Cher Public

The Met: what’s really wrong?

The 2012-13 season at the Metropolitan Opera was a financial disaster, with the company taking in only 69% of potential total box office revenue—a troubling 13 percent decline from the previous season and the lowest box office percentage in over a decade. Thanks to discounting, the Met did manage to sell 79% of total seats but that, too, was another low.  

The official explanation, as proffered to the New York Times, cited three factors: the disruption caused by Superstorm Sandy, an ill-advised 10 percent price increase in a sputtering economy that undercut sales far more than forecast, and the ongoing problem of the Met’s aging subscriber base continuing to buy fewer tickets while younger opera goers still didn’t find their way to the Met.

However, the Met’s challenges are not meteorological, demographic, or cyclical; they are structural. The fiscal trajectory of the Met makes an economic crisis inevitable. Even after accounting for the cost of media efforts such as “Live in HD,” the cost of presenting a season at the opera house has increased at a rate twice that of inflation during the Gelb regime. During that same period, box office revenue was basically stagnant until it plunged last season.

No one expects income to cover expenses at an opera company, but the difference between income and expenses has more than doubled in the past decade, culminating in a staggering $161 million gap last season. The Met’s donors actually ponied up a remarkable $158 million towards filling this hole.

To put the Met’s annual fundraising obligation in perspective, here are two sobering facts. In a single season, the company requires more in donations towards annual operating expenses than the New York Philharmonic, BAM, Carnegie Hall, Lincoln Center, The New York City Ballet, and Lincoln Center Theater combined! Or, to put it another other way, the Met’s fundraising obligation of $161 million is more money than the National Endowment for the Arts disperses in a single year.

While that fact is certainly a painful reminder of the pathetic level of arts support in the US, it’s also an indication of just how massive the Met’s fundraising needs have become. Not surprisingly, the company finds itself backed into a very uncomfortable corner.

It can’t continue to count on this level of donations year after year, let alone on the increased level of donations current budget projections would suggest it requires. It has little financial flexibility to offer interesting repertoire or take risks with the directors it chooses. It can’t impose on those same tapped-out donors to raise much needed funds capital for renovations or a healthier endowment. And most critically it, gives the Met precious little room to maneuver in this year’s union negotiations.

In late February, the press reported that the Met was seeking significant cuts from its unions. Soon after, AGMA Executive Director Alan Gordon fired back with an ominous letter to music agents that suggested a lockout was inevitable. Furthermore, he claimed that Met’s problems were likely due to “[Gelb’s] failing business model and unregulated waste”. He then took issue with the Met’s contention that labor costs were too high by adding, “When Peter arrived at the Met, he inherited from Joe Volpe a balanced budget of $209 million. Last year, his productions had swollen the budget to $311 million, with a $2.8 million deficit, and a shrinking audience. “

There is much to unpack in those two statements—but let’s begin by correcting a glaring factual error. According to the Met’s own annual report the company outspent income and donations by $4.5 million during Volpe’s last year as general manager—far from a balanced budget. In fact, the company overspent during 4 of his last 5 seasons as General Manager and it was on his watch that the Met set in place the spending patterns that have so compromised the company today.

Next, there is extremely disingenuous implication that the $102 million growth in the Met’s budget over the first six years of the Gelb regime was due to new productions and waste. Conveniently, the Met provided the cost of new productions for last season in a recent regulatory filing—$21.8 million—or roughly $3.1 million per new production. This is a fairly consistent figure over the past few seasons. So, by going from the four new productions of Volpe’s final season to the seven last year, the Met increased annual expenses for this line item by roughly $9.3 million dollars.

Another source of increased expense was Live in HD Series, SiriusXM channel, and other media initiatives. Their cost was $33.9 million; However, the Met earned $34.5 million from its media programs, so this is in fact a wash. The argument has been made that the Live in HD series cannibalized box office revenue, but only anecdotal evidence suggests that is true. I would instead contend that the audience for the HD series is not people who chose to attend an HD instead of attending in person, it’s people who went to the HD as their way of going to the Met.

The HD audience consists of older opera patrons in the greater NY metro area who don’t venture into the city as frequently as they once did, opera fans around the world who might make it to the Met once every couple of years, and people who feel that spending 20 bucks to see an opera on a big screen is better than the equivalent experience in the cheap seats and standing places at the Met. Only the Met has the data to confirm or disprove either hypothesis and they’re not sharing.

Continuing our exercise in forensic accounting, one can use the data in the Met’s published annual reports and a little modeling to determine that the remaining $59 million of the $102 million increase in spending stems from increases in “Compensation and other benefits.” This is the cost of the Met’s spending on its largely unionized employee base and performers covered by union contracts.  Based on the information available on these contracts, it appears that most of the rise in spending on compensation and benefits was due to contractually mandated increases

Without more fiscal transparency from the Met, it’s impossible to know how much of this was due to the most common source of labor spending going over budget, unplanned overtime. When the Robert Lepage Ring production was introduced, excess overtime was a serious problem. The production required additional technical rehearsals and performances ran way past the scheduled end times because of the long breaks when the Machine had to be rebooted.

During Gelb’s second season, the stagehands were complaining that they had to put in too much overtime because changeovers between overly complex productions required extra labor. However, recent backstage gossip from the Met recently suggests that unplanned overtime is not nearly so significant a problem as it was in those earlier years. In fact, Vladimir Jurowski noted in his talk to the Wagner Society that the Met only let him due an uncut version of Die Frau Ohne Schatten if he could finish in less than 4 hours with intermissions. He made it in time.

In their discussions with the press: the union sources have cited three wasteful items.

The first is rehearsals held on Sundays, when union members make double time. This season, the Met scheduled just two Sunday rehearsals, with piano only.

Next is new productions that in the union’s view had needlessly lavish sets and costumes. They cite the example of the silk flowers used for the poppy field in Prince Igor. Now, honestly, how much more could silk flowers have possibly cost than the alternatives (plastic? paper?) and would the substitutes have been as convincing under the glare of theatrical lighting and the scrutiny of HD cameras? Has everyone forgotten the risibly cheap spring-loaded flowers that went boing-boing during the Good Friday Spell in the first season of the Met’s previous Parsifal production?

More importantly, new productions are almost always fully funded by gift from board members and other major donors. That is to say, money for new productions is held in a different account from funds for operating expenses. If new productions don’t happen, the Met doesn’t automatically get those extra funds to use towards general expenses.

Last in the union list is international airfare for artists travelling to the Met. This is, perhaps, a cost center where savings can be found. Anyone who’s been hanging out here at parterre box knows that smaller parts are frequently cast with foreign artists, chosen by our post-Colonial overlords operating out of secretive arts management companies in London.

In difficult financial times, it should be possible to cast these parts with fine local singers and avoid travel expenses while giving American singers needed gigs and exposure. But, even if every comprimario role went to a US-based singer, what would be the potential savings?

Taken together, I guesstimate that all three of the union proposals would result in savings of not much more than a couple of million dollars annually, barely enough to provide the unions with a one percent increase in compensation.

Now if AGMA were serious about allegations of waste, it would help if to provide more concrete data on potential cost savings. Otherwise, they are starting to sound like the Republicans who argue that food stamp spending can be cut because they read a story on about people trading food stamps for alcohol. Their only substantive proposal has been to set up a financial oversight board with union representation to provide oversight over spending on new productions and the like.

Frankly, I think this would be a nightmare. No self-respecting director would tolerate that level of hostile micromanagement. A more workable approach might be to let the unions have a single representative on the financial subcommittees of the Board of Directors. It would also help the unions cause, if they offered their own suggestions for simplifying work rules. Less complicated work rules don’t necessarily lead to cuts in pay if they are pegged to appropriately calculated pay rates.

For its part, the Met, has done itself no favors in the early chess moves of the contract negotiations either. Sure, there were sympathetic news stories in the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal that laid out a case for requesting concessions from the unions, but those stories ignored the most obvious question: Why the urgent need for cuts right now?

The last contract negotiations, which took place without any suggestion of the need for drastic cuts, were just three years ago during one of the worst years of the fiscal downturn. In that year, the Met needed $140 million in donations to break even. The fiscal picture was only marginally rosier than it is now, yet the company granted increases.

True, Volpe was doing the negotiating but he was operating under the direction of the Met management and board. What financial model could have possibly led them to think increased expenses were justified?

When Gelb took over the Met he stated that increased attendance and new sources of revenue would restore the company to fiscal health. Wasn’t it obvious three years ago that the plan wasn’t working?

Early proposals from Met management suggest that they want to roll back labor expenses to what they were before Gelb even started as General Manager. As draconian as that may be, I’m not even sure that is enough. It’s very difficult to judge because the Met management has been just as guilty of tossing around numbers without context as the unions have been. They cite the Met’s massive annual fundraising obligation but give no indication of what they think a healthy annual fundraising goal should be.

In a sure sign of institutional cowardice, the WSJ has to resort to citing an anonymous “person familiar with the matter” for the information that the Met would like to refocus its fundraising to building an endowment and reducing the need for annual giving.

That’s an admirable plan, but it’s one that should be shared with the unions and eventually the public that is providing those donations. Nowadays, donors expect unprecedented levels of transparency and accountability from the organizations they support. So it does not sit well that the most recent published annual report from the Met is from two seasons ago. Even then, that financial document reveals as little as possible. Nonprofits that don’t provide a full view of spending and revenue are viewed with suspicion and distrust.

The Met seems to forget that the NY opera public is still recoiling from the demise of the New York City Opera. The City Opera gave the impression that they were slowly recovering, then suddenly they needed $8 million… and then they were gone. City Opera never adequately explained their pressing need for this large amount and as a result they couldn’t raise it. While the Met is in not in the precarious straits of City Opera, their endowment could quickly be drained by a few more years of lackluster box office and slackening donations.

Moreover, no one at the Met has shared their ideas for how they will get box office and attendance back to healthier levels. The Met can’t succeed through cost cutting alone; it can only slow its own demise. What in the Met’s future artistic plans is intended to generate interest or excitement? Where in the programming are there the productions that might lead curious music lovers to find their way to the Met for the first time or inspire someone who hasn’t been to the Met in a while to return?

On paper at least, next season promises to be mind-numbingly dull. It’s not the season of an opera company that aspires to generate interest or increased attendance. In fact, it is the perfect season for a company that is anticipating a lockout as there is little that will be missed if it doesn’t happen.

Peter Gelb promised to revitalize the Metropolitan Opera through an increased number of theatrically exciting new productions, better casting, and innovative media initiatives. He had the right ideas, but has been largely unable to execute on them. The media initiatives have been a notable success drawing attention, if not attendees, from well outside the operasphere.

New productions of core repertory works have largely been serious disappointments that rarely improved upon the tired productions they replaced. Productions of works new to the Met have provided more artistic successes, but not enough to inspire any confidence in the company’s ability to nurture a great opera production. Casting has been equally exciting and bewildering, with an over-reliance on singers that appear to have been chosen for the Met rather than by the Met.

To return to the union’s complaints about his stewardship of the Met, they had it almost right. The problem isn’t that Gelb’s business model is failing; it’s that he’s failing at his own business model.

In part 2, we’ll have some ideas on how to get the business model back on track.

  • Avantialouie

    Part of the problem posed by declining attendance is contained in the following: there has not been one single Met new production during the Gelb era of an opera already in the repertory that I would prefer seeing to a revival of it’s previous incarnation. Not ONE SINGLE ONE. That’s why there are empty seats.

    • jd

      I agree!! Been going about 20-25 times to the Met each season since 1998 and it isn’t for the new productions! I especially hated those like Tosca, Faust, Elisir and Manon which were so much more dreary than the old. Didn’t appreciate the gimmicks like the clock in Traviata and all the black suits worn by males and females(!, the puppets in Butterfly, the top hat worn by Adina with her wedding gown(!!)and the guns!!, the orange trees in Barbiere, the cigarette smoked by Oscar in Ballo and many more distractions. These to me are characteristic of a director who is looking to put his “stamp” on the opera without offering new insights or perspectives on the composer’s intent.

      • Feldmarschallin

        My my. You need to get out more and perhaps see the Bösch Elisir. :) It is a big hit with the public no matter who sings btw.

        • laddie

          I see it’s coming back and Polenzani will be back in it!

          I hope to make it to the festival next year!

    • redbear

      There is such a difference between opinions like the one above, “There has not been one single Met new production… I would prefer seeing to a revival.”
      The entire rest of the world has adopted the new “regie” emphasis and has focused on opera as innovative theater. Some, like Paris, have resisted hothead directors but the changeover to progressive staging has been complete for years. Even traditional hold-outs like Italy and Bayreuth are now fully “progressive.”
      The two separate tracks would be just a different way of thinking if the statistics were not so one-sided. European opera is flourishing, the Met isn’t, even with the attempts Gelb made to modernize. If you go to Operabase, they have free access to the numbers for seasons 8-9 and 12-13. New York went from 6th city with no. of performances (359) to 10th (and that was with NYCO still alive) and America went from 32nd to 39th in per capita opera performances. Paris’ ONP has 96% capacity and Vienna (VSO) has 99% and the average age is visibly different. Do you really want your parent’s style of staging?

  • luvtennis

    A couple questions:

    1). What have been the most financially successful productions during Gelb’s tenure?

    2). Are there any obvious common denominators that would suggest why the successful productions attract audiences?

    3). Has the increased emphasis on the quality of the physical productions resulted in a financial upside?

    My own bias lead me to believe that great charismatic singers are still the primary draw for most repertory works. But bias is not analysis. It would be nice to know what the metrics show.

    Now one could argue that an impresario or producer has little or no control over the general quality of singers during any particular era. But is that really true. I am not so sure… Didn’t Visconti help make the Callas legend? Didn’t Bing provide a showcase for great voices. Perhaps Gelb has been investing in the wrong things.

    Okay, now crush away. :-)

    • CwbyLA

      I think no amount of increased theatrical values will attract audiences. It helps but it will not fill the house. Many more charismatic and famous singers, like Fleming, Netrebko and Kaufmann, are needed to fill the house.

      • messa di voce

        “Many more charismatic and famous singers, like Fleming, Netrebko and Kaufmann, are needed to fill the house”

        Names, please.

      • laddie

        Well LA Opera had to ADD a performance of a new innovative staging of Zauberflöte that appeared to attract a great deal of interest. Can you explain?

    • Indiana Loiterer III

      But how many operatic stars are out there? In particular, how many are there that the Met hasn’t used already? The problem with a star-oriented system nowadays is that there simply isn’t the star-making machinery that there was in Bing’s time, because of the decline of the record industry. And unfortunately, the Met audience (not the mention the Met management) seems to prefer its stars ready-made. There just aren’t enough ready-made stars out there--plenty of talent, but not enough stars--to fill an entire Met season.

      • CwbyLA

        sorry I didn’t want to mean that there are operatic stars that Met is not using. I just wanted to say that an international house like the Met, with its prominence and size, needs operatic stars to sell tickets. Those operatic stars do not exist. Even the few that we have, Fleming, Netrebko, Domingo, do not lead to sell out performances (from a Gelb interview) but surely increase ticket sales.

    • fletcher

      I’m most interested in the answers to question no. 2 and it’s sort of amazing to me how opaque this can be. I’d love to see the actual numbers for margins per show — i.e. box office revenues vs cost of the whole production — and compare it to what people say is one of ‘hits’ of the season: real numbers, not just impressions of how full the house is on a given night. When, for instance, we look back on this still-in-progress season, what will the numbers show for Die Frau or Prince Igor or, apparently, Sonnambula? How much does La bohème subsidize Two Boys, for example ? Which niches are the most unprofitable, and which of the reliable classics is the least ?

  • manou

    Very interesting post (and unimpeachable grammar). I am looking forward to Part Deux for equally thought provocative solutions.

    Will this also be illustrated with a picture of Dora the Explorer?

  • steveac10

    Which is why Gelb thought the right path was to make the productions the star. That has worked a few times (The Nose, Prince Igor, Parsifal, the imported Salzburg Traviata). The problem is the Met’s structure does not allow the time or resources to develop something unique (hence most of the big successes have had “out of town” runs).

    I think there re a number of issues at play:

    1. Opera audiences really are dying off now, and our culture at large could not care less. Music ed has reached a low ebb and the media ignores anything that doesn’t reach ridiculous mounts of viewers/listeners. The days when everybody’s mom or grandma knew who Pavarotti, Horne, Sills and Arroyo are are log gone. Letterman brings Renee on as an occasional novelty. In the days of Johnny Carson Beverly, Martina and Jackie had a regular presence on late night TV.

    2. The Met’s size was based on a model based on audiences demand and repertoire in the early 60’s. The reality is is that Handel, Mozart, Monteverdi and the like have entered the canon and people want to see them in an appropriate environment. Aside from various over blown Flutes and Giovanni’s the Met just can’t comply.

    3. The bean counters have one. And I don’t just mean money. The era ushered in by the Joan Ingpens of the world value order and expediency over creativity and seizing of the moment. Let’s see how long it takes the Fiend to capitalize on Camerena’s breakthrough last weekend. I’ll have a lot more gray hair before it happens and Javier will be on the downside curve o his prime.

    4. The Met no longer tries to create it’s own stars. If were honest, many of the their biggest stars in the middle of the 20th century had minimal careers outside New York. They were Met artists. Sure they hit South America and Europe (or the Cincinnati Zoo) during the off season, but they were Met artists. Hell…now there aren’t even Met comprimarios.

    5. The classical recording industry barely exists. That’s how international stars used to be made. Now there are precious few artists with media conglomerates working to make them famous, and if they do have mass market backers it’s because they have a passable voice, a pretty face, and either great pecs or tits.

    • olliedawg

      Opera audiences are always dying off. The music business model was in need of drastic overhaul. The bean counters only win when we go along with their bullshit, and they usually fail anyway, because they make accounting, not business, decisions. The Met was built in a different time, when urban renewal was all the rage and Kennedy was President and the Upper West Side was dangerous and forlorn. I do agree, however, that there is repertoire unsuited for such a big house — but I’m still going to see Cosi, because it’s genius.

      …Opera audiences really are dying off now, and our culture at large could not care less. Music ed has reached a low ebb and the media ignores anything that doesn’t reach ridiculous mounts of viewers/listeners. The days when everybody’s mom or grandma knew who Pavarotti, Horne, Sills and Arroyo are are log gone. Letterman brings Renee on as an occasional novelty. In the days of Johnny Carson Beverly, Martina and Jackie had a regular presence on late night TV.

      Let’s all harken back to the shitstorm when Renee went on Letterman for the Top Ten or, for that matter, when any opera star dares to perform musical theater or hosts a benefit or anything that smacks of coming down off their pedestal to reach a broader audience? Yeah, there are singers who really need to lay off the indie rock (yeah I’m looking at YOU, aforementioned RF), or Jerome Kern, but at least there’s an attempt to branch out, reach out, even rock out. We should get out of our own comfort zones just as these stars try to get of theirs.

      • steveac10

        That was my point. We should be thrilled that Renee is on late night TV making jokes and exposing Opera to the masses. But when I was a teen (and young adult) I could see Martina Arroyo sing an aria and crack jokes with Johnny, watch opera on PBS nearly monthly between Live from the Met, Live from Lincoln Center, Great Performances and other anthologies they had. Now PBS’ “cultural programming” consist of reunion concerts of leather faced stars from the youth of aging boomers jamming their greatest hits with a pick up orchestra. Why? Well I’ve head more than one public TV exec say classical music doesn’t even draw enough viewers to stay on their supposedly ratings immune stations. The two main “cultural programming” niche cable nets gave culture up more than a decade ago and now air Duck Dynasty and various reality soaps about odious rich women with too much time and money on their hands. Beverly Sills has been replaced by NeNe Leakes.

        Anytime a Parterrian moans about something an opera singer doing something to tarnish the art ala Renee reading top 10 lists on late night TV, I’m muttering insults in my head that would make Bianca Del Rio squirm and throwing them imaginary side eye -- because they probably discovered opera watching Martina Arroyo giggling over a double entendre on the Tonight Show or Met star of the sixties singing a boozed soaked duet with Dean Martin.

        • Sempre liberal

          Wait, wasn’t Renee’s appearance on Late Night TV blasted? (It was sometime in late September 2013, but I cannot find the post by searching The People’s Diva.) I loved her appearance.

          • Sempre liberal

            Nevermind, it was around the time of the Superbowl, I think, in January 2014. Still criticized, though.

      • grimoaldo

        “the shitstorm … when any opera star dares to perform musical theater”

        that doesn’t bother me, it’s the other way round that makes me feel ill. Betsy Wolfe, coming attractions Kelli O’Hara. Faust, meet the Jersey Boys.

        • armerjacquino

          So a performance Kelli O’Hara won’t even start rehearsing for another eight months already makes you ‘feel ill’?

          Well, nothing like an open mind.

          • grimoaldo

            Here’s an interesting perspective on why the Met’s audience is declining and running an unsustainable deficit from a blogger who admits
            ” It should be noted that I argue from a point of bias. I love baritones. I am a baritone junkie. I want all baritones all the time.”

            February 15, 2014
            “Broadway is the problem. For some absurd reason, Peter Gelb thinks opera and Broadway are the same thing. They aren’t. He is trying to lure Broadway goers to attend the Met, but let’s face it, most people who do Broadway are tourists who go to what they are told is popular. People who attend the Met live in the City, or do a pilgrimage once a year……
            That’s the real problem with Peter Gelb. He wants to turn the Metropolitan Opera into Broadway. He has this delusional vision that people who attend Broadway productions are going to attend the Met, if it is packaged the same way. Someone needs to either explain the facts of life to him, or suggest he get a job promoting Broadway and leave the Met alone. He is ruining it. Just look at his bottom line, which is going to be even worse next season, if indeed there is a next season.”

            • armerjacquino

              “Peter Gelb thinks opera and Broadway are the same thing”

              No he doesn’t.

              “most people who do Broadway are tourists who go to what they are told is popular”

              No they aren’t.

              “He wants to turn the Metropolitan Opera into Broadway”

              No he doesn’t.

              “He has this delusional vision that people who attend Broadway productions are going to attend the Met”

              The delusional idea that people who attend theatre and MT might attend opera as well? What MADNESS!

              I mean, I know you’re currently on this whole Broadway obsession because SHOCK! one of the Met’s Valenciennes is an MT artist, but posting weird speculatory rantings from the blogosphere really doesn’t do you or your paper-thin argument any favours.

            • armerjacquino

              That same ‘interesting’ blog also suggests that Gelb’s plan is to squeeze out superstar singers because they are too expensive, which is why the ‘mediocre’ Mattei is hired instead of superstar Kwiecien.

              Great ally to have in your corner. Sensible. Balanced.

            • grimoaldo

              ” I know you’re currently on this whole Broadway obsession because SHOCK! one of the Met’s Valenciennes is an MT artist”

              Well really more because of the Fledermaus which was preceded by a lot of hoop-la about how it was going to bring Broadway stars, glitz and glamour to the Met, for instance --


              “Broadway is tackling opera with The Met’s new staging of “Die Fledermaus”… a new libretto by theatre funny-man playwright Douglas Carter Beane….Under the direction of Broadway renaissance man Jeremy Sams…New York theater performer Betsy Wolfe” and together they delivered a turkey of epic proportions, Wolfe in particular delivering a performance that one felt surely had to be breaking some law. But instead of everyone responsible being fired or told never to darken the opera house’s doors again, apparently they think the whole thing was such a grand success that they are repeating the same formula of bringing in more top Broadway talent next season in another Sams version of another operetta.

            • armerjacquino

              1: Sams will have been commissioned to write his translation before FLEDERMAUS opened.

              2: He’s not directing this one.

              3: Who do you hire to write dialogue? You hire a playwright, don’t you? Maybe you wouldn’t. Regardless of the fact Carter Beane’s dialogue was poor, the basic principle of getting SOMEONE WHOSE JOB IT IS TO WRITE DIALOGUE to write your dialogue seems to be a sound one.

              4: Ida has NO SOLO SINGING. It’s essentially an acting part. Again, regardless of the quality of Wolfe’s performance, it makes sense to hire an actor.

              5: The one you seem to be incapable of understanding. O’Hara and Wolfe are not the same person. Sams and Stroman are not the same person. A bad performance from Betsy Wolfe doesn’t suddenly take away O’Hara’s talent. Your position is as untenable as saying ‘Well, I didn’t like Susanna Phillips in FLEDERMAUS, so I won’t like Antonacci, because they’re both from Askonas Holt’.

              6: You haven’t answered the point about ‘feeling ill’ about a performance from O’Hara that she hasn’t even started rehearsing for yet. If there’s a better example of the literal meaning of prejudice, I’d love to hear it.

            • Your case is not bolstered by linking to the illiterate ravings of an unreconstructed Reaganite.

            • Grim, no offense, but that link isn’t “interesting,” it’s just kind of stupid.

              Here are two quotes:

              “Ultra modern productions, and new operas don’t fill those empty seats. Back in the 1980s, you couldn’t get a ticket for even a mediocre production. The Met was that good, the productions were that good, and Jimmy understood what his patrons wanted in the way of opera.”

              “Speaking as a woman who loves my baritones, I don’t give a rip about dealing with a production featuring a bunch of anemic tenors. I can deal with a good lyric soprano. I barely tolerate mezzos. One of the reasons I curtailed much of my opera going and listening for years, was because of the rise of the truly annoying and incompetent mezzo. Deliver me from them. I want baritones and bases. I want to listen to the MEN! Frankly, I would be quite content if you just cut the other voices out of a production, unless there was a baritone involved.”

              So … what the fuck?

            • grimoaldo

              It’s the idea of any Broadway “talent” in an opera now that makes me feel ill, after that Fledermaus, not anything about that particular person, who I have no idea who she is. I have never seen a Broadway musical on Broadway, that Fledermaus made me realise how blessed my life has been in that regard, in fact I wake up most mornings and think “I am so lucky that I do not have to go and see a Broadway musical on Broadway tonight”.
              Here is an interesting article / interview with Gelb when he was just starting at the Met:
              He says “there is only one hope, one chance for opera to be successful, which is through these great directors”.
              Now I do not have anything against theatre directors, great directors, regie productions, updated productions, fine with me, I want to see something interesting that works but I don’t think that there is only *one* way for opera to be successful. It is striking in that interview he says nothing about music except “Among the singers Gelb hopes to bring to the Met are Audra McDonald and Kristin Chenoweth.” I don’t really know who they are, Broadway musical performers, I think.
              It might have been at least tactful for Gelb to have paid a tribute to the high musical values Levine had established at the Met, with the Met’s orchestra being widely recognised as the finest in the world, instead he criticises the Met for lack of theatricality and Levine makes clear that he does not like that, saying that he enjoyed conducting Zeffirelli’s productions which were “stunning”.

            • Sometimes I wonder why you people go to operas at all: the most melodramatic of these lyric dramas must seem perfectly anemic when contrasted with the monumental queeny dithering that seems to be part and parcel of your daily life. “I went to check the mail, and nothing was there but bills! My blood froze, I tell you, and I seriously contemplated throwing myself before an onrushing bus, but at the last moment I remembered I have that tub of expired yogurt to return to the supermarket, and I have been weeping hysterically about that misfortune for weeks now already.”

            • You wake up in the morning grateful that you don’t have to see a Broadway show on Broadway? Uh, first world problems?

              But seriously, grim, it might surprise you how many opera stars got their start in “pop” singing, and that many opera singers have appreciated Broadway. The divide is not as strict as you’d think. Ezio Pinza sang Broadway later in his career. Rosa Ponselle and her sister were vaudeville acts. And the stuffy, snobby Emma Eames was a great admirer of Broadway in later life.

              Just curious, what do you think of, say, Bryn Terfel singing Sweeney Todd or Jose Carreras West Side Story?

            • armerjacquino

              Thank god Broadway scum like Reri Grist, Tatiana Troyanos and Evelyn Lear were never allowed to sully the sacred precincts of opera!

            • grimoaldo

              “Just curious, what do you think of, say, Bryn Terfel singing Sweeney Todd or Jose Carreras West Side Story?”

              I saw Terfel do Sweeney Todd in a concert, someone on here or in chat reminded me of that, I think it was aj,I had forgotten it more or less, it was sort of ho-hum OK.I’ve seen that quite a few times, no one I have seen in that part is as good as the man who did it in the stage version with Angela Lansbury they filmed, I don’t remember his name.
              Carreras in West Side Story was not a success in my opinion, Troyanos was great, June Anderson/Jerry Hadley/Christa Ludwig were obviously wonderful in Candide, but those are opera talents in Broadway musicals,which works sometimes, not Broadway “talent” in operas, which doesn’t seem to.

            • armerjacquino

              ‘doesn’t seem to’ Says who?

              Troyanos was in the chorus of SOUND OF MUSIC long before she made her operatic debut. Grist was one of the Shark girls in the original cast of WEST SIDE STORY, again before her operatic debut. Judy Kaye has sung countless operatic roles (and has one in common with the late, great Madeleine Kahn; Musetta, which Kaye sang in Santa Fe and Kahn in DC).

              Still, I can see how none of this counts when set against Betsy Wolfe going OTT in a few lines in FLEDERMAUS.

      • Feldmarschallin

        ‘ Opera audiences really are dying off now, and our culture at large could not care less’.

        You should say that opera audiences are dying off now in America or at the Met. In Europe there are many young people and many, many sold out nights and not just for Kaufmann and Harteros. I was shocked to see the Eugen Onegin was sold out for all three performnaces. Ditto Babylon. Of course the seats in the Galerie here cost 11€ for standing room for most nights which is a big difference to the 25-37$ the Met charges. Perhaps if the Met were to lower the seat prices more people would come but they seem to have extremely high prices.

        • oedipe

          What determines box office success?

          European tastes are different from the American ones. Beyond that, I am not sure…

          An example (there are others, but I am afraid it gets too boring). Zauberflöte is going on at Bastille as we speak. The whole run was completely sold out weeks before it started. What are the variables that account for this success?

          -Number of performances: 12
          -Number of tickets per performance: 2745 + standing room
          -No stars (A young cast of quasi unknowns, though with some excellent performers.)
          -Production: quite modern (A new Carsen staging, very thought provoking. I am still trying to come to terms with it…The audience loved it.)
          -Ticket prices: the majority at 200€ to 70€; a few at 35€ and 15€; standing room at 5€.

          Conclusions, anyone?

    • olliedawg

      One more thing…I absolutely agree about the dearth of music education in our schools. Who on this thread suggested buying tickets for a school to go to a Live in HD performance? I’d LOVE to do that. One opera start always speaks about doing a talk show. I’m just a low-level community radio DJ, but I’d jump at an opportunity to let her talk about anything musical that comes to mind for at least 30 minutes. What better way of learning about music glories than hearing someone who is passionate and committed and, most important, intelligent. Instead of complaining about the sorry state of education, musical or otherwise, I guess I just need to find a way to roll my own.

    • I think the whole “Met creating its own stars” thing was more a bug than a feature. The company has always had a very long season with lots of performances to be cast. The big important nights got stars and the less important nights got whoever the Met could afford. Some of those in the second ranks grew into stars; others didn’t.

      If there were a lot of opportunities for American artists during the 20th century, that was at least in part because world events (e.g., WWII) prevented artists from traveling. There was no particular emphasis on creating stars per se during the Johnson years at the Met; rather, the company had Wagner and Mozart and Puccini to perform, and so Traubel and Steber and Albanese, who were available, got the work and through that work built their followings.

      A lot of Met starts came to the company relatively late in their careers; that is to say, the Met debut was the last important debut they made. Birgit Nilsson was indisputably the world’s leading dramatic soprano when she came to the Met in 1959, and Leontyne Price and Franco Corelli were big, important stars in Europe before they arrived at the Met in 1961.

      • steveac10

        But it seems like Bing in particular, made lemonade from the lemons of a ridiculously long season and somehow made stars out of house singers. Of course RCA helped, but even my culturally challenged mother would recognize a whole heap of Met regulars from the 40’s through the 60’s: Peters, Merrill, Tucker, Stevens, Munsel, Elias….. Now there is no such thing as a Met regular, except for a couple of 60 something basses and a character tenor or two. And even they’re gradually being replaced by no names being imported one offs.

        • BIng also had a booming postwar economy with an extremely strong dollar, at a time when many European capitals were still in ruins. He also had a New York City demographic firmly based in a middle class with an omnivorous taste in culture. In other words, he had a lot of good cards in his deck. The conditions under which Bing had such spectacular success were already changing by the time the company moved to Lincoln Center, e.g., Leontyne Price had better and more profitable things to do than to become a “Met regular.”

          The singers you name were operating in a different world. Singing in Europe in those days meant putting aside half a season for travel, frequently canceled performances, and not very high fees, so people like Stevens, Peters and Merrill found it more convenient to stay close to home with their families, singing the same repertory over and over again for a decade or more. Talents like these today would be getting (and accepting) more lucrative and more artistically exciting offers in Europe and in other American companies besides the Met, and travel to (say) Munich can now be accomplished in eight hours instead of eight days, where singers can look forward to getting paid in a currency at least as solid as the dollar. In other words, the “house singer” phenomenon was a function of the economic and political realities of the time, not any particular policy on the part of the Met.

          So ahead: ask Sondra Radvanovsky if she wants to sing 25 performances a year of miscellaneous repertoire in New York City, or if she prefers to sing a new bel canto role in Chicago.

          • luvtennis

            No arguments with your reasoning, la Cieca. Bing clearly had a MUCH stronger hand than does Gelb. Much stronger.

            But that begs the question, what does Gelb do to turn the game in his favor? Does he kidnap Harteros’ family and ransom them for 25 performances a year? Take a page from those weird commercials with Audrey Hepburn and use animated versions of Joan, Birgit, and Lee in future HD performances.

            What are your thoughts on solutions????

            • I don’t think Gelb needs any solutions when it comes to casting stars. The Met does a good job of hiring many of world’s top opera stars and probably presents as many A-list singers in a single season as any other company.

              And when it comes to a house star, we shouldn’t ignore Netrebko’s rise at the Met which has been a conscious decision of Gelb. Yes, she’s had lots of success elsewhere too but she is very much associated with opening nights and high-profile new productions at the Met (Romeo et Juliette, Manon, Hoffman, Elisir, Anna Bolena, Eugene Onegin, Iolantha next season). She replaced Fleming as the house’s top diva when Gelb took over from Volpe. The Fleming Gala was a Volpe project. That season, in which she also sang Rusalka and Thais, was the peak of her career at the Met. The next season saw the ascendance of Netrebko.

      • luvtennis

        True. But perhaps even more importantly, those debuts were front page news. Headlines. Time magazine covers. Ed Sullivan. And presumably the met publicists had something to do with that…

        Maybe Gelb needs to put more money into publicizing the met roster and less on publicizing the productions. And I am not being facetious. Americans respond to stars and to personalities.

        Someone needs to figure out how to turn Fabiano into the next Pavarotti.

        • Cicciabella

          …but not ounce for ounce.

        • Is plastering Manhattan with giant posters of star singers in glamorous costumes not enough for you?

          • luvtennis

            I was actually thinking along the the lines of the three tenors redux. Kaufmann, Fabiano and ????.

      • olliedawg

        I do vaguely remember when an American opera singer HAD to go to Europe first to built up a following/reputation, since Le Bing generally hired only those Americans who had made their bones in Germany, France, or Italy. This was certainly true of Troyanos, a native New Yorker, who worked in the salt mines of the German opera system before being brought back home as an established top-tier singer. Or, perhaps I’m mistaken?

        Anyway…I think, based on the various and sundry comments and suggestions made on this thread, that there are too many things bedeviling the Met, but one thing is pretty clear: Something semi-radical needs to be done. I just wonder if the entrenched cadre of administrators, ‘deciders’, and hangers-on will get out of their own way.

        • Regina delle fate

          Um, the Hamburgische Staatsoper is hardly the salt-mines of Germany -- it was one of the three leading West German houses, after Munich and the Deutsche Oper Berlin when Troyanos was there. Domingo debuted his Lohengrin and Otello there during the Liebermann era when Tatiana was on the books. She was chosen for three important recordings by Karl Böhm, Figaro in Berlin, Ariadne and Capriccio in Munich. So she became a star in Germany, and later at the Met.

  • grimoaldo

    There are all those problems, yes, it would be difficult no matter what, but there have been far too many simply inadequate performances from that stage recently, like the terrible cast of the recent Die Fledermaus,except for Fabiano, or the abysmal Trovatores last season, how can anyone expect to put on that sort of stuff and thrive?

  • Donna Anna

    I disagree that audiences are dying off and not being replaced. They’re going elsewhere, particularly smaller venues, and they’re listening to new works as well as the standard rep. From my vantage point out here in the Midwestern sticks, new works are well-attended and operas staged in non-traditional spaces like art galleries, lofts, or warehouses attract new and interested audiences. The Met (and every opera company) has competition it couldn’t imagine even ten years ago. Our doyenne’s suggestion that it close during January and February is well taken; if money were no object, I’d urge a six month sabbatical to do serious work to re-imagine and implement the future.
    Ticket costs are staggering across the board. I count myself lucky to have heard Bonnie Raitt for $45 and equally fortunate that the local conservatory offers outstanding productions of opera and musical theater for $25.

  • operacat

    Perhaps the MET needs to do fewer performances of more operas. I notice that Vienna has about 50 different operas with 1 -- 4 performances of each.
    I also find it fascinating how they keep bringing back the same people to do the same roles year after year. For example next year, why not Radvanovsky as AIDA and Monastryska in BALLO.
    I admit to not being an average opera goer (I for one want to see WOZZECK, JENUFA, SAINT FRANCOISE D’ASSISSE rather than another BOHEME) but there really is not much I would want to go to NYC to see next year (ironically BOHEME for that cast being a maybe). I used to go three or four times a year (at least).

    • olliedawg

      You have a point. Who is in charge of casting again, and who’s their minder? Is the repetitive casting a matter of croniness, laziness, dearth of great singers in this or that role, payola (or lack thereof), payback (as in ‘I won’t sing at the Met b/c ( insert grievance here)..?

    • Bill

      operacat -- Vienna has always done at least 50 and in some years past up to 61 different operas in one season though their season from about Sept 1st to June 30th is somewhat longer though with an ever
      increasing number of ballet performances interspersed with opera performances. They have
      largely a repertory system. In their annual reports their seats (much smaller number that at the Met) are generally about 97 percent sold out for the entire year -- I am not sure about their standing
      spots (some 550 of them) as the standing area is sometimes packed to the gills and sometimes not filled up at all. They have about the same number
      of new productions a year as the Met but they do not normally play any one opera more than 10 times a year and most 3-5 times a year only. The advantage is that in Vienna the more popular operas there (ie
      the major Mozart Operas, Fidelio, much of Wagner including Parsifal and the Ring, the famous Puccini and Verdi Operas, Ariadne, Rosenkavalier, Elektra
      Salome and operas such as Arabella are played almost every season. If you love Ariadne (as I do) there has hardly been a season since WWII when a few
      performances of that opera were not given.
      Vienna also, with its repertoire system, has ensemble
      members -- younger singers who stay put in Vienna
      most of the season and sing both smaller roles and
      occasionally major roles -- they build up their
      repertory and are able to repeat successes in the ensuing seasons -- singers like Gundula Janowitz,
      Lucia Popp, Edita Gruberova, Elina Garanca became big stars with this kind of gradual buildup and staying true to the Staatsoper -- they have alot of truly talented young singers just now and I expect that a number of them will be big stars for the next generation AND they may well stay in Vienna, eventually receive the title of Kammersaenger(in) and become “lieblings” of the public. The downside of doing 50 some operas a season is that they are sometimes noticeably under rehearsed -- but often it is not that noticeable if the singers engaged are
      spontaneous and have learned how to interact with each other (both vocally and dramatically) -- it does make the performance more exciting when a certain amount of spontaneity is permitted (did Rysanek ever do exactly the same gestures in subsequent performances of the same role ? -- probably never.) I think the Met for example charging
      $ 27 or $ 37 for standing room downstairs is absolutely insane -- the standing area has often
      been almost totally empty these recent seasons. And why would anyone wish to pay $460 for a box seat for a humdrum performance. I truly believe that there are not as many great singers around as in the 1950s for then there were so many, for Verdi, for Wagner,
      for Strauss and it was a generation of brilliant Mozartians. And there were probably more stupendous conductors in the major opera houses than currently -- When in the last 30 years stage directors emerged as the main factor enlightening the performance, it seems the singing and the conducting became less important, at least at the Met. Probably all these “live” screened performances of Met operas all around the suburbs of NY had cut down somewhat on Met attendance -- it is not a live performance but presented as such. I do find that in Vienna, actually in all the Central and Eastern European opera houses, far more young people attend opera performances that at the Met (unless a performance at the Met is “papered” with young
      people. Musical training in schools has so diminished from my generation -- actually it has become easier to attend the Met than in my youth when women could not enter the house in pants, no one would dare to appear in bluejeans or relaxed attire even standing in the Family Circle -- so for that alone, attendance should have increased. We never knew what operas were to be performed until a few weeks in advance or what singers would be singing in them -- no ordering online -- Based upon opera attendance in Europe where many opera houses are often filled up even with occasional weird productions and often wide repertories, I guess the NYC audience is just dwindling and the Met could be in deep trouble as they rely more on ticket sales and charitible donatons than most subsidized European Opera Houses -- The Met has always relied upon great singers throughout its history and even during WWII when many famous European singers were not able to travel to the USA, the Met simply developed its own. In the USA as a whole, there are many more opera houses than in the old days when the Met made its tours and cities relied on the Met for one week of opera -- now almost every city in the USA has its own opera and people do not have to travel to NYC for opera. There are so many factors as to why the Met may not be selling out as frequently -But I think more operas per season with some more variety in casting would get me to the Met more often. But strangely if you look at the Met roster
      of singers in say 1953-54 and then compare it to 2012-13 there are about 10 times as many singers on the roster now than then. (but major singers engaged usually sang a variety of roles in one season in those days -- another attraction if one liked a particular singer, to attend more performances. So operacat -- I think you are correct, one key to augmenting attendance would be to have fewer performances of more operas and favorite singers singing more than just one or maybe two roles a season as they now do.

      • armerjacquino

        Janowitz, Popp, Gruberova and even Garanca became stars largely due to high-profile recording contracts. These days, when the Met casts someone with a recording contract, there tends to be a LOT of pearl-clutching.

        • Regina delle fate

          Armerj -- I’m not sure that Popp or Janowitz had what we would call high-profile recording contracts, although they made a lot of recordings, especially Popp, largely because conductors with high-profile recording contracts, Karajan, Kleiber, Solti, etc wanted them. Popp was chosen for the Queen of Night in the Klemperer Flute recording only a couple of years after Karajan had engaged her to sing small roles, Barbarina, Papagena, the Italian soprano in Capriccio, Temple Guardian in Frau ohne Schatten etc. I don’t think made her first solo album until three years after that Q o N, which got sensational reviews at the time, and she recorded for nearly all the companies. I don’t think Janowitz or Gruberova were ever exclusive to a record company. Nowadays a record contract means next to nothing -- Sony has signed severel sopranos -- Andrea Rost, Nino Machaidze anyone -- who don’t seem to have justified the company’s investment. And DG does the same -- Mojca Erdman a star? Not in my book.

          • armerjacquino

            Regina- I phrased it badly. What I meant was that the ladies concerned became world-famous thanks to the recordings they made, not thanks to the appearances they made in Vienna. I shouldn’t have used the word ‘contract’.

            You spotted the point I was making in my second sentence, though. Recordings aren’t starmakers any more.

    • antikitschychick

      Excellent point about casting operacat. (I think La Cieca’s suggestion about having a few off weeks during the winter season is a good idea too…there are many great suggestions from everyone really). Your particular point though speaks to the probable fact that most audience members go to the Met for the singers or the Opera itself, not the production (at least not yet) and so better efforts need to made to ensure that the casting for revivals and standard rep is enticing; imho there have been too many repeats during the last few seasons. The technological factor is very relevant here because having an HD for a particular opera means that potentially millions of people will have seen the performance, which wasn’t the case even 10 years ago. So what then is the point of reviving the same opera, with the same production and same cast a season or two after it has already been given an HD, is on YT, shown on PBS, etc? To me that seems like major overkill. The casting decisions need to get with the times in that respect. Opera can’t be that formulaic.

      More specifically, when it comes to the singers you mention (the heftier dramatic and spinto sopranos), and someone like AN who is actively incorporating new and demanding roles into her rep, it is important that they be cast in challenging repertoire and role debuts. Why? simple: because it makes the opera-going experience “an event”. Its a risk worth taking imo because expectations will be high and ppl will be curious to see how singers do and it will get good publicity, etc…and when there are singers with overlapping rep then for God’s sake switch them! Its obviously easier said than done but its far from impossible.

    • Doing more productions will lead to more costs isnce each production has to have a dedicated rehearsal period. But I do agree about the Met’s repetition in casting. Switching Rad and Monastyrska as Aida and Amelia would have been more interesting.

      • oedipe

        Doing more productions will lead to more costs isnce each production has to have a dedicated rehearsal period.

        Not at the Wiener Staatsoper :)…But of course, Vienna is about half the size of the Met and it has a completely different business model. I am not sure that adopting the Vienna business model is either feasible or desirable for the Met.

        • antikitschychick

          I don’t think the Met can really model itself after any European house though, given the disparity in arts funding and all that. Moreover, I think a lot of US opera houses count on the Met to be a leading and pioneering force so the administration needs to come up with a business model that works for the Met and I think this should include having artists trying out new roles…usually, by the time a singer presents a role at the Met they’ve already done the rounds elsewhere and that takes away all the excitement…obviously they tried it with Deborah Voigt’s Brunhilde but that didn’t work because her voice is not in the shape it was 5-6 years ago and that is prob the most difficult role in all of opera to cast aside from Norma and Otello…and they can of course implement certain practices that work well on an international basis, such as getting the best singers in new productions and reducing the number of repeat castings in standard rep.

      • antikitschychick

        OR if Rad insists on singing Ballo (since Amelia is a really great role for her; perhaps even her best one to date) they can switch LM with Lise Lindstrom and have her sing Turandot. Its in her rep; she’s doing now or next month in Ukraine in fact. This would then allows LL the opportunity to sing a new role. Thus, everybody wins :-D.

  • DonCarloFanatic

    I want to put in a vote for fewer new operas in winter. Too many performers get sick, and too often the weather is abysmal and I can’t even get to an HD theater, and forget going all the way to NYC to the Met itself. I wouldn’t mind there being a mini HD encore season during that period, just in case the weather stayed decent. I don’t know how financially feasible such a mini season would be, but during the school year presumably some student group viewings could be arranged, a la the Romeo et Juliette tie-ins a few years ago.

    Of course maybe what I’m really saying is that I want to put in a vote for less winter.

  • Carlo

    There are multiple audiences for the MET: New York locals, out of towners, foreigners, etc.

    One real issue for us out of towners is the high cost of hotels in New York. I used to attend the MET four or five times a year. Now with decent hotels costing upwards of $300 per night, I am unable to afford the ticket price and the hotel cost more than once a year.

    • operacat

      I like to use the YMCA just two blocks from the Met!!

    • RudigerVT

      Radio City Apartments, 49th between 6th and 7th. Tell Tina I sent you. It’s a STEAL.


  • luvtennis

    I think one big problem is that grand opera in the US occupies a very different cultural niche than it does in Europe, and what works in Europe won’t work here.

    Opera in the States has historically been more akin to the circus than to serious theatre. And while regie has served as a stimulus for creating new audiences in Europe, I don’t see how it is going to attract an audience of tourists who could otherwise go to see the Lion King or some other Broadway spectacle.

    I also sense an internal conflict among audiences that did not exist in prior eras. In the past a star was a star because they packed the seats. Period. Now we have “stars” that indisputably do NOT pack ’em in. Yet they get big productions in Europe because they are great artists. I am not saying this is a bad thing in and of itself -- I love Stoyanova for instance. But opera in this country is first and foremost a business, at least in the big houses.

    It also hurts that a number potentially big box office stars have chosen path very different from past stars (Harteros) or flamed out (Villazon) too soon.

  • luvtennis

    I also think the change in rep has not favored big houses like the met. Barocque opera does not work well in a huge house but more importantly the difference between a regional production of a Monteverdi opera and a met production of the same piece in terms of musical quality is not big enough to justify the difference in the cost of the productions or ticket prices.

    Ditto for many new works which in their focus on theatrical values are not ideal for a huge house like the met.

    And indeed until we have a steady stream of new works capable of reaching and motivating the public at large, than we are just rearranging deck chairs on the Titanic.

  • Opera Teen

    I think part of the problem could be that the Met is producing 22+ operas a season, each with three to 14 performances. They could be biting off more than they can chew, especially if people aren’t coming in droves. I think a scaling down of productions per season might be helpful.

    • Feldmarschallin

      No the opposite is what they need to do. Do more productions but less performances. What opera with what cast would sell out 14 times? I would do no more than 7 or 8 performances and that would have to a top cast and new production. The rest 3-6 performances and also different casts. One fall run with three and one spring run with three.

      • Signor Bruschino

        Agreed- Curious to the decision to schedule 14 performances of Fledermaus? Were they counting on the broadway star who was supposed to be Frosch to sell it out (he may have) before negotiations fell through? Even then, its not an opera that needed that long of a run- you could have easily put another interesting revival in for 7 perts and done 7 of Fledermaus. Curious to see the %’s of seats sold for Fledermaus versus a ‘difficult’ work like Frau that ultimately sold well by the end of its run (granted not that well at the 1st two perfs…)

        • Regina delle fate

          It might have sold with Fleming/Hateros/Mattila as Rosalinde, Damrau as Adele, Susan Graham as Orlofsky, say Grigolo as Alfred, Mattei/Hampson as Eisenstein and Bryn as Frank. Was the Broadway star as Frosch that big?

          • armerjacquino

            Not the one they ended up with, no. But I don’t think he was the original choice…

          • operacat

            I had heard at one time that Nathan Lane was supposed to be Frosch.

      • antikitschychick

        I agree with you Feld. Less performances with alternating casts (like they did with Norma early on this season) would work well I think. They can always try and schedule in extra performances if the demand calls for it.

        • Feldmarschallin

          Exactly and also leave holes in the schedule so if you have a hit you can repeat it next season. So if you have a star like Kaufmann who wishes to sing a role first like Alvaro and it is a big hit you quickly can schedule another handful the next season. BTW did you ever get those Macbeth tickets?

          • antikitschychick

            Sadly, I didn’t. Got an email from them the other day stating they didn’t have anymore tickets :-(…don’t think I will be able to get any for Forza either unless you would graciously buy a couple for me.

            • Feldmarschallin

              Well the first day of sales was in January and I could have gotten you a ticket then but you said you ordered and only to get the Harteros Liederabend which I did. Macbeth I might be able to get you in without a ticket but getting a ticket will be impossible unless she cancels then there will tickets and then some. There are of course still the expensive tickets which go on sale in the next week or so. Don’t know what you want to spend but you can still get the top categories for Macbeth and Forza.

            • antikitschychick

              The issue with Macbeth is that the 1st performance will take place on the same day as my arrival (June 27th) and I it’ll be hectic to try and make it from Berlin to the Bayerische Staatsoper that same day which I believe is in the southern part of Germany…my aunt told me its about a 4 hr trip…I can go to the performance on July 1st though…do you know how much the expensive tickets will be? I can maybe afford to go to either the Macbeth or the Forza but not both if the tickets are really expensive. If you could get be into the Macbeth without a ticket that would be awesome…I don’t mind standing as long as I can sort of see the stage lol.

              Thanks again for all your help and for getting me the ticket for Anja’s recital! Am super excited about that :-D.

          • antikitschychick

            ugh, replied to my own post, sorry. Please see my response below :-).

            • Feldmarschallin

              Well there are also three Forzas and we just had 7 all of which were completely sold out within minutes. For one we tried not to que but tried it on the computer and had no luck. For some we had to que the whole night like the Premiere and the 28th and for others starting around 3am until 10am. The Macbeth will only be given twice and everyone is of course excited since it will be her first Lady. All Netrebko evenings are events and though she is far from my favorite singer and I skipped the last times she sang here I decided to give in and since we were in line anyway for the whole of the Festpiele decided on going. The tickets which will still go on sale (check the site for the exact date) will be categories 1-4. If I here of anything I will think of you. I take it any performance of the Forza would work?

          • antikitschychick

            actually, I leave Germany July 24th so I won’t be able to make it to the Forzas, unless I extend my stay, which I might be able to do since I paid extra $$$ and insured my flight ticket but I won’t know if I’ll be able to do that until a couple of months from now. I can, however, attend either of the two July performances of Tosca with Anja H (July 18th or 21st to be exact). Would you be able to get me a ticket for either of those performances? I see on the website those are sold out as well and “possibly the remaining tickets will be sold on March 29th.”

            • Feldmarschallin

              Yes those Toscas were the first to sell out even before the Macbeth since for the Tosca you got 4 tickets per performance whereas for the Macbeth only 2. I will see what I can do.

            • antikitschychick

              I bet! Vielen dank Feldmarschallin!!! I will let you know asap whether I will be able to extend my stay an extra few days so I can make it one of those Forzas :-D.

            • decotodd

              I got all of the tickets I requested after all — the Kaufmann liederabend, the Tell and the Figaro. Thanks for your help.

  • PetertheModest

    There’s a lot of deja vu in opera productions, and “contemporary” productions aren’t really contemporary enough. How about using our imaginations a bit and setting more operas in the future ?

  • SacredMonster

    Well…both sides are dug in and ready to strike so let’s see where that goes….in other news Filianoti was replaced in the Hoffman @ Palm Beqch Opera…sad …have it on good authority he was a mess vocally and musically…what a shame such an instrument…

    • warmke

      Given that Palm Beach has such atrocious standards that it allowed Erika Sunnegårdh to bellow, then whisper her way through three “Salomes” in three days without pitch, he must have been in really frightening shape……

      • RosinaLeckermaul

        So sorry to hear this about Filianoti. I have heard him give fine performances. He has sung Hoffman successfully so it can’t be that he didn’t know the music.
        I hope his medical problems have not re-emerged.

        • MontyNostry

          Filianoti gave a recital in London last week and the voice did sound rather unstable, though it never fell over, as it were.

  • Tashi

    Don’t forget, Bachler sells his best seats at between 100 and 132 euros. I sat in the ‘King’s Box’ the other night and the best seats (incredible sound) had only cost 100 euros. Government subsidies make a HUGE difference to the number of people who can afford to buy tickets. Besides, I think Muncheners just love going to the opera. What a delight to see how they treated the evening as something really special on a Thursday night, even long evening gowns for some. A bit like the ‘old days’!!!

    • Feldmarschallin

      ‘Don’t forget, Bachler sells his best seats at between 100 and 132 euros. I sat in the ‘King’s Box’ the other night and the best seats (incredible sound) had only cost 100 euros. Government subsidies make a HUGE difference to the number of people who can afford to buy tickets. Besides, I think Muncheners just love going to the opera. What a delight to see how they treated the evening as something really special on a Thursday night, even long evening gowns for some. A bit like the ‘old days’!!!’

      Well that 132€ is for some nights but if you have either Harteros, Kaufmann or Netrebko singing the top price is 243€ for the premiere and 193€ for the rest of the run. Check out the Arabella or Forza first nights and you will see S prices which top out at 243€. My normal seat which costs either 15-16€ then costs 21€. Still affordable. I have a very old friend of mine who now is in a nursing home and we are going to take her to the opera now for the first time since she went into the home. She has been going to the opera since 1963 and moved to München from Dortmund because she liked the opera house here so much. Well towards the end when she stopped working and had less money she bought a monthly ticket for 50€ which lets you go as often as you want. You can go every night if you wish and you get a Hörerplatz. Of course if there was a seat somewhere she would take it or be content with the Hörerplatz. She just turned 80 this Feb. and I had the idea that we would surprise her with tickets for the Festspiele so the group of ladies and I who tend to her paid for the tickets and will pick her up and bring her back to the home. I know many people who buy those 50€ tickets and go almost every night. Two even have to take the train and live about 40-50km outside of München. The couple has been going since 1950! They have their score with them every evening and will take standing room for new productions and Festspiele where you do not get the Monatskarte for 50€. Even thought they are mostly on the Hörerplätze, they dress up with him in his suit and she in her heels. I just checked the program and you must have seen either the Butterfly or Boris where the top ticket prices are 100€ and 132€. For those performances which I didn’t attend my seats cost 12€ bzw 14€, which is of course still very affordable.

  • redbear

    The WQXR podcast “State of the Arts: Behind the NEA Survey” has a panel describing the decline in performing arts in America, not just in opera. The NEA finds declining audiences in general. The failure of classical music magazines in the US, the Alex Ross count that there are now only 11 “paid” classical music journalists in America, etc. suggests that Americans are finding more and more to do that doesn’t involve buying a ticket to a performing arts activity. The Met is not the only institution that has to cut back.
    All of this is combined with a general director who is not an artist and, for the most part, rents productions from his more informed colleagues in Europe. Another problem: The Met has, forever, trained its audience forever to expect “big names” on stage all the time. These guys are hard to get and pricy and many wil not buy tickets without names they recognize. Those times are gone and habits are hard to change.

  • Constantine A. Papas

    Well, with all said and done, let’s go back to the drawing board. Who was responsible for the genesis of opera? Wealthy intellectuals of Florence. Who subsidized opera? Kings and Queens. Where was opera performed? In palaces and courts. No matter what we say, opera basically will remain an “elitist” art form, not destined for the average New Yorker or American.
    In ancient Greece, theater performances were subsidized by wealthy patrons (like the Camerata group of Florence), and free to the public. Even with all performances sold out (impossible), the bottom line will still linger. Solution? Wealthy contributors since government assistance for the arts is not part of the American model. These wealthy contributors should have access to all the “books” of the Met through their own accountants in order to control costs.

    • oedipe

      Indeed, Dr.Papas. As a British colleague of mine used to say, “when all is said and done, a lot has been said and nothing has been done…”

    • armerjacquino

      I’d heard that there are people who *think* “opera isn’t for THEM”. I’ve not previously come across someone who would flat out say it.

      The arts, all of them, are for everyone.

  • turings

    I can’t seem to post this in the right place, but for those who were talking about music education, the Met has an outreach initiative to bring the Met in HD performances to schools, which looks like a great idea. They have an information page, where you can directly support the program here:

    And thanks for the article – very elegantly written and clarifying.

  • Salome Where She Danced

    Is the Met, as presently constituted, even economically sustainable for the long haul? The house is twice the size it should be (compared to, say, Munich), so how do you put so many butts in seats for so many nights in a city that is so expensive for visitors, when there are fewer big draws and production costs are out of control?

    • Jamie01

      Based on my own experience and anecdotal observation, I see a lot of people preferring to attend performances of ‘serious’ music at smaller, less formal venues like le Poisson Rouge, Barbes, the Kitchen, etc.rather than a night at the symphony or opera. Certainly the economics of a show in a small bar or loft space with a handful of musicians is very different from what the Met, or even the NY Phil, does.

      The cost of 100+ choristers, 100+ orchestra members, a corps de ballet, plus all the behind the scenes staff really adds up quickly.

      • alejandro

        See, my story is I came to opera because the theater was getting way too small for my tastes. I couldn’t afford to see things on Broadway and when I did most of the musicals have an orchestra made up of a kazoo and a triangle. The plays tend to be made up of two people arguing about a couch and a cardigan. It was hard for me to find the things that made me fall in love with live storytelling. I started going to the Met because for around $25-$30 I could see something large, epic, lyrical, challenging, etc. Sometimes it doesn’t all gel, but I still think I get to have SOME sort of exciting artistic experience that the theater kept failing over and over again to provide me.

        I would hate to see the opera go small too. Coming from the world of downtown theater, it is a delight to see something like Prince Igor and watch more than a handful of people on stage. or the Act One finale for Zimmerman’s Sonnambula . . . which makes me cry and cheer at the same time.

      • RosinaLeckermaul

        A number of the young singers and composers I know dream of performing at Poisson Rouge, not the Met. I must say I prefer my opera in a theatre, not an overcrowded nightclub where food and drink is being consumed around me and people are not giving the performance their total concentration. That is, however, they way a lot of under 35 folk prefer to hear music. They find the giant Met an unfriendly place and they are not used to giving anything total concentration.

        • “… an overcrowded nightclub where food and drink is being consumed around me and people are not giving the performance their total concentration”. Thats’ how the Met feels, sometimes…

    • olliedawg

      Salome: Isn’t your post really a summation of the myriad issues the Met is now confronting?

      Just for the record, I sense there are many US-based singers who would like to spend more time States-side, and less time shlepping on microbe-infested jets, renting apartments, and missing their friends’ and family’s life events. Wouldn’t it be an interesting project to see how receptive they would be in staying put, singing more roles in more productions, putting on a recital or two, and having a life?

      Cher parterrians, IMHO the Met is in the state it’s in due to an extraordinary number of circumstances, not all of its own making. The music business changes before our eyes, as do the economics of just about everything. What Gelb & his team need to do is prioritize each problem. There may be multiple sets of problems to which several hands can be applied. I may be in the minority, but I think Gelb himself has the best of intentions, and has made modernization the keystone of his tenure. But, perhaps, in his push to make the Met more relevant, he’s made modernization his idol…too deep a thought this early in the day..

  • Cicciabella

    The economic crisis must be a big contributing factor to aling box office sales. Here in Amsterdam, where superstar singers in staged opera are unaffordable, popular Italian operas used to sell out within a few hours. Other productions that got good reviews sold out after opening night. Then the dotcom bubble burst. Now there are always tickets available for almost anything. There were plenty of unsold tickets for Lucia di Lammermoor before opening night. Now that Jessica Pratt received glowing reviews it might sell out. Last year Simon McBurney’s Magic Flute, with a variable cast, completely sold out after the local media praised it to the skies. It was programmed around Christmas time, so that’s two factors that helped. Then it went on to flop at ENO. The Dutch National Opera is reprising it this year. I’m sure they’ve been dissecting this runaway success, hoping to reproduce it. Almost every year they restructure their pricing. There are free introductory lectures in the lobby before each performance and surtitles in Dutch and English (no need for homework!). Three-course meals are served during intermissions at long Wagner and grand opera performances, and there’s an OperaFlirt programme to attract young audiences new to the genre. Still the recession has put a big damper on things.

    • MontyNostry

      Cicciabella, I’ve heard from the management of one of the London concert halls that concertgoers are tending to buy their tickets nearer the date of the concert, so perhaps what you observe is just part of a general trend. It’s so easy to check availability and book tickets on the Internet, for a start.

      By the way, the dotcom crash was back in 2000 -- are you rather referring to the financial crisis of 2008?

      • Cicciabella

        Good point about internet booking, MN. With regard to the financial situation, I’m referring to both the millenium crash and the more recent banking crisis. After 2000 it became, first dramatically, and then progressively, easier to get tickets.

        • MontyNostry

          All that being said, I always think of the Nederlandse as being a well-run house that probably has a very loyal audience -- but the situation for the top opera house in a city like Amsterdam is very different from that of the second house in a city of the size and complexity of London.

          • Regina delle fate

            It’s no longer called De Nederlandse Opera, its the Dutch National Opera -- same initials of course.

            • MontyNostry

              I didn’t realise the native language was out of the window completely here! I haven’t been to the house since 1996. Next month’s Arabella with the lovely Ms Wagner is quite tempting, though.

            • grimoaldo

              I wondered about that too, “you mean they don’t speak Dutch in Holland any more?” but Regina was giving a translation -- De Nationale Opera.