Michael M. Kaiser proclaims "the world of performing arts is sick" [op-ed, Dec. 29]. It needs, he asserts, leadership and concerted action. Fast.
But he cites no facts and almost no names in support of his rather sweeping assessment.
Are the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, the Manhattan Theatre Club, the Roundabout Theatre, Playwrights Horizon and the Second Stage Theatre to be counted as among the ill?
These Manhattan-based companies have, in recent years, raised more than $200 million to modernize and renovate or expand their performing spaces in response to artistic needs and audience demand.
Is the Philadelphia Orchestra or the Los Angeles Philharmonic suffering from a high fever?
If so, how could these organizations rally their communities to raise the $350 million required to build the new Kimmel Center for the Performing Arts in Philadelphia and the soon-to-open Disney Hall in Los Angeles? Money is attracted to merit. The same is true in Newark, where the success of the $180 million New Jersey Performing Arts Center has been widely acclaimed.
Kaiser bemoans an unwillingness to "develop and implement large-scale, important projects that are risky and energizing."
Tell that to Pamela Rosenberg, the new director of the San Francisco Opera, whose five-hour "Saint Francois d'Assise" is among the boldest and most expensive productions ever staged by one of this nation's oldest and most distinguished opera companies.
Does Kaiser think the Goodman Theatre, the Steppenwolf Theatre Company and at least a dozen other thriving, edgy, Off-Loop Chicago theaters are lacking in energy or risk-taking?
Ask Nigel Redden, director of the annual Lincoln Center Festival of the Arts, why bringing the Chinese opera "Peony Pavilion," or the Iranian religious drama "Ta'ziyeh," or the Japanese version of Stephen Sondheim's "Pacific Overtures" to New York City falls short of innovation or energy.
Surely, Joe Volpe, the general manager of the Metropolitan Opera, thought that last season's production of "War and Peace" might have caught Kaiser's favorable notice. The same could be said of Paul Kellogg, the artistic director of New York City Opera, and his "Dead Man Walking."
Kaiser cites the construction of Lincoln Center nearly 50 years ago as an example of a daring, large-scale important project. He needn't reach so far back. Lincoln Center is in the midst of planning for a comprehensive redevelopment of its facilities and public spaces. Despite the tough economic environment, Mayors Rudolph Giuliani and Michael Bloomberg have committed $240 million to this decade-long project that will require raising hundreds of millions of dollars in the private sector for a total cost of at least $1 billion. Any fair-minded observer would call this a major commitment to a healthy, thriving performing arts enterprise.
While it's good to have such an able arts administrator in our nation's capital, Kaiser badly misdiagnoses the state of the arts in America. He underplays its diversity, originality and managerial strength. The Houston Grand Opera, Houston's Alley Theater, the Santa Fe Opera, the New York Philharmonic and the audiences of hundreds of other orchestras, dance troupes, operas and chamber music ensembles would hardly call themselves sick, economically, artistically or spiritually. They are challenged, as are all nonprofit institutions, by difficult economic conditions. Under such circumstances, they are performing with distinction.
I'd urge Kaiser to leave the predictions of Cassandra and the wailings of Jeremiah backstage.
-- Reynold Levy
The writer is president of Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts.