing’s changed and no offer has been made.”
In a phone call with Art&Seek, Gartner repeatedly emphasized that no “formal talks” between Steel and NYCO representatives have ever been held.
“He’s very happy with Dallas,” Gartner said. “He’s not interested in New York City Opera, you can say that.”
Gartner insisted that even saying Steel has been “having talks with NYCO officials” would be a distortion of what has happened.
“I don’t think you should even say he’s been talking to them. He knows a few board members. You know, he’s been in New York all these years at Miller Theater. And he’s in town right now because he’s conducting at the Guggenheim. So he’s having conversations with people. But there’s nothing formal at all going on between George Steel and the New York City Opera.”
In Dallas, Jennifer Schuder, marketing director for the Dallas Opera, said that she has “no knowledge” of such talks. In an e-mail message, Suzanne Calvin, assistant director of marketing with the Dallas Opera, said that she had received “a call from George this morning who sounded quite certain he was returning to Dallas — and not to pack.”
In its current straits, NYCO could use someone like Steel, whom the Dallas Opera hired away from Columbia University’s Miller Theater in a surprise move only four months ago. Rumors have been circulating in the opera world the past week that the New Yorkers were trying to poach Steel and bring him back there.
NYCO has a considerably larger budget than the Dallas Opera (around four times the size of the DO’s $11.5 milllon) and it has a notably higher profile in opera circles. But it is also has a skeleton staff, has cut back its season offerings, is operating with a deficit, is facing intractable union negotiations and even possible bankruptcy.
The appeal for Steel, presumably, would be getting to be a last-minute savior. Seeing how desperate the New York City Opera is, he could also get terms that would suit his own more adventuresome tastes.
If he were to go, it would be the second time Steel has stunned the opera world since August. When the Dallas Opera hired him away from New York, Steel had never run an opera company, but he’d sparked tremendous interest with his inventive programming at Miller Theater as well as his success as a fundraiser. And while the Dallas Opera is a lesser-known, more conventional, regional company, it is about to step into the new Winspear Opera House in October. And Steel was ostensibly hired because of his fresh approaches to programming.
“George has only ever expressed happiness with Dallas,” Gartner said. “I was out there recently and saw how happy he was. It’s a great team, it’s an incredibly solid organization … Dallas is a totally together organization. New York City Opera is the one with challenges.”
[Update 12/23: Bloomberg News nas released an online story reiterating Steel’s rejection of any NYCO offer.]