George Steel (musician)

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George Steel was the General Manager and Artistic Director of the New York City Opera, which has most recently declared bankruptcy.[1] At New York City Opera, he was instrumental in bringing new productions of Don Giovanni, Leonard Bernstein's A Quiet Place, (in its New York premiere), and an evening of monodramas (including works by John Zorn and Morton Feldman in their New York stage premieres) directed by Michael Counts. In addition, Steel's tenure has seen revivals of Chabrier's L'Etoile, Weisgall's Esther, and Madama Butterfly, among others. Steel was at the center of the controversy concerning the departure of the New York City Opera from Lincoln Center.


Steel was executive director of Miller Theatre, the performing-arts venue of Columbia University from 1997 through 2008. In the 2004-2005 season, Steel received the ASCAP-Chamber Music America (CMA) Award for Adventurous Programming of Contemporary Music. He was awarded the 2003 Trailblazer Award from the American Music Center,[2] the 2003 ASCAP Concert Music Award,[3] and the 2001-2002 ASCAP-CMA Award for Adventurous Programming. New York Magazine named George Steel one of the most influential people in New York in its 2006 “Influentials” issue,[4] and recognized his programming in its 2005 “Cultural Elite” issue, listing Miller Theatre as having the “Best Music Programming before 1800 or after 1990” and the “Best Night at the Ballet.”[5]

Steel was appointed General Manager of the Dallas Opera,[6] a post which he held for only three months before leaving for the New York City Opera in 2009, replacing Gerard Mortier who had himself recently and suddenly resigned.[7]

Steel is also the founder of groups dedicated to Renaissance vocal polyphony (Vox Vocal Ensemble), Baroque period-instrument performance (Gotham City Baroque Orchestra), and works of the 19th, 20th, and 21st centuries (Gotham City Orchestra and Sinfonietta).

Controversy at the New York City Opera[edit]

As General Manager and Artistic Director of the New York City Opera, Steel was criticized for his plan to move the NYCO out of its long-time home at Lincoln Center, and to significantly reduce the size and scope of the opera company in nearly every capacity. An open letter by Catherine Malfitano critical of his decision was signed by over 120 music professionals, including such opera luminaries as Plácido Domingo, José Carreras, Frederica von Stade, Sherrill Milnes, Samuel Ramey, and Joyce DiDonato.[8] Steel was under pressure to resign from his post by singers and musicians of the NYCO,[9] and was accused by union leaders of being entirely uninterested in negotiating.[10] Steel claimed that the cuts were necessary to reduce costs.[11]