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In a letter to contributors, Gordon said a strike against all performances was likely, and he urged the public not to buy tickets.

“You need to be aware that every dollar that you contribute to City Opera is being wasted,” Gordon wrote. He said “it would be a travesty to allow the itinerant, small scale opera company” to perform “in bizarre venues with volunteer and student singers.”

Chuck Wall, who became the company’s chairman last December, said “the board is 100 percent committed to continuing the work of City Opera and we look forward to continuing to work with our contributors.”

Founded as “the people’s opera” by Mayor Fiorello LaGuardia in 1944, City Opera spent decades across Lincoln Center Plaza overshadowed by the Metropolitan Opera. Still, it helped build the careers of Beverly Sills, Placido Domingo and Renee Fleming, and it typically presented 12-16 operas with a peak of about 130 performances in a season.

The company announced in February 2007 that Gerard Mortier would become general manager for the 2009-10 season, but he backed out in November 2008 after complaining he wasn’t given a sufficient budget. The company missed the 2008-9 season at Lincoln Center because of the reconstruction of its theater, then presented an abbreviated schedule of five operas and 33 performances last season.

Since the spring, City Opera has eliminated 42 percent of its administrative staff.

“We hope the unions can put aside rancor and political theater and find a way to move forward,” Steel said. “We did everything we could to attempt to meet the needs of the unions but we simply do not have the money to pay for the guaranteed salaries or the full year of health insurance for everyone.”

City Opera’s schedule includes performances at the Brooklyn Academy of Music (Verdi’s “La Traviata” from Feb. 12-18 and Rufus Wainwright’s “Prima Donna” from Feb. 19-25), John Jay College of Criminal Justice (Mozart’s “Cosi fan tutte” from March 18-24) and El Museo del Barrio (Telemann’s “Orpheus” from May 12-20).

Gordon said the imposed work rules do not contain severance pay, unlike management’s proposal prior to implementation. City Opera maintained it was making a dual-track proposal and that after Nov. 30 management would basically revert to its Oct. 14 offer, which did not include severance.