Columbus: Heidi Waleson on the Death of the New York City Opera

Event date: 
10/10/2018 - 7:00pm

Join Book Culture on Columbus on Wednesday, October 10th, at 7pm in celebrating the release of Mad Scenes and Exit Arias: The Death of the New York City Opera and the Future of Opera in America. The author, Heidi Waleson, will be interviewed by Zachary Woolfe, classical music editor of The New York Times.

From the Wall Street Journal's opera critic, a wide-ranging narrative history of how and why the New York City Opera went bankrupt—and what it means for the future of the arts

In October 2013, the arts world was rocked by the news that the New York City Opera—“the people’s opera”—had finally succumbed to financial hardship after 70 years in operation. The company had been a fixture on the national opera scene—as the populist antithesis of the grand Metropolitan Opera, a nurturing home for young American talent, and a place where new, lively ideas shook up a venerable art form. But NYCO’s demise represented more than the loss of a cherished organization: it was a harbinger of massive upheaval in the performing arts—and a warning about how cultural institutions would need to change in order to survive.

Drawing on extensive research and reporting, Heidi Waleson, one of the foremost American opera critics, recounts the history of this scrappy company and reveals how, from the beginning, it precariously balanced an ambitious artistic program on fragile financial supports. Waleson also looks forward and considers some better-managed, more visionary opera companies that have taken City Opera’s lessons to heart.

Above all, Mad Scenes and Exit Arias is a story of money, ego, changes in institutional identity, competing forces of populism and elitism, and the ongoing debate about the role of the arts in society. It serves as a detailed case study not only for an American arts organization, but also for the sustainability and management of nonprofit organizations across the country.


Heidi Waleson has been the opera critic of the Wall Street Journal for 25 years. In addition to her regular criticism, her work has also focused more broadly on the changing profiles of musical institutions, new models for opera presentation, and the broader significance of opera and culture. She is a faculty member of the Rubin Institute for Music Criticism at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music. 

Zachary Woolfe is the classical music editor of The New York Times. He was previously the opera critic of the New York Observer, a writer and editor at Capital New York, and an assistant editor at Farrar, Straus and Giroux.

Event address: 
Book Culture on Columbus
450 Columbus Ave
New York, NY 10024
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Mad Scenes and Exit Arias: The Death of the New York City Opera and the Future of Opera in America Cover Image
ISBN: 9781627794978
Availability: On Our Shelves Now - Click Title to See Location Inventory.
Published: Metropolitan Books - October 2nd, 2018