Cher Public

The Met: Can it be saved?

Short answer: yes. But let’s begin by dismissing a blatant canard. One thing that the Metropolitan Opera does not need to do is to scale back the number of performances in a season.

The greater New York Metropolitan area has 20 million people. 54.3 million tourists visited New York City in 2013. Many millions of people attend theater performances in New York City each year. Those numbers suggest to me that with an astute artistic approach, enhancements to the experience of attending the Met, outreach, marketing, ticket pricing, and a more sensible budget, the Metropolitan Opera should be able to thrive while producing 200 or more performances per season.

So what, specifically, will bring an audience to the Met for all those performances?

In the past, audiences came to the Met for its unique wow factor—the combination of starry casts and sumptuous, extravagant productions that was unavailable elsewhere. During Joseph Volpe’s tenure as General Manager, the wow factor diminished significantly; there were too many nights when the excitement ended once the chandeliers completed their magical ascent. Casting became increasingly lackluster and the company struggled to find production teams who could deliver the spectacle the audience expected on increasingly constrained budgets. New productions went from being a source of excitement to a source of dread. Attendance began a slow, inexorable decline.

To his credit, Peter Gelb recognized that he needed to give audiences reasons to be excited about attending operas at the Met again. He strove to do so by assembling a starrier roster of singers and conductors while offering more compelling theatrical productions using a contingent of directors who were new to the Met. But now, eight years and 50-odd new productions later, Gelb’s theatrical sensibilities are no clearer than they were when he was first named General Manager.


One might assume that the shows that represent the artistic highlights of the Gelb era – the new productions of Madama Butterfly, Satyagraha, The Nose, La Traviata, Parsifal, and Prince Igor—together are the embodiment of what he is trying to achieve as General Manager. However, they’ve generally been aesthetic dead ends for the company because only one of the directors of these signature stagings has returned to the Met. (And then, even the Satyagraha team couldn’t make much of that musicodramatic mishmosh The Enchanted Island.) The lyrical, poetic minimalism of that Satyagraha and Anthony Minghella’s Butterfly, a kind of “Wieland Wagner 2.0” style, struck me as an ideal approach for many other operas at the Met, but based on all the disappointments that followed, one can’t point to those early successes as the genesis of an emerging house style.

Instead, we got a gaggle of productions by acclaimed Broadway directors that turned out to be twitchy affairs, like the work of over-eager students trying to demonstrate mastery of a foreign language by gesticulating wildly and yelling. We’ve seen multiple productions from David McVicar and Richard Eyre that have turned out competent and uninspiring, hardly the kind of show that yields additional rewards in future revivals. The net effect is that Gelb has not inspired trust in his audience.

Great intendants have the trust and support of their public. This relationship allows their company to embark on explorations of repertoire that unfold over many seasons. They gain that trust by choosing their first new productions very carefully toinspire the public to follow them down a new artistic trajectory. Pamela Rosenberg’s failure in San Francisco was not a lack of imagination or taste, but rather that she didn’t help her conservative audience find their own way towards more experimental production styles; she knocked them unconscious and had them wake up a shabby room filled with discarded shoes and strange men in raincoats.

Gelb, on the other hand, had an exceptionally strong first season and the Met audience was largely excited and supportive. Yet, only one director from that first season ever returned for a second show and the goodwill generated with the opera-going public was squandered by the many dismal productions that followed with no artistic throughline back to that first season.

The trust can be built back, but the house needs to focus more on the quality of new productions, not the quantity. It’s likely better to wait for Willy Decker or Robert Carsen, or William Kentridge, or Phelim McDermott and Julian Crouch to become available for return engagements than to churn out new productions with directors who, suspiciously, always seem to be “at liberty.” I see no need to aim for seven or five or even three new productions per season until the house has productive ongoing relationships with a set of directors that together provide a clear indication of the artistic priorities of the company. I don’t think the Met needs to restrict itself to just a handful of directors, but something is clearly askew when the directors who are busy at the Met are the ones who haven’t created anything memorable.

To be frank, Gelb has been at his most effective as a general manager when’s he has chosen productions off the rack , i.e., those he was able to experience in the theater. I wouldn’t mind if he did more cherry-picking of existing productions for the Met since the work will be largely new to New York audiences. The downside is that borrowed, bought, and co-produced productions can look awfully cheap and puny on the Met’s panoramic stage. Also, it doesn’t help the Met attract tourists, if the Met’s season is dominated by new productions that London operagoers have already seen and reviled.

The other prerequisite for the portfolio of new productions is that the Met needs more shows that look their best in this house and not on HD or in other houses. Offerings like Prince Igor or Madama Butterfly, which need to be experienced in the house for their full dramatic impact are necessary for the future of the company.

Even with a more satisfying set of productions at the house, the current Met season model of long runs of repertory chestnuts interspersed with brief runs of other works no longer seems to make sense now. Next season, the abecedarian Aida, Bohème and Carmen are scheduled to be performed 16 times, 15 times, and 16 times respectively. Are there really 60,000 people who want to see those operas next season? With the mostly so-so casts the Met has on tap? Opera lovers planning a special night at the Met would likely gravitate towards different fare.

As a result, I would think the Met needs to find a way to increase the number of works in a season to at least 30. Greater variety will bring opera lovers to see shows more frequently and create more reasons for out-of-towners to come. It might also inspire audiences used to seeing all the season highlights in the HD series to make the effort to get to the opera house. True, programming more shows creates more complex rehearsal logistics, but other companies manage more varied seasons with the same overall number of rehearsals as the Met.

One possibility might be to offer certain rarities in concert; as this type of presentation requires much less stage rehearsal. The hottest ticket at Salzburg this summer was for concert performances of Giovanna D’Arco. I would love to see this work come to the Met, but I’m not sure it’s worthwhile for the Met to even rent a production, particularly if it’s a production like the lifeless, hideous bus and truck show of Thomas’ Hamlet that came to the Met for Natalie Dessay.

Also, concert performances provide a singer-friendly way to try out new repertoire. Maybe Joyce DiDonato wants to sing Mignon, but she doesn’t feel like waiting five years until some company can scrape together a production for her. At the Met, she could not only debut the role in public, but have Diana Damrau as her Philene to boot.

Another option would be for the Met to have part of its season take place outside the confines of the Opera House. Imagine if each year, the Met did a mini-season of Baroque operas at BAM. I wonder if a run split between the Met and BAM would have helped Two Boys find the audience it deserved? I believe that BAM’s acting as co-presenter helped NYCO attract a bigger audience for Anna Nicole than they would have at a different venue. Staying in Brooklyn, an “arena style” concert at the Barclay Center featuring a few big name singers and high-tech visuals by 59 Productions could help the Met find a whole new audience. Performances in Brooklyn free up the house for stage rehearsals with piano.

Going on the road might even salvage the Lepage Ring. Would it be possible to set up the Machine at the Park Avenue Armory and leave it in place for rehearsals and performances? In effect, by building the Machine a custom theater, it would free the production of the constraints and compromises caused by the need have the Machine work in a repertory house. This might inspire Lepage to stage the opera as he originally envisioned it. And if the idea didn’t work, maybe the Machine could just be forgotten there or mysteriously re-routed and lost in Fort Lee traffic. In my fever dream of an itinerary for a peripatetic Met, the company could even turn up at Radio City Musical Hall for a few performances of Robert le Diable with the Rockettes high-kicking their way through the nun’s ballet.

Continuing to re-imagine the Met season, another way to build some excitement would be to end the season with a Festival as the Bavarian State Opera does. Selected shows from earlier in the season would be reprised for a few performances each. In addition, there could be concerts with orchestra, recitals, and something special to close out each season. I would end each Festival with a concert featuring performances by that year’s graduates of the Lindemann Young Artists Program and Met Auditions winners. What better way to end each season than to focus on great performances that lie ahead? In Munich, tourists and locals alike snatch up the festival tickets as soon as they are available. Wouldn’t this happen in New York as well?

A Festival with a grand finale creates a sense of occasion that the Met seasons lack nowadays. At the other end of the season, how about a reconsideration of a gala performance on Opening Night? Gelb has largely done away with the one-off gala performance. I recognize they throw schedules off in early weeks and cut into rehearsals for new productions. However, there’s something to be said for having Opening Night audiences see something that only they can get to see, especially if they are expected to shell out thousands of dollars a ticket for dinner and an overly long show. Do gala audiences really want to be forced to squirm through a four hour Eugene Onegin when the same show will be repeated at 1/10 the price three days later?

There’s no rule that dictates that the season’s biggest gala must be on opening night, either. Opening with a new production creates its own excitement. Why not have the season’s big ticket gala occur towards the middle of the season to create an adrenaline rush during the winter doldrums? The social calendar will recover from the disruption and the house will find it easier to accommodate rehearsals for a one-off show. We don’t necessarily need to go back to the Volpe-style random acts from random acts of opera or the eight hour marathon like the James Levine 25th Anniversary Gala. Peter Gelb devised a novel approach for the Met’s 125th anniversary gala and its fascinating glimpses into the Met’s past provided a rewarding evening.

I’m sure we Parterriani could crowd-source a couple of decades worth of suggestions for special evenings at the opera. I vote for a celebration of ballet at the opera with two or three acts from Verdi operas with their ballets restored. I would eagerly snap up a ticket to a show that featured Act III of I Vespri Siciliani with the celebrated Jerome Robbins version of the Four Seasons ballet and Act III of Don Carlos with the Balanchine Ballo della Regina. Heck, the Met could even demonstrate geopolitical sensitivity and present a night in the Ukraine (Iphigenie en Tauride, Mazeppa) – but that might not be very festive and it could drive Valery Gergiev away from the house permanently (sniff, sniff).

Similarly, if the Met wants to make New Year’s Eve a festive evening, why on earth choose a downer like a new production of Maria Stuarda in McVicar’s black and white and gray all over version? Shouldn’t more upbeat fare be in order? Shouldn’t the Met be performing something that makes the audience feel it’s seeing something special on a special night? When the new Die Fledermaus premiered couldn’t there have been a few special guests performing in the party scene? Couldn’t the Met chorus even have sung “Auld Lang Syne?” For that matter, wouldn’t it have been fun if during each performance of the Die Fledermaus run, there was a different surprise guest in the party scene? If this forced further cutting of the leaden Douglas Carter Beane libretto, that would be an even greater boon for the audience.

More could be done with programming (and marketing) to give each season a distinctive focus. Audiences need to be reminded that each year contains special repertory and casts that they might not get to experience again for quite a while. Well-chosen thematic underpinnings provide structure and sustained interest over the course of a long season.

This year’s season at the Met features three Bellini operas, but that’s not highlighted anywhere. One of the Met’s orchestral concerts could have had excerpts from La Straniera or I Capuleti e i Montecchi. Much more could have been done to acknowledge the Britten Centennial, particularly in partnership with Carnegie Hall, The New York Philharmonic or Lincoln Center. Themes could be chosen with special resonance for New York audiences. I could see a Met season, or more likely a pair of seasons, that features all the operas that Gustav Mahler conducted at the Met (not in Mahler’s versions, though, please), plus concert performances of all nine Mahler symphonies, songs with orchestra, and Das Lied von der Erde.

A set of works each season could be chosen by a performer, composer, or guest conductor in residence for the season. The guest conductor would get to conduct at least three operas, ideally including one new production, one revival of something not seen in a while and possibly a third opera that’s completely new to the Met. I believe that Thomas Adès’ next opera The Exterminating Angel is slated to find its way to the Met. Wouldn’t it be illuminating for the audience if Adès, who is a smashing conductor, got to lead other works of his choosing in the run-up to the premiere?

A season should be more than just a collection of operas chosen based on budgets, artist availability, and coverage of a formulaic set of repertory categories. Each season should be an opportunity for a well-curated tour of the expected and unexpected.

For that journey we’ll need better sandwiches, but that’s a topic for part three.

Photos: Cory Weaver (Prince Igor), Ken Howard (The Nose, Parsifal), Marty Sohl (Madama Butterfly), Silvia Lelli (Giovanna d’Arco), Paul Kolnik (Four Seasons).

  • opus

    Like many here, I was thrilled with Dawn Fatale’s fact-driven and extremely well-written explication of the Met’s financial position and failing business model. I was excited not because her revelations were comforting, but because they were based in data and not simple anecdotes. To be very clear, by this I mean “The Met looked empty when I was there last Tuesday” is an anecdote and “ticket sales for Carmen were at 76% of capacity and only achieved 86% of revenue goals for that production” is data. (Note these are not actual numbers. Just random ones)

    As my mother crudely told me, “opinions are like a**holes: everyone’s got one.” So too are many of these proposed solutions. To say “Nobody under 60 is interested in seeing Botha onstage in anything” is an opinion. So are most of the postings here. Just so there is no confusion, there is nothing wrong with expressing opinions. In fact, conflicting opinion is one of the many things that makes opera wonderful. But if we are to propose a remedy for an art form we all love and care about, it needs to find more basis in data-driven decision-making and less in “I’d like to see X singer in Y production with Z director.”

    Dawn Fatale did an incredible job presenting what is wrong with opera at the Met and a somewhat-less successful one (notice, my opinion) at what can be done about it.

    An often overlooked statistic about opera production in the United States is the more performances an opera house does, the more money it loses. This is different from the symphony model, which has much smaller overhead to add performances. Even if an American opera house were to sell every ticket in the house, ticket prices cover between 23% and 41% of company-wide expenses. This isn’t to suggest one should cut back on performances, but we must reevaluate opera’s expenditures. As hated as he is here for his artistic vision (again -- opinion), Gelb is right in evaluating union contracts and pay scale for AGMA, IATSE, and the rest of these labor costs. For a sustainable future, this is a critical place to look. Adding sold-out performances of shows shouldn’t have a negative net result, but it often does.

    Another place might be dramatically lowering ticket prices to remove barrier to entry for new subscribers and single-ticket buyers. Houston Grand Opera did this under Anthony Freud’s leadership with tremendous result, moving from an all-time low of just over 6,000 subscribers in 2007 to over 8,000 in 2008. Donations also came in at record highs and have been steadily rising ever since. (They are in the home stretch of an $165 million fundraising campaign that began in this same period) Lyric Opera of Chicago has seen their subscriptions fall to the pre-Danny Newman days of “Subscribe Now” from unsustainably high ticket prices. Could the Met learn from the examples of other US companies, or is it beyond comparison? Or does its opinion of itself stop it from doing so?

    • An often overlooked statistic about opera production in the United States is the more performances an opera house does, the more money it loses. This is different from the symphony model, which has much smaller overhead to add performances.

      Actually, it’s the same with orchestras. Every performance is an opportunity to lose more money. That’s the beauty of the system. It is also why many orchestras and opera companies will regularly pay for un-used services by their orchestra — services that are part of the contract but which the company can’t afford to utilise. Opera is obviously the most expensive art form (with bigger overhead as you say) but the difference between the costs of an symphony concert and an opera performance is made up mostly through ticket prices. That’s why the top ticket price at a symphony concert is the same as a the 3rd or 4th most expensive opera ticket.

      This money-losing model is why I take issue with Dawn Fatale’s claim about the “blatant canard” in her otherwise excellent piece. More thoughts on that a bit later.

      • Henry Holland

        Opera is obviously the most expensive art form

        “Obviously”? I think producers and financiers of big-budget movies would have a few things to say about that.

        • Yes, darling, but is it art? ;)

          • Henry Holland

            Are Wainwright’s Prima Donna or Albarn’s Doctor Dee or Asian Dub Foundation’s Gaddafi: The Opera, all of which received productions by opera companies, considered Art or have they disappeared down the memory hole? :-)

            • I will just say that opera is the most expensive of the performing arts. I’d venture a guess that even the Spiderman musical, for all of its bloated budget, is probably cheaper than an opera on a per-performance basis.

              And since I’m an employee of the company that has commissioned RW’s next opera, I will leave it as that. :)

          • Camille

            OMG, kashania! Make it stop!!!!! Please!

            Send him back to strumming his guitar and yodeling, at which he is just fine and enjoyable. No more POPERAS!!!!!!!

            Please, I am counting on you.

    • Don_Dano

      Good points about HGO opus.

      I had thought about not renewing my subscription for next season but when I did the math, cost of subscription vs single ticket costs for the operas I still wanted to see, the subscription was the clear choice.

      The past few years, because subscriptions prices seemed so reasonable, I had been matching the subscription price with a roughly equal donation.

      And last week, I was perplexed, “How is it that San Diego is closing down but HGO is closing in on their $165,000,000.00 goal?”

  • redbear

    The wreckage from the Minnesota Orchestra strike is like a dark cloud over America’s music scene. In the face of decades of decline in donor support nationally, most orchestras made adjustments to their expectations. The Minnesota Orchestra members remained militant and the angry one-year shutdown was very negative. Whether the orchestra can rebuild is still not known.
    We have already heard from the principal unions at the Met. “Why should we sacrifice? Do you have any idea what was spent on that Ring?!” They sound very much like the Minnesota Orchestra musicians.

    • mozartFreak

      Give me a break! The Minnesota Orchestra debacle was about breaking the union. Management was able to raise over $100 million dollars, about half of which was to rennovate the fricken’ lobby. While they were raising the money, they claimed balanced budgets. When they were negotiating with the orchestra, demanding 40% paycuts and multiple changes to work rules that would have left non-musical manager making artistic decisions. Mangement would only begin negotiating when the city was considering revoking their lease on Orchestra Hall.

      This is all documented on http://songofthelark.wordpress.com/

      • redbear

        So tell me how it all ended. Everybody happy now?

        • CEO Michael Henson has been unceremoniously fired, so I’m sure many musicians and one conductor are quite happy about that.

  • -Ed.

    I may need an intervention. I can’t stop watching the regie Giulio Cesare from 2012 in Salzburg. Bring it over here, Gelb! Save the Met! Save me!!!

    • Feldmarschallin

      Is that the same wig Damrau wore in the Scala Traviata in the third act?

      • -Ed.

        Dunno, I don’t do Traviata.

        • laddie

          If you get your kicks from that Cesare, you must watch the La Scala Traviata. The latter production was infinitely more intelligent.

  • The way things are going, opera hosues are probably pooling wigs.

  • The way things are going, opera houses are probably pooling wigs.

  • Salome Where She Danced

    Basic problem: 3800 seats is too many to fill in this day and age. That number was no doubt considered feasible and desirable in the mid-1960s; but that was another era, with fewer entertainment options, America was then a more confident empire, and millions of regular Metgoers were then still alive.

    Tear it down, and re-build a house half the size.

    • A. Poggia Turra

      Or -- sell only 2500 of the seats (literally cover the 1350 least desirable seats with an acoustically-friendly covering).

      Maybe sell up to 500 additional seats when there’s extraordinary demand (like when Jonas does a nude scene) :D

      • Guestoria Unpopularenka

        Ewww

    • MontyNostry

      How about an operatic multiplex theatre?

      • antikitschychick

        Fabulous idea Monty. They could re-design the stage and have it be in the middle of the theater with the seats surrounding it, making it more like an amphitheater with live-streaming 3D projections for the singers that can’t be there physically :-D…and the ones that are there can be tied to electrical chords that lift them up in the air! :-P.

        • antikitschychick

          *cords that is. But electrical CHORDS are sure to come too lol.

  • papopera

    The Metropolitan Opera was and still is the most prestigious in the world. It has been performing for 130 years without any governments’ subsidies. It will never fail.

    • operadent

      I tend to agree with you, papopera. It may well have to reinvent itself, but there is just too much money in the NY area to let it fail.

    • Guestoria Unpopularenka

      Most prestigious is a relative term.

  • Avantialouie

    My own take on the Met’s current problems can be summed up in four words: IT’S NEW PRODUCTIONS SUCK. No one goes to the Met today because the Met offers nothing anyone wants to see or hear. I have always gone to the opera to hear stars of whom I have been particularly fond or to hear works that occupy a “special place” in my heart. But I also went to SEE PRODUCTIONS: Beaton, Merrill/O’Hearn, Zefferelli. As it is, the Met has just retired one of ONLY TWO operas in its repertory (“Der Rosenkavalier”) that I would be willing to attend “just because of the production” and pretty much regardless of whoever might be singing in it. When Gelb can get something on his stage that’s worth attending, people attend. His success with a few of his worthier imports like “La Traviata” and “From the House of the Dead” prove that. His success in nearly filling the house with great productions like “Turandot,” even when sung by second-rate artists, prove that. The one exception to the above might be “The Nose,” which is a great production; unfortunately, it’s not an opera people really want to hear all that often.

    • steveac10

      I would agree if there had been a better track record back in the previous 3 decades. I can see no correlation between the quality of new productions and overall box office. Volpe’s track record is even worse than Gelbs: The melting Faust, The Zeff Giovanni & Carmen, Lucia, Trovatore (take your pick) etc. And don’t get me started on the mid to late 70’s. While Dexter had his hits (Lulu, Carmelites, Parade), but his track record with the standard rep was less than hit or miss. Anybody remember the paper bag Aida or the popsicle stick Prophete? They spent the better part of a decade with an exorable borrowed Boheme because they couldn’t be bothered to build a new one.

      In the early seventies there were such glories as the AstroTurf Carmen, but mostly we saw the standard rep in the faded remnants of Bing’s big successes from the 50’s. Some of those productions had been repainted so many times they looked like preschool finger painting projects and they all looked hopelessly of anther era in stagecraft. It may have been okay on a Price or Sutherland night, but when I saw them on tour with aging house singers and no name Slavs -- the results were often sad.

      Eventually the Boheme and Turandot will have to be retired, because they will start falling apart (like the Schenk Hoffman). I would have to imagine the cost to completely rebuild either of them from the ground up would make the Lepage Ring budget look like pocket change.

  • DonCarloFanatic

    It looks as if the Houston Grand Opera’s “new” Ring Cycle is actually the same one done in Europe about five years ago. The Liceu?

    • A. Poggia Turra

      Not Barcelona, but Valencia; it’s the production by La Fura dels Baus.

      • redbear

        Available on DVD.

        • DonCarloFanatic

          Thanks. I’ll get the DVD, although I might still want to see it live. I saw the first as a simulcast in a small Baltimore art house cinema and enjoyed it very much. Liked the Alberich in particular.

          • manou

            I saw the Fura Dels Baus Götterdämmerung at the Maggio Musicale in Florence (Mehta, Lance Ryan, Jennifer Wilson) -- some of it was just too OTT (Rhinemaidens in water tanks, etc), but I thought that some of it worked wonderfully, like for instance Siegfried’s funeral march.

            I would go if you can.

            • DonCarloFanatic

              First, I must make my fortune. The full cycle won’t be for a couple of years, so there’s time.

            • some of it worked wonderfully

              I agree, Manou -- the entrance of the gods into a Valhalla literally built from a web of human bodies, and the immolation where the crumbling of Valhalla had the web falling apart and all the bodies hanging dead…

              But how did those Rheinmaidens BREATHE?

    • Regina delle fate

      Well, the original plan was to have the Melbourne RIng, so that wouldn’t have been “new” either, but it would have been a bit “newer” than the Fura Ring. It’s a pity no US house bought the Adelaide Ring of 2005 -- that got great reviews and it was seen three times and pffffft. Same with Copenhagen Ring, but at least that was filmed. Australian taxpayers’ money was wasted on making an audio recording of the Adelaide Ring, that nobody really needs.

  • Cicciabella

    I recently helped someone book a trip to New York on the internet. After we’d picked the flights and hotel, we were presented with the option of booking an astonishing array of tours, museum visits, and theatre tickets, mostly musicals. Opera wasn’t one of them. The Met could get a bigger piece of the city trip tourist action by promoting predeparture bookings. Many tourists who never go to their local opera house try opera or ballet at world-famous venues abroad, just for the experience. The Met could market itself as a “must-do” city trip event, offering more or less straightforward Carmens, Toscas, etc. I understand that musicals run forever and there are only so many performances of your Zeff Bohème, but this is what booking software was made for.

    • mb

      emphatically +1

    • antikitschychick

      I thought this was something they were doing already so its kind of astonishing to hear from your anecdote they don’t seem to be (I know they cant get a handle on every booking agency but still). They need to get in on this ASAP!

  • You can find a night at the opera listed among the top ten things for tourists to do in Budapest -- but that’s partly because it’s magnificent yet cheap. Unfortunately this does have a deleterious effect on audience behaviour: selfies, smooching, texting, etc…

    • oedipe

      It’s very common for tourists from the West to behave like they own the place when they go to an Eastern European country.

      • operaassport

        Do you generalize much or still living in 1971?

        • I didn’t know France was considered an “Eastern European country.”

          • My comment was about visitors to Budapest.

        • oedipe

          How many Eastern European countries have you been to recently?

    • Smooching? Oh no! Texting? Ye gods! Next thing you know they’ll be sacrificing goats right in the Orchestra Balance section.

      I have sat next to (invariably, older) folks who have sung along with the (Chinese) opera being performed onstage. I just remind myself that the Théâtres de la Foire must have felt a bit the same way.

      • At La Gioconda in Florence many years ago (Dimitrova) my Italian neighbour sang along merrily, though not loudly, occasionally shouting “Brava, brava, bella voce…”

        • Not even a megaphone-wielding audience could drown out Dimitrova…

        • Chanterelle

          Same thing at a Mascagni double bill in Cremona — half the audience was softly humming along with the Easter Hymn.

    • bluecabochon

      You can find that behavior anywhere, in any venue.

      • Paris really isn’t too bad, apart from coughing. A phone did once burst into the Carmen overture while Joyce DiDonato was singing “Cease, ruler of the day to rise” (and Christie went apoplectic) but even phones remain rare.

        • oedipe

          Carmen over Handel! Quel outrage!

          • The woman was on the front row so it was easy for Christie to grab and berate her in front of everyone…

  • operaassport

    Some good ideas, some okay ideas, some unrealistic ideas. But none address the big fact I mentioned the other day: the fundamental shift to pop culture which started with the baby boomers and continues with their children and grandchildren. They have close to zero interest. Just look at who they honor with awards compared to 30 years ago. Before it was Balanchine or Astaire at the KC Honors. Now, it’s Letterman and Led Zeppelin.

    Lets also be frank about something else that will probably cause controversy when I say it. There are two groups of people who attend the opera disproportionately to their numbers: gays and Jews. Thankfully we must say. But when you look at the top donor list at the MET you see many Jewish big money folk giving, but very few big money gay folk. Why is that? Why is “our” community not giving to an art form that has been historically important to it? You look at the top donor list and its the same WASP and Jewish names one has always seen. I know many gay millionaires in the city. None go to the opera or give. They seem more interested in Real Housewives and fancy parties in the village. When I was growing up all of my gay friends loved opera. Why has that changed?

    It used to be that “we” started trends. And you could count on us finding the best. Are we just following the trend to low culture?

    I know I’ll get abuse for these comments but thought it should be said. There’s a ton of money in our community. How do we get it into the arts?

    • From the late-18th century to the early-20th century, the ranks of classicists and lovers of Ancient Greek culture were, I believe, disproportionately filled with gay men. The reasons are fairly obvious.

      From the late 19th century onwards, opera and ballet also served as a socially-acceptable locus of gay identification and crypto-gay celebration. Many have speculated that it is the artifice of both forms (particularly in an era dominated by theatrical naturalism and cinematic realism) which appealed to men and women “outside the norm”. With gay emancipation, the need for more covert forms of self-expression and identification has dwindled. It’s possible that many younger gays look at opera today and are more struck by its heteronormativity than enchanted by its artifice. (Ballet and modern dance have been more adaptable, I think, to contemporary polyamorous sensibilities.)

      Certainly this isn’t the whole story for the phenomenon you’ve observed, but is suspect it is part of it.

    • Salome Where She Danced

      Most gay men under the age of, say, 40 don’t know Maria Callas from Charlie Callas. Opera is no longer the cultural adhesive for the formation of gay culture that it was before the 1980s, and especially Stonewall. There is too much else to serve the role that opera did in days of yore: maybe the Met needs a booth at Comic Con. . .

      • operaassport

        Is isn’t just Callas. I teach a film class occasionally at a major East Coast university. I’d say half the class is gay. They don’t know Judy, Joan or Piaf either. It’s all Gaga and Miley and Britney. Makes me sad.

        I’m saying, fundamental shift. It’s not going to change. Our culture is so fractured there is no longer a common culture among people under 40.

        Think if it. The Walking Dead is seen by 17 million people weekly. Dallas in 1978 was seen by 75 million people weekly in a country half the size.

        Everything has changed.

        • 75 million people watching Dallas vs. 17 million for The Walking Dead? I’d say things are moving in the right direction.

          • operaassport

            That wasn’t the point. The point is that in 1978, 75 million viewers constituted a hit. Today, in a larger country, less. We’re fractured and, apparently, too dense to get that.

            • I’d say cultural diversification, to the extent that it has even occurred, is a Good Thing.

              But keep up the cranky-old-man rants. If nothing else, they’re good for a laugh.

        • Cocky Kurwenal

          There seems to be some kind of odd instinct to prevent things from moving on. Callas, Judy, Joan and Piaf will always be there, and people will continue to discover them for themselves as they come across them. But they all peaked give or take 60 years ago -- how many of the people who think of these 4 ladies as the nu plus ultra are familiar with the equivalent figures from 60 years prior to them?

          • These young queens today never talk about Vesta Tilley or Mrs. Langtry.

          • rapt

            Wait a minute! I thought Zachary Stains was the nu plus ultra!

            • Salome Where She Danced

              Mais: Ou est le Zach nu d’antain?

        • antikitschychick

          I largely agree with you operaassport and you do bring up an interesting point. I may not be the most suitable person to address your concern but I should like to say that I think the issue lies in the way the art form itself is viewed and presented and where the appeal lies.

          I think what opera means and does for people of different backgrounds has changed drastically since it was first conceived and will continue to do so. As others have indicated it perhaps no longer serves as “the cultural adhesive for the formation of gay culture” though I would add that there isn’t really a holistic definition/entity to which said cultural adhesive/group can be tied to (as we know that sexual identity and gender are social constructs and thus fluctuate all the time and there is much variety to be found within this concentration of gay individuals) so thinking of it solely based on those terms can be tricky.

          To answer your question about how to get it in the arts though, I would say the focus should be on the art form itself and the universal/humanistic values it has rather than what it can signify for a specific community or group. Obviously the appeal is ultimately subjective but I think the subjective appeal is more abstract and less specific than what the “locus of gay identification” and its social codifiers would dictate. In other words, the appeal of Opera goes beyond (or can go beyond) cultural and social determinants like sex, gender and ethnicity. Hope that makes sense.

          • kennedet

            Your comments makes sense to me antikitschychick and they are very well stated.

            Operassport has made many racists and gender specific comments which only sends a message of dividing us among each other without any solution to a very serious discussion.To make calculations and pronouncements based on race, gender, lifestyle, sexual preference, etc. does more damage, which adds to the problem. I have loved and been involved in opera for as long as I can remember but human beings have a right to dislike it also. Arrogance also does major damage and many opera lovers also have this sterotype. We happen to love an art form that satisfies us and brings us joy and comfort. We are not better than any other human being because we have these tastes. Pointing out which group supports opera versus another group of people wreaks havoc, causes erroneous comparisons and belittles others. This hinders the solution to any problem or concern.

        • No Expert

          And there has been a fundamental shift even in the standards of pop music.Remember when Milli Villi was universally condemned and vilified for lip-synching? Now the most successful pop stars can be caught auto-tuning and lip-synching and it’s no big deal.

          • armerjacquino

            Well, yes and no. The big deal with Milli Vanilli wasn’t just that they were lipsynching, it was that they didn’t sing on the records at all. It would still be a career-ending embarrassment if that happened to any popstar now.

            • antikitschychick

              I was just about to point that out lol thanks armerj.

            • operaassport

              And they don’t even sing at live shows! I took my godson to a Britney Spears concert for Christmas (it’s what he wanted), the tickets were $250 apiece, and it was obvious she wasnt actually singing. My godson said “no one sings, who cares, it would take away from the show.” I was stunned.

              Can you imagine Judy or Ella or Frank not singing in concert? And people accepting that? Crazy.

            • No Expert

              I don’t know about that any more. A fake pop start might never again win a Grammy, but he/she might win a People’s Choice Award

            • MontyNostry

              “It would still be a career-ending embarrassment if that happened to any popstar now.” With most of them, we can live in hope.

    • Bob

      I was a gay opera fan in the 50’s and 60’s. I remember the Met standees line was mostly gays. We could argue for hours over the relative merits of Milanov, Callas, and Tebaldi, while someone passed around a bottle of cheap wine (muscatel, Ugh) I never heard of any gays who had made big contributions, or even bought an expensive ticket The Met never let on that it knew the standees were heavily gay (and as I recall virtually all male). The presence of Ira Siff as commentator on Saturdays is an attempt to reach out to gays. Alas the interest of young gays is no longer there to be reached out to. What happened?

  • Will

    Interesting--one thing I do during intermissions is scan the donor lists, all levels, to see how many male couples and female couples are listed. In truth, there isn’t an overwhelming number but there are more now than several years ago, and the number is higher among male couples than female.

    As to shrinking audiences in all the “high” arts, I lay the blame significantly on the removal of art and music from our schools. Children are growing up without any real culture and in the world they frequently see opera ridiculed.

    • operaassport

      I was talking top donors. There are practically zero.

    • Krunoslav


      Interesting--one thing I do during intermissions is scan the donor lists, all levels, to see how many male couples and female couples are listed.”

      I always do the same. In some non-urban venues I wonder if they discourage same sex couple listings! You’d always think the e would be more.

  • decotodd

    The last time I was at the Met (Werther) people were taking pics of themselves or friends in the lobby and auditorium. I thought it was great — their excitement to be in this famous house. Why ridicule it? These non jaded opera goers are just the kind of newbies we need to keep opera seats full.

    • You’re right, and I haven’t seen people taking selfies during the performance -- yet! But having a canoodling couple in front of you is a distraction, as is a texting neighbour or people whispering during the best bits.

  • redbear

    I find it ironic that the most performed living composer world-wide, by far, is an American. The second place is also held by an American. Doctor Atomic is playing in Strasbourg in May and Metz just opened Susanna. All this is happening when America itself has entirely lost interest in its culture. The NEA statistics have been tracking the audience decline for decades. Norman Mailer and Beverly Sills used to appear on Johnny Carsen. Tebaldi was frequently on the most watched program in America, The Ed Sullivan Show. Major city newspapers had music critics. Rich donors thought culture was vital. That was then.

    • operaassport

      My guess is that the most performed living composer is Paul McCartney. Last I checked, he wasnt an American.

      • redbear

        I assumed we were talking about opera here on Parterre. That was my mistake I guess. The opera in Metz is Barber’s Vanessa

    • operaassport

      The Ed Sullivan Show was never the most watched program in America. Most watched variety program, yes, but many other TV shows were far more popular.

      • redbear

        You are right. It was only most watched on Sunday from 8 to 9 and is only 15 on the list of the top 50 greatest television programs of all time.

      • rapt

        Some speedy Google research: In the 1956-57 season, the Ed Sullivan Show was #2 in popularity. Guests that season included Tebaldi, Callas, Del Monaco, Bjoerling, Kirsten, Mattiwilda Dobbs, et al.

      • RosinaLeckermaul

        At one point in the mid-1950s, Sullivan decided to include on his show scenes from operas with Met stars beginning with Callas and Gobbi in part of Act II of TOSCA. Ratings dropped so the excerpts got shorter and shorter. There was the brave NBC OPERA THEATRE, which presented complete operas in English with excellent American casts throughout the 1950s. They even presented contemporary works like DIALOGUES OF THE CARMELITES.

        • Batty Masetto

          Ach, Rosina, how could you forget that it was Callas + London?

          And NBC Opera Theatre was instrumental in hooking this addict. I remember a Fidelio, a Don Giovanni (I think with L. Price as Donna Anna), a Lucia, and a L’Amore dei Tre Re (with Phyllis Curtin; that one didn’t make much sense to me at the time).

    • A. Poggia Turra

      Reminder: That Doctor Atomic will be streamed live on Medici on May 6th (production by Lucinda Childs) (!)

  • operatenorman

    I think many are overlooking a major thing the MET misses compared to houses in Munich, Vienna, Zurich, etc. They are missing a true ensemble -- a fest system. Certainly there are singers that sing at the MET in tiny roles many times through the year and make a weekly wage, etc. And there is also the Lindemann program. But it’s not the same thing as having 20-30 stable singers who sing in every opera in noticeable roles. An ensemble system would be extremely useful for the house both for cutting costs, creating a Festival Season, or just in ensuring there is good singing going on.

    The MET would have their pick of the litter among singers for their fest and could probably pay them a fair salary (for NY standards) and reduce both casting woes and financial problems. I am talking about having fest singers that sing roles that are small, medium, AND large. If you look at houses in Europe they all have singers like this -- for example: Munich has singers on the Ensemble such as M. Volle, T. Erraught, A. Brower, etc who are singing major roles as well as smaller roles (especially in the case of the two latter) but who also sing in other houses as guests. Vienna has Hartig. Zurich has Breslik, Camarena, etc. They save money AND get great singing that the MET pays top dollar for. Certainly many of these and other singers would love to be fest at the MET.

    If anything, this would allow the house to cast on shorter notice, fill many roles that are now paid on per performance basis, and cut back on the number of covers used (if multiple people in the house sing the same roles, you don’t need to have covers -- they are built into the system.)

    A festival season becomes financially viable when the same people are singing the supporting roles each night. If you look at the casting in Munich for that month, you will see many singers singing 15 performances for the month. They make a lot of money, sing every other night, and audiences come to see them in multiple roles. You don’t need to pay a different guest each night.

    Anyhow, sorry for the rambling of the post, just something I think could really help out with the financial woes at the MET.

  • Some belated thoughts on Dawn Fatale’s excellent piece.

    Two facts stood out to me from Dawn’s first piece.

    1. The Met’s overall budget has increased to an astonishing $311M a year requiring half that amount to come from fundraising (which as was pointed out, is the equivalent of the NEA’s entire disbursement in the same period).

    2. The Met only sold 79% of its seats in the last season. This includes heavily discounted tickets like rush tickets, etc.

    To me, it’s dangerous and possibly unsustainable to maintain such a large budget (a 50% increase from the Volpe years). Depending on over $160M in donations every year just to keep the doors open is madness. The Met’s management seems to realise this which is why they are endeavouring to reduce their costs so they can focus some of their fundraising efforts on endowment and more long-term fundraising.

    21% of the seats going unsold is a very high number. In the 2012-13 season, the Met gave 209 performances. Multiply that by 3,800 seats and you get a total of 794,200 seats to sell in a season. It means that 166,782 seats went unsold. Even if the Met cut its number of performances by 10%, they would still be looking at well over 80,000 empty seats.

    Most people know that the solution to selling tickets is programming and marketing. And the old joke that marketing people will bitterly tell is that if a show sells well, it’s a result of good programming and if it sells poorly, it’s bad marketing.

    As has been pointed out, Gelb has made significant investments in both programming and marketing. As well as marketing, Gelb has done a lot to raise awareness about the company through the HD broadcasts and the big red carpet opening nights with the simulcast in Times Square. Even Gelb’s harshest critics would acknowledge that he knows a thing or two about marketing. While there’s always room for improvement, I feel safe in venturing that Gelb and his team are for most part maximizing the marketing opportunities for the company.

    On the programming side, Dawn has outlined the failures and successes. And yes, it’s true that Gelb’s new productions have been mostly disappointing unless they’ve premiered elsewhere. Whatever ticket sale benefits that the Met may have reaped from Gelb’s programming seem to have dissipated, so some new thinking is in order.

    I love some of the programming suggestions. Yes, do some one-off concerts, including rare operas in concert. Though, however successful, those kinds of concerts will only marginally improve the company’s overall attendance. The festival style programming is fabulous. Now, there’s an opportunity to increase ticket sales!

    But one also has to look at the last several years’ worth of data on ticket sales. Unimaginative and inside-the-box as the thinking may be, recent tickets sales data is the best indicator of demand in the marketplace. Basing market place demand on the population of the Greater NYC area or the number of tourists is specious as far as I’m concerned.

    Despite its size and tourism market, this is a city that could not support two major opera companies. Whatever George Steel’s faults and errors, that basic fact cannot be ignored. And we all know that NYCO’s problems pre-dated Steel’s arrival.

    This is why I have a problem with the “blatant canard” that says that the Met needs to reduce its number of performances. Yes, more imaginative programming can solve some of the Met’s audience problems but nothing sells tickets better than a sold-out product. If the Met could regularly have 95%+ attendance, then it would become the unattainable ticket. That would help retain subscribers and make the Met a hot ticket.

    As I see it, the Met is far better off reducing its number of performances and becoming the unattainable ticket. After that fact is established, the company could look at possibly expanding its season and increasing the number of performances.

    But also remember that every performance (even if sold out) is still a money-loser. And that brings me to my first point about the extraordinary operating budget of $311M. Dawn Fatale’s suggestion of increasing to 30 productions (from 28 in 12-13) just adds to the expense problem AFAIC.

    The Met is far better off doing less and doing a better job of it, then doing too much and continuing to be a place where one can always walk up to the box office and have no fear of not getting a ticket.

    • Salome Where She Danced

      F’rinstance: given the right production and marketing, there’s no reason why a Ring Cycle couldn’t bring in at least some of the millions who are glued to “Game of Thrones.”

      • Hmmm… I’m not so sure. The Ring is considered boring even by some opera lovers. In between the impressive moments, you have long stretches made up of two character having a seemingly endless conversation (to the newbie, anyway) with no easily-hummable tunes. The Ring isn’t all that accessible, IMO.

        I imagine that most newbies would be completely drawn in by the opening of Rheingold and then begin to lose interest somewhere in Scene 2. Then, they would perk up at the arrival of the giants, and then lose interest again. And can you imagine what they would think about Act I of Walküre where very little happens in 70 minutes? And forget about Wotan’s Monologue in Act II.

        • Salome Where She Danced

          It’s all in the staging, singing, and conducting--it can be boring, true, or absolutely riveting.

          • Yes and no. I think even the greatest production of the Ring has the potential to bore a non-opera audience to death. I don’t mean to be negative but the pace at which the story moves in the Ring is far slower than what the Game of Thrones audience expects. And then there’s the singing. Voices that can do Siegfried and Brünnhilde justice are not only exceedingly rare, but also unappealing in tone to many non-opera lovers.

            • DonCarloFanatic

              The Ring’s pace is glacial, no question, and the singing style employed is an acquired taste. But the Ring has plenty of fans regardless, and like Grateful Dead fans, we travel.

              Yet the Met’s most recent Ring cycles were scheduled so each performance in the cycle was so far from the next that anyone coming from out of town to see the Ring would have to spend well over a week in NYC to see it, or even several weeks, depending on the cycle. That required a very significant financial and time outlay in addition to the ticket price, and the stretched-out schedule also destroyed the potential for an intense musical experience and a festival atmosphere. I didn’t go.

              Although the Met importunes me often to donate, it tends to be very offhand about the quality of my opera-going experience.

              Another example: those dress rehearsal lotteries that are clearly meant only for NYC residents because of the ticket pick-up requirements.

              When I think about it, I find there is nothing inviting about attending the Met. The Met condescends to sell me an expensive ticket, and that’s all. Very New York of it, in fact, i.e., “Next!”

        • aulus agerius

          This pretty much describes my response as a newbie and, alas, it pertains 30 years later too.

        • FragendeFrau82

          Very little happens in act one of Walküre? You’ve got a soap opera happening there! If anything I’d think that alone would grab non-opera lovers. Especially if you have singers who are good actors, in a production that allows them space.

          • I should be clear. I adore the Ring and the first act of Walküre is my favourite single act in all of opera. But I know that lots of people with shorter attention spans would find it very slow moving. I took a friend to see the opera. He’s no afficionado, but he likes opera and the Ring. At the end of Act I of Walküre, the audience erupted into a loud and sustained ovation. My friend was rather surprised that everyone like it so much. He like it too but he thought it was all rather slow. The act is a very slow burn (which is part of what makes it great).

            Slow moving stories (books, films, operas) are my favourite so I’m always having to adjust my thinking for what the rest of the world finds interesting or boring. I can’t use personal experience. I remember that others had to point out to me that Pelleas is slow-moving.

            My comments on the Ring are all based on the notion of having the work be appealing to a typical Game of Thrones fan.

      • antikitschychick

        But there needs to be at least one real dragon :-P.

        • Rory Williams

          Paging Daenerys! Come in, Daenerys!

    • oedipe

      Very thoughtful and wise post, Kashania.

      I also have a modest proposal. The Met should consider investing a small portion of that $311 budget in surveys.

      It is important for the Met to have an in-depth understanding of its existing customer base: do a survey and a multi-variant analysis of 1) existing audience cross-section; 2) the criteria people use to select a performance: title/cast/production/day-of-the-week, etc.; 3) the popularity factor: which titles/composers/singers people have heard of and are attracted to; 4) from a list of 100 opera titles, which are the ones that people recognize and which are the ones that people would want to see staged, in the order of preference; 5) what are people’s most memorable Met experiences (if any). These are just some ideas of survey questions…

      A wider survey (say, of the population of NYC) could be devised: 1) what % of people have ever seen an opera; 2) what % of people see an opera at least once a year; 3) what titles/composers/singers have people heard of; 4) what is people’s opinion of opera as a form of entertainment, etc.

      The first rule in a consumer-related field is: know as much as possible about your customer base.

      • oedipe

        …$311M budget…

        • You expect me to put on a season for $311? :)

          I wonder what survey data the Met has and how recent it is? I also wonder what kind of survey information the NYC Tourism Board (or whatever the organisation is called) has.

          Certainly, going into major negotiations and asking for concessions and cuts from the unions, it is helpful to have such data to support one’s case.

          • Chanterelle

            The NYC Tourism board survey that landed in my inbox last week, thanks to Lincoln Center, was poorly designed, semi-functional (you couldn’t click as instructed), and irritating--so they lost my attention halfway through. The internet has made it all too easy for businesses to solicit opinions via superficial surveys without nuance or room for comment, and the data is likely to be inaccurate. Companies used to run in-depth focus groups--I know someone who sat on a Met focus group just a couple of years ago. These cheaper methods of collecting information are not going to give them the insights they seek. (mind you, this is just the opinion of someone who doesn’t work in marketing)

            • By coincidence, I was sent a survey by a Paris orchestra this week and wondered what (wrong) conclusions they would draw from the only answers I was allowed to give in such a poorly thought-out questionnaire.

        • redbear

          But, in your own country, the national museum did do an audience survey and did ask those questions. What they discovered was that nobody wanted to see those posers calling themselves “impressionists”. No one had heard of names like Van Gogh, Renoir or Degas. Nobody liked their work and they would never buy a ticket to any of their exhibitions. And the polls were correct and the museums responded accordingly and kept showing Chintreuil and Daubigny.

  • redbear

    Opera is an art just like painting.

  • jrance

    Perhaps the HD theater-casts should be blacked out within a 25-50 mile radius of Lincoln Center. Also there’s too much Met opera given away on Sirius…it’s TOO available. Why go to hear a middling cast, buying tickets, parking, dinner and getting home at 1:30 AM when you can just log in and get off at home. You can listen in your underwear, drink beer, go to the john, get stoned, and turn the performance off if it’s bad.

    As far as getting new audiences to come to the Met, one should remember that young people today have a short attention span; everything is Tweeted and ‘instant’…sitting thru an un-amplified 3 or 4 hour opera performance with Gelb-length intermissions could seem frightfully dull.

    And what would be the point of the Met doing musicals? NYC is the home of Broadway…why bring more coals to Newcastle?

    As to traditional vs modernized productions, it’s good to recall that the people who give large sums of money to the Met -- who keep it going for the rest of you -- and who have subscribed for decades tend to be conservative in their tastes. Yes, ‘museum’ opera. That’s pretty much what they like. When kids from Brooklyn come to see Two Boys and decide to give the Met $1,000,000 to help fund the next Muhly opera, they’ll start to build some credentials. Just buying a pair of Rush seats and coming once a season doesn’t cut it.

    One day Mmes. Ziff and Bass will start to realize they are pouring millions into the Met for no real reason and will turn to another hobby enterprise.

    • Rory Williams

      Well, certainly feeling busted about listening to Sirius while in my underwear drinking a beer :) but I’m not sure I wouldn’t nominate “young people today have a short attention span” for canard status. Yes, I agree that recently slogging through something like Andrea Chenier with the LONG intermissions isn’t very appealing to most people I know (and wasn’t to the Parterrians in Chat of all ages), but it’s my impression that “young people” (those pesky buggers) have a healthy appetite for works by Adams and Glass, for example, which work partially as exercises in duration in that they challenge you to “give it up” and let it work outside your regular space. Not sure my Twitter account is actually a reflection of my being shallow. Is it possible my love for going to Parterre Chat and sharing my impressions realtime with Ivy, Manou, AJ, Blue, and many other such smarty pants is not wrong, just different? Also, not trying to ding you (well, a little, but you’re well smart, you knew that), if “Mmes. Ziff and Bass” have poured $$$ into the Met maybe they really love opera rather than view it as a “hobby enterprise”? OK, cranky Rory tonite, and not meaning to beat you up.

    • Uncle Kvetch

      Perhaps the HD theater-casts should be blacked out within a 25-50 mile radius of Lincoln Center.

      Speaking strictly for myself, that would probably mean 2 or 3 more house visits per season for this Gothamite (but in the cheap seats, so not generating much revenue), vs. 5-6 fewer attendances at HD screenings. I’m not sure how that translates into $$ going to the Met, but I doubt it’s a windfall.

      More significantly, I think such a move would generate an awful lot of ill will among the NYC audience that packs the movie theaters in Manhattan for every HD screening.

      The screenings were my gateway drug; they got me excited enough about the prospect of experiencing live opera that I will have gone to the house 6 times by the time this season’s over, in addition to quite a few movie screenings. And while I don’t feel a pressing need to see La Bohème in the house again, I’m greatly looking forward to attending the screening next Saturday. I know this is anecdote and not data, but personally I don’t see it as an either/or proposition. No HD screenings would just mean less opera for me (and I’d probably make it a bigger priority to see the ROH screenings at Symphony Space).

      • I concur with the description of HD as a gateway drug. HD and Sirius converted me from an occasional classical music listener to fanatical opera listener. I now attend as many live opera performaces as I can. I am not the truly young demographic everyone seems to seek but still under 50. As marketing strategies, I think the HD and Sirius are working.

        I believe fewer performances at the Met are inevitable. A schedule that includes Wed. to Sunday matinees or whatever nights/days that sell best may make more sense.

        • Uncle Kvetch

          I am not the truly young demographic everyone seems to seek but still under 50.

          Pokey, my own dalliance with opera began in my 40s, and I don’t think we’re isolated cases in that respect.

  • Donna Anna

    Ms. Fatale’s excellent analysis has much to ponder, along with the commentary. Something else to ponder:
    How do music schools/conservatories adapt to audience shifts? How do they prepare singers (not to mention their entire student body) for fewer career opportunities? The big schools out here--IU, CCM, Cleveland, Oberlin--have no shortage of applicants and not just in music theater. I hope these kids get serious career guidance with a dollop of entrepreneurship.