Cher Public

Witch way out

The definitive evidence that the Met was far too wildly optimistic when scheduling Armida.

  • 15 performances of Armida is extremely optimistic scheduling and overestimates Fleming’s star power at the Met, especially when there were a dozen or so performances of this production last season as well.

    • Lucky Pierre

      and she sang it much better then… but not now.

    • vendorune

      15 is total -- last year’s 10 + this years 5. How can you say “a dozen or so” last year when you know well it was 15 total?

      She would have sold 12 last year easily, and if only 3 were left for this year exactly the same people would have shown up for 3 instead of 5 making the Met so much more efficient.

      • Sorry, I had my numbers wrong. Wow, there are only five scheduled performances and it is selling so poorly? I guess that speaks to Renee’s star power.

        Perhaps audiences saw the HD broadcast or the PBS rebroadcast and found the production as boring as I did.

  • Jack Jikes

    In the ’50s, Met seasons went from early November to the middle of April.
    Ballet Theater had a short season. At City Center, NYCB and NYCO had short seasons. Carnegie Hall was closed from early June to late September.
    There are now many more venues for ‘high’ music culture in NY. Carnegie Hall has three all of which are opened year round. Including the Peter Sharp Theater, Lincoln Center has five. NYCB appears for 23 weeks! There are now vagaries in attendance but I’m sure the total number of patrons for ‘serious’ music and dance culture vastly exceeds what it was in the 50s.

  • Gualtier M

    What I find a problem is that some of Renee’s vanity projects would have been interesting if revived with another diva. Imagine “Il Pirata” with Mariella Devia and Giuseppe Filianoti (pre-health problems) or Juan-Diego Florez? Imagine “Thais” with Netrebko and Schrott in Sherill Milnes’ loin cloth? Imagine “Armida” with Joyce DiDonato or Angela Meade with Brownlee?

    • armerjacquino

      The elephant in the room for me whenever Angela Meade is mentioned is her singularly unlovely voice.

      *usual ‘YouTube only’ disclaimer*

      • luvtennis

        I hate to say it but, “word.”

        I have only heard the youtube stuff, but the voice seems to lack a solid tonal core and there is so much fluttering that pitch is obscured. BUT, that may be the limitations of the technology. When is her CD coming out?

      • Krunoslav

        Live, it’s actually quite attractive if not warm- I heard her once as Agathe and in the VLL and she sounds a bit like the late Dame Margaret. And Lucia worked surprsingly well **as vocalism**,

        Dramatically she is no more an Armida than is the Rolex spokesmodel. Maybe less, perish the thought.

        Bring on Joyce di Donato…

    • Bosah

      That’s great -- but um…. those diva’s didn’t work to revive them. So, it’s sort of a moot point, right?

      No Renee, no Thais (which I actually loved and which was far, far more successful than Armida), no Armida, no Il Pirata. You can wish for others all you want, but they didn’t work to get these operas produced.

  • oedipe

    Saying that a better economy would enhance Met attendance is one of those things: you cannot be wrong, but you are not providing much insight. As my mother used to say, it is better to be young, handsome, rich, healthy and wise, than otherwise; anyone arguing with that?
    I stand corrected if I am misguided, but it seems that for a large proportion of the public the repertory trumps everything else. Again, a popular opera with an all-star cast is unbeatable, but what counts first and foremost is the repertory.
    What kind of repertory appeals to the public (though there may be some cultural differences among countries)? Well, not necessarily the classic -as opposed to the modern/contemporary- nor the familiar -as opposed to the unfamiliar. Rossini operas (and not only at the Met), apart from the 3-4 usual suspects, don’t sell very well, no matter who sings in them. Not only Armida (which has been a fiasco), but even Le Comte Ory. The latter, with a stunning cast, took a long time to fill up, though it will probably sell out eventually; whereas the unfamiliar Nose (modern), Nixon in China, and Ana Nicole (contemporary) sold out very quickly. Would they have done as well had there been twice as many performances of each? Who knows, but there was definitely a lot of unsatisfied demand. Another example, the 10 shows of Butterfly at the Paris Opera that just ended, with Micaela Carosi -uninteresting- and James Valenti -appalling-, were totally sold out. And no, it was not because the public was attracted by some lavish “traditional” production: it was signed Bob Wilson, i.e. an empty stage.

    The second most important element after the repertory is, probably, the cast. A relatively unfamiliar opera with a stellar cast can become a big event, i.e. Adriana Lecouvreur at Covent Garden. The main asset of Cilea’s work, though not particularly popular with opera connaisseurs and despised by modern and contemporary opera lovers, is that the general public has no preconceived idea about it as being “boring”. Operas perceived as “boring”, or too difficult, or outmoded (whatever period they may belong to) generally have a hard time selling, no matter who is in the cast.

    The production, though important, is not what attracts most people to the opera, at least for now. Granted, some people go to the opera mainly for the director, but this is not true for the majority of the audience. A case in point, the Lepage Ring is presumed to have sold out so quickly primarily due to the publicity regarding the production. But the Ring at the Paris Opera, going on right now, directed rather unconvincingly by the much less famous Günter Krämer, is also in high demand and just as difficult to get tickets for. Truth is: the Ring is very popular with the opera going public!

    Another consideration: it seems that the economic crisis does not have the same effect on opera attendance in different countries. Some of the main opera houses in Continental Europe are apparently doing pretty well. (I would argue that Italy is a special case. The country seems to be going through an identity crisis -on top of the economic one- and the younger generation is avoiding opera performances, which it perceives as something outmoded, unappealing. The sad reality is not only empty opera houses and less subsidies, but also a dearth of great interpretive talent. In the ensuing vacuum, the place is naturally being taken by singing styles that are less and less “italianate”, and more and more universally “correct”.)
    But whereas for people in countries with a long opera tradition it may feel reassuring to connect with this tradition when times are tough -like now-, this may not be so in places like the US; rather than go to an opera composed a century or two ago in Italy or France, with a plot they can hardly relate to, the American public may prefer sticking closer to home in times of economic crisis.
    Ticket prices? In January I went to 6 operas at the Met, a couple of them twice, for a grand total of about 200$. How much does it cost to go to a ball game?

    I am sure the Met management and the managements of other opera houses are aware of all these things. Some people like to believe that opera must be an exclusive pastime, even if this means empty houses; I don’t share that point of view.

    • Indiana Loiterer III

      Operas perceived as “boring”, or too difficult, or outmoded (whatever period they may belong to) generally have a hard time selling, no matter who is in the cast.

      Well, that takes care of just about any opera outside the standard repertory, doesn’t it? I mean, isn’t even Adriana Lecouvreur “outmoded” (in this case, redolent of a style of boulevard theater which has been extinct now for several generations)?

      • oedipe

        Well, maybe so. You will note that these are not meant to be MY perceptions, but those of “a large proportion of the public” (see above). Problem is, perceptions lead to ticket sales, so one has to take them into account. Unless you think my analysis of what the public wants is misguided…
        I was giving Adriana Lecouvreur as an example of an “outmoded” work the public could live with because of the starry cast.

        • Indiana Loiterer III

          Well, yes, exactly; the Covent Garden Adriana had a starry cast, so it sold out. My question is, what does Adriana Lecouvreur have in that respect that Rossini’s opere serie, say, works in what is generally agreed to be in an “outmoded” style, don’t have? And how is it that the general public would accept Adriana Lecouvreur as not being outmoded, yet reject the cinematic or theatrical equivalent as outmoded?

          • oedipe

            Well, let’s see. First of all, I worked my way backwords from the factual observation that Armida (with an impressive cast, as far as the general public is concerned) and even Le Comte Ory (with a fantastic cast, as far as anyone is concerned) have not been as successful at the box office as Adriana Lecouvreur. I concluded that it must be the works, rather than the casts (unless you think that AG trumps JDD, which I very much doubt is CONCEIVABLE on Parterre).
            Now, Adriana (the music) was new to the UK public, but people learned that it was associated with verismo, and they read a few things about the plot. It didn’t seem to turn them off.
            So maybe, just maybe (it’s a supposition), the general public prefers the outmodedness of a verismo libretto to that, even more remote, of Armida or,say, La Donna del Lago.

          • oedipe

            backwards, too…

          • iltenoredigrazia

            Not all operas are the same or sell the same way. Adriana is only good and sellable with a star soprano. Period. Boheme sells with anyone. (Unfortunately) Turandot is not a popular opera but Nessum Dorma is and the Met production is a hit all by itself, so it sells well year after year even with the likes of Guleghina.

            Nose, Gambler, Wozzeck, Lulu, Aaron, Pelleas, etc. attract the connoisseurs, musicians, and dedicated opera fans who want to expand their experience. That’s why when included in a season they are performed only 3, 4, 5 times or so. These I guess are the “prestige” operas mounted for a limited public.

            For many of the operas in the middle, you probably need a combination of familiar music, familiar singers and attractive production.

            Tastes change with the years though. Operas like Don Carlo, Macbeth, Onegin, Luisa Miller, Pique Dame were novelties in the 50s and 60s and rarely sold out. Now they are part of the standard repertoire.

    • m. croche

      As my mother used to say, it is better to be young, handsome, rich, healthy and wise, than otherwise; anyone arguing with that?

      You seem to have forgotten the old Jewish curse: “May you be the richest member of your family!”

      • manou

        “Il vaut mieux être riche et bien portant que pauvre et malade”. (Fernand Raynaud)

        • Bluessweet

          Old Jewish person once told me, “Rich or poor, it’s nice to have money.” Have no idea if what was said was a translation from the Yiddish but it sounds like it.

          • oedipe

            Jewish humor is a universal language.

          • oedipe

            On the subject of translation and (unintended) humor, a French blogger used Google to translate a German review of the current Paris Opera Siegfried. Here is an excerpt (I am sure manou will appreciate this):

            “Die ästhetische Gegenwart ist vorwaltend von Hirn bis Hintern auf Kurzweiligkeit eingestellt.”

            Which in French is, of course:

            “L’esthétique est la présence prépondérante mis en place par le cul du cerveau sur le divertissement.”

          • manou

            Oedipe -- thanks for a good laugh. I can even make out the original meaning!

            Do you know what Tony Blair said when Lionel Jospin came on an official visit to London?

          • oedipe

            Aucune idée!

          • manou

            “Chaque fois que je vois Lionel, je suis si content que j’ai envie de le baiser”….

          • oedipe

            Well, manou, on Parterre this somehow loses a bit of its quaintness…

          • manou


            Oh wait…..

    • Jack Jikes

      The Wilson stage for ‘Butterfly is not “empty” but exquisitely set. The production has been in repertory in Paris since 1993 and was a popular and critical success from the beginning. I find it the most gripping account of the Puccini masterpiece that i have ever seen. I’ve only viewed it at Bastille, a venue that lends itself to a distancing effect. Every time I’ve seen it I was in a web of rapt attention -- a weld if you will. Los Angeles has ‘the Wilson “Butterfly” ‘ in rep. So much for regie productions not lasting or traveling.

      • oedipe

        You and I agree: I happen to love Bob Wilson (I even liked his much maligned Châtelet Ring). But I am not sure we are representative of the majority of the public. Let’s face it, the Wilson Butterfly is even more minimalist than the Met Minghella one.

  • Bosah

    Question re DVD sales -- Armida was in top 3 of classical sales at Amazon for a couple of weeks. Just checked and it’s now around 5-6. What kind of actual sales does that actually mean in numbers? Judging by CD sales, are we talking like 10 copies, less or more?

    The HD did extremely well in ticket sales and I’m assuming these DVD sales, relatively, are good. Am I wrong? Seems interesting.

    • luvtennis

      Bosah -- “. . . but probably isn’t”?

      Just teasing.

      That said, I think this may be one case where HD/DVD IS cannibalizing ticket sales.

      • Bosah


        I agree -- I’ve been of the opinion for a while that the majority of her fans would rather see Fleming in concert/recital or on DVD/HD.

        I just wish I had some reference for numbers… being in the top classical DVD sales if you sell 10 copies a day doesn’t mean much (except comparatively)… but 50 or 100. That’s impressive.

        • operadunce

          But this could be because Renee doesn’t sing that much opera in the US outside of New York. Actually, this is probably true for most of the biggest stars. If you want to see Renee in an actual opera performance, you have to go to New York or occasionally Chicago or even more rarely, DC or San Francisco. If you look at her schedule, it’s just not that easy to see her in an opera. It gets to be very expensive. Frankly, even I, who am a huge fan of hers, haven’t seen her live in an opera in several years. With airfare, hotel, tickets, etc. a trip to NY can easily cost $1000 or more, especially since there is no point to going for just one day. On the other hand, her recitals and concerts are all over the place and much easier to get to, not to mention the HD performances. Also, I just think that one of Renee’s special qualities is the way she relates to an audience in concerts and recitals, particularly American audiences. It’s a dimension that is missing in opera where the singers don’t actually relate directly to the audience.

          • Bosah

            Yes, I agree. My main point was that, with some exceptions, her non-NYC engagements sell-out and her DVD’s do very well. But, at the Met, she doesn’t sell out. You’d think that there would be enough fans in NY.

          • thomas

            Its not true that Renee doesn’t sell out at the Met. Her Rosenkavalier and Thais runs had a number of sellouts. Also, her Traviatas and Onegin runs were complete sellouts. The first run of Rodelinda was a sellout. And I believe most of Rusalka was too. I think the first run of Armida was well-attended. I’m sure there were others. Her Carnegie recital was a virtual sellout, considering there was a snowstorm outside.

          • Bosah

            thomas, thanks. I didn’t know all of that.

            Regarding Carnegie, I was told by someone there that it technically was a sell-out (last balcony tickets went the morning of the event) but, about a hundred or so stayed home because of the blizzard. Don’t know how she knew 100….but I certainly didn’t see more than a few empty seats in parquette.

  • Bluessweet

    A tale of one city and its orchestra or the sad, sad truth and dirty lowdown:
    — From various news sources:

    A seat for the Philadelphia Orchestra’s Jan. 29 concert of Beethoven’s 5th Symphony can set you back as much as $120, while the cheapest ticket will cost you $43.

    April 22, 2010
    Lately, the Philadelphia Orchestra is having a tough time filling seats. At some recent concerts, the hall has been just two-thirds full.

    An orchestra that was selling close to 90 percent of its tickets three years ago is selling only 70 percent now.

    March 01, 2011
    Management has intermittently used the prospect of Chapter 11 in talks during the last few months in its drive to reduce labor costs, people familiar with the talks say.

    Players -- who could see a 20 percent cut in base pay and the loss of 10 positions -- are taking the threat seriously.
    Now, the Philly Orchestra has had its share of idiocy on both the player and management level. Let us not even mention the state of the player’s pension fund. So, I didn’t mention it, already!

    However, the players did not manage (or should not have) the acquisition of the Kimmel Center, known to many adoring fans as the great white elephant of Broad Street. However, they are the ones who will pay for all of management’s blunders and any effect the faltering economy may have had.

    The high handed way that the Kimmel organization treats their customer base has left at least one sour ex-patron (not me) and has caused at least one potential patron (me) to not take half price offers that quickly turn into quite a bit more than half price. Philly has no TKTS booth, so that makes it even tougher for them to fill the house.

    On the opera side of things, in 1967 there were about 30 performances of 20 different operas, including a May series by the Met in a venue that held (and drew) 7500 to 8500 NIGHTLY. Amplified, of course. The two existent, at that time, opera companies featured little knowns in their productions. Names you could not recognize such as Tagliavini, Tebaldi, Caballe, Corelli, John Alexander, Anna Moffo, Sandor Konya and a German gal named Grummer, for just a start.

    Today’s Opera Company of Philadelphia, in the 2011-2012 season, has only three operas at tha Academy. Big names are Renat Shaham, Ermolino Jaho, and Elizabeth Zharoff. (The last, a CURTIS STUDENT THIS YEAR, is really quite good but against Tebaldi and Caballe? Come on.) The Met has not been seen here in YEARS.

    Before I close, let us stop for a moment at the white elephant vista. This scenic overlook contains not only the Kimmel Center but also Lepage’s clothespins (at tens of millions) and the LA Opera’s ring production (reportedly double that.) The 1967 sets that were used in Philly were strictly painted flats. A Rigoletto palace would not have impressed the nine year olds in Miss Leonard’s fourth grade. Nevertheless, with a little imagination, you were in Mantua. Is this any less of a stretch than a clothespin walk to Valhalla? The flats were not a budget breaker, of that I rest assured.

    Anyway, this is where we were and were are. Where may we may be heading, with more venues in NYC or no?

  • We can’t lay all the blame for this at Renee’s feet. While I liked a lot of the production, some of it was totally ludicrous. Like the dancing demons.

    Okay, a lot of it can be laid at Renee’s feet.