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N.Y. City Opera Memo Poses Question on NEA Grant

July 20, 1990|JOHN HENKEN

Officials at New York City Opera, the nation's second largest company, are feeling the heat--if only in their own minds--of the new obscenity guidelines sent out last week by the National Endowment for the Arts. A widely reported internal memo asked, "Will the three naked virgins in 'Moses und Aron' jeopardize our NEA grant?"

The memo from Marc Dorfman of the NYCO development office ended, "I'm sorry but this is no joke."

According to NEA spokeswoman Virginia Falck, the company has not shared its concerns with the endowment yet. "We were required by the Government Accounting Office to have something written down as a guideline, so we sent out a letter to all grant recipients that says basically that the endowment's interpretation of obscenity will be that of the Supreme Court.

"It's just another thing that people have to react to, to remind them that we have this ridiculous obscenity language that we have to operate under."

Although NYCO officials have no comment on the memo, an official did say that no changes in the production were planned. The new production of Schoenberg's unfinished opera, directed by Hans Neugebauer, is scheduled to open Sept. 22 for a six-performance run.

The climax of the opera is "The Dance before the Golden Calf," which ends with an orgy while Moses is on Mt. Sinai. Schoenberg actually calls for a quartet of naked virgins (plus a naked youth), who offer themselves for sacrifice.

Joseph Papp, the New York Shakespeare Festival director who spurned a $50,000 NEA grant because of the obscenity language, was quick to respond. "It is the beginning of self-censorship," he told New York Newsday. "This has nothing to do with the state taking measures against an art gallery, like it did in Cincinnati. This is a case of a valuable creative organization that is forced to watch its own rear because of the Jesse Helms-inspired restrictions now on the books."

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