Cher Public

The Met: What is to be done?

Coming as Peter Gelb did from the music industry, opera lovers hoped that he would display a more distinctive knack for casting and an improved talent pipeline than Joe Volpe offered during the waning years of his tenure.  

In addition, Gelb’s reputation for being able to work with even the most prickly artists gave hope that the house would take on a less cockily antagonistic attitude to performers than it had during the Volpe years. In fact, singers, such as Diana Damrau have spoken publicly about how under Peter Gelb,  they feel that they have a permanent home at the Met and that they appreciate the ability to sing a great variety of roles at the house and be offered new production and Live in HD engagements.

Still, that list of major singers who enjoy productive ongoing relationship with the house has some pretty significant gaps. Now, before I start venting, I recognize that it’s an opera queen badge of honor to pokies online carry a torch for one’s personal Mawrdew Czgowchwz who has been maliciously neglected by the Spider of the Escorial ruining running your local opera company. However, one doesn’t have to look far to find singers who perform regularly in the US, but have still been mystifyingly neglected by the Met under Gelb.

Anna Caterina Antonacci has still never appeared despite being the embodiment of the kind of performer that Gelb claims to want for his opera company.  Nina Stemme, who is arguably the greatest Wagner soprano at the moment, has sung only one measly run of Ariadne auf Naxos since Gelb took over. One can also point to the scanty Met resumes of Günther Groissböck, Alexander Tsymbalyuk, or Anne Schwanewilms—all singers who have sung impressively in the house, have high-profile engagements around the operatic world, and show no sign of coming back to the Met.  I will leave it to my fellow parterrians to name other singers who should be appearing regularly at the Met  yet still haven’t even had their debut (Maria Agresta, anyone?)

Much as I’d like to fantasize to the contrary, hiring Schwanewilms more frequently won’t immediately cause the Met’s box office to rebound. However, more performances by the likes of her will, eventually. The Met, more than any other opera company, needs singers who can project both their voices and their interpretations into the house.  The Met swallows up lots of performers not because they can’t be heard, but because they can’t be felt.  Judging from interviews, I believe that Gelb genuinely understands thishe recognizes those special moments when a singer electrifies a Met audience and strives to make them happen  However, when those singers do perform, they are just electrifying half-empty houses.

The era of the superstar singer appears to be over at the Met. I can’t name a single artist who will guarantee a sold-out run at the Met.  Similarly I can’t name a singer for whom the act of cancelling is considered major news.  Remember when the Wall Street Journal ran an editorial excoriating Cecilia Bartoli for cancelling the Così fan tutte broadcast (editorial is not online but is referenced here) or when the suspense over whether Pavarotti would actually perform his final scheduled performances of Cavaradossi generated breathless news coverage? For better or worse, those times are past.  Neither the Met’s casting nor marketing have adjusted to this new reality.  Opera lovers will still show up at the Met for great singers, but they need help finding and following those singers over the course of their Met careers.

New singers show up at the Met unheralded, with little fanfare or publicity by the company. They debut in a revival that seasoned operagoers didn’t realize they needed to make an effort to see.  By the time word of mouth gets around that someone special has appeared, their run is done.  All too frequently, those singers disappear for a season or two and by the time they return, it’s like they’re starting their New York career from scratch again. And if they’re relegated to the salt mines of La Bohème revivals, they don’t have a chance to connect with frequent opera-goers at all. It might be seasons before a singer gets the plum engagement that could earn them a loyal New York following.  Both the singer and the Met audience have lost out. And the Met has undermined its relationship with a promising young singer whom it needs.

Consider Michael Fabiano, who made a charismatic impression in The Audition and has won great acclaim for his few New York City engagements He is the 2014 recipient of the Met’s Beverly Sills award, something that should be rocket fuel for his career at the Met except he’s not scheduled to appear for at least the next two seasons.  Well, I guess it shows that the decision for the Sills award isn’t tainted by interference from the artistic administration.

On Thursday we learned that Fabiano has won as well the 2014 Richard Tucker award, which means that he will get lots of publicity and will be the focus of a gala broadcast nationwide on PBS.  All this will come in very handy to San Francisco Opera’s efforts to sell tickets for its 2014/15 season.  This is incompetence of the highest order on the part of the Met.  Why give Fabiano the exposure of 14 performances of Die Fledermaus only to have him disappear from view?  Surely, there was someone at the Met who felt he deserved a steady slate of Met appearances.

Jamie Barton first debuted in 2011, recently won the Cardiff Singer of the World contest, and made an enormously impressive role debut as Adalgisa (and inspired a remarkably fiery performance from Angela Meade, to boot).  She’s not back next season either, which probably means that she will be this year’s recipient of the Sills Award.

While Kristine Opolais has certainly gotten lots of press for her back-to-back appearances at the Met two weekends ago, let’s remember that her actual engagement for this season was for the second cast of Madama Butterfly, meaning that she got limited rehearsals, no radio broadcast and no guarantee of much in the way of reviewshardly the way to showcase a singer whom the Met’s website hails as a “rising soprano.”  Had the HD gone according to plan with Anita Hartig as Mimi, few opera lovers would have taken note of Opolais at all.  Next season, she returns as Mimi, in the second cast again, but at least she gets the broadcast.  If the rumor mill is to believed, she gets a new production of Manon Lescaut in two seasons.  Wouldn’t it be nice if more New York opera lovers were aware of her so that the they might eagerly scoop up tickets?

Even though the Met recently anointed Christine Goerke as its next leading dramatic soprano by revealing that she would sing Brünnhilde in the next revival of the Lepage Ring, its process for doing so left much to be desired. Someone from the Met wisely engaged her for the Dyer’s Wife in Die Frau Ohne Schatten this season.  After the run started,an article in the New York Times appeared stating that Gelb decided to cast her as Brünnhilde after hearing “one of the great ovations I have heard in recent years at the Met.”

Perhaps Gelb’s intention was to convey that after seven years of blindly swinging at the singer piñata, something special had finally tumbled out.  But this comes across as a horrible, cavalier way for the Met to manage a singer’s career at the house.  The Met isn’t America’s Got Talent, for fuck’s sake. Christine Goerke had at least three weeks of rehearsal in the house before opening night. Was no one from the Met’s artistic staff available to hear her singing? Was no one from the Met willing to declare that this was a Brünnhilde voice? Even before she sang in Die Frau couldn’t someone from the Met’s overachieving artistic staff have schlepped their Applause-O-Meter all the way to Chicago to hear her Elektra and the reaction it got? Does Gelb not trust his musical staff? Does he feel he’s not personally qualified to judge singers based on rehearsal?  Or, worst of all does he feel the best measure of a singer is the ability to rouse the Met’s audience from its Fafnerian slumbers in some sort of Trial by Torpor?

It goes without saying that Goerke is not back in 2014-5, even though there’s room on her schedule and she lives in New Jerseyno visa, airfare, or housing arrangements needed. And even though, of next year’s repertory, she already sings Santuzza and Eboli, and she would be an exceptional choice for Judith in Bluebeard’s Castle or Amneris if she were interested in either role. But, so far as we know, the next time Goerke will appear at the Met is not until 2018-2019, five seasons from now.  The result of this gap in her Met appearances will be that her journey to singing Brünnhilde at the Met will be a rocky climb rather than a carefully planned ascent.  With better planning by the Met, the audience could be clamoring to hear her Brünnhilde in 2018-19, even if means subjecting themselves to another 18 hours of the clunking Machine.

Of course, it’s not the Met’s responsibility to manage singers’ careers for them or to serve as their publicist.  But the Met does have to sell ticketsand that means doing a better job of showcasing new singers.  Why can’t the Met website provide better bios and links to singer-chosen youtube clips for each singer on its roster?  Why not have excerpts from the singer intermission interviews on SiriusXM?  Why can’t the Met have a weekly podcast featuring audio clips and interviews for everyone who’s scheduled to debut in the coming week or send this out in a link-filled email to subscribers?

Without more planning and effort, casting at the Met will remain a self-fulfilling prophecy.  Plum assignments will be granted to the singers whom Gelb feels are exciting, true, but so many great singers aren’t given opportunities to showcase their talents. It would be nice to see the Met make more high profile bets, as they evidently did with Hartig, by giving her a HD broadcast and a prominent feature on the home page.  Of course, it would have been great if she had actually sung the HD, but the upshot should not be for the Met to balk at giving new singers at the house prominent assignments.

The Met could plan roles for singers a lot more effectively if it abandoned the practice of planning opera seasons five to six years in advance. Five Year Plans didn’t work for the Soviet Union and they don’t work for opera companies.  All they do is encourage extreme caution in long-term casting and prevent singers from developing their careers naturally.  For example, Jonas Kaufmann recently sang his first Don Alvaro in La Forza del Destino. He indicated in interviews that he was reluctant to schedule future performances of the role until he sang it for the first time and experienced how it felt to perform this challenging part.  As a result he was faced with the choice of waiting five years to sing Forza for the second time, or scheduling a few additional runs of Forza with the understanding that he might change his mind and cancel

Few opera companies would be willing to assemble an expensive Forza production if the project could fall apart.  If right now, Jonas Kaufmann and the Met were thinking about the 2016 schedule rather than the 2021 schedule, all parties could plan with more confidence. Singers could be performing the roles that they feel in their voices right now and could be eagerly experimenting.  If, say, Anna Netrebko works through Salome with a coach and decides that she’s ready to try it on stage, wouldn’t it be great if she could get it onto her schedule in the next couple of years without throwing some opera company’s and other singers’ plans into disarray?  And why shouldn’t the company where she sings her first Salome be the Met?

Since the Met launched this operatic arms race back in the Bing era, the Met is the logical candidate to open mutual disarmament talks with other opera companies and figure out how to unwind this practice.  At a minimum, the Met could leave more of each season unplanned until one or two years out to allow for more opportunistic and flexible artistic planning.

Just think, next season could build on the breakout performances of this one.  We could have some performances of La Favorite with Barton and Bryan Hymel  (there must be production to borrow from somewhere) or Schwanewilms could return for the Contessa in Nozze di Figaro. This season, Dmitri Tcherniakov had a great success with his Prince Igor production and one has high hopes for Olga Peretyatko‘s debut in I puritani.  Neither returns next season, alas, but with greater scheduling flexibility, the Met could present Tcherniakov’s smashing new production of The Tsar’s Bride in 2015-2016, complete with Peretyatko’s riveting Marfa.

Sadly, much as better casting would delight the Met audiences, this wouldn’t increase interest in Met performances amongst the general public.  Opera rarely makes the news or is even acknowledged by the broader world.   I expected more of Gelb and his management team.   Once again, they started strong.  The launch of the Live in HD series generated a surprising amount of positive opera coverage in the media media.  Even technology blogs wrote about the Live in HD.  It certainly got lots of people to attend a HD presentation and positioned Gelb’s Met in the most positive way imaginable. Also, Gelb started the live simulcasts of Opening Night to Times Square and even got a 3-minute excerpt from Il barbiere di Siviglia onto the David Letterman show.

What I hoped would mark the beginning of a concerted effort by the Met to re-engage with the broader New York community and to reassert the importance of opera in the cultural life of the country has sadly fizzled out.  Does Gelb have no other favors he can call in to get opera back into the cultural conversation?  Otherwise, opera remains that musical genre beloved by rich people and psychopaths or that art form that is only interesting when performed by expressionless moppets singing age-inappropriate material or technique-deficient carphone salesmen.

It’s not the Met’s fault that the general public has such a distorted idea of opera, but the Met has a vital stake in challenging this misinformation.  How else is it going to rebuild its audience? While the Met has to get opera lovers back in the habit of attending the Met again, it has also the more difficult job of getting people who’ve never been to an opera to attend once and ideally to become regular operagoers.

In a culture with an itchy Twitter finger, how do you sell an art form that takes its time to unfold?  Do you position it as the cultural equivalent of the slow-food movement?  It’s got to be more effective than selling opera to newbies with bus shelter ads featuring photogenic faces without any context. Are people supposed to go to the opera to gawk at pretty people on stage?  It’s New York Cityyou can go to the the Standard Hotel and stare at pretty people up close in the bar for the cost of an overpriced cocktail, no tickets or advance planning required.

It’s unfortunate that the Met seems to have little budget left for some outreach and marketing that would get the company noticed by potential first-time opera goers. The summer retransmissions on the plaza are nice, but the Met has to go beyond the confines of Lincoln Center to find its audience.

  • Shouldn’t the Met have a presence in the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade featuring the show premiering on New Year’s or the holiday presentation for children?
  • Couldn’t the Met make a large number of seats at the HD Live weekday retransmissions free at selected theaters in the NYC area for students or for people who enter a ticket raffle?
  • Couldn’t the Met have one performance a season where all tickets, even in the parterre boxes, are $25 or less?
  • Couldn’t  there be Sunday matinees at friendly prices in the final weeks of the season when the orchestra and chorus no longer have rehearsals on weekdays?
  • Why not institute an evening geared to first-time opera goers?  Call it “First-Time Fridays.” (The ad campaign practically writes itself: “You’ll never forget the first time you met Carmen/visited ancient Egypt/fell in love in Paris/etc.”) Participants in First-Time Fridays who tweeted about their first time could get a voucher for a discount on a future ticket

Dozens of television shows film in NYC.  Is there no opportunity for creative product placement? The Met would make an atmospheric location for a drama or mystery show.   Why can’t the Met stars get more slots on talk or late night TV shows?  Jimmy Fallon does novelty music numbers all the time; he even had the chutzpah to sing a duet with Billy Joel.  Surely, he could be convinced to have a go at a duet with some divo or diva. Couldn’t Ambrogio Maestri have shared one of his recipes on The Chew? They could have also interviewed the chef of the Grand Tier restaurant who has the nightmare cooking challenge of having a 100+ people sit down to dinner at the exact same time with only 25 minutes to dine. I can think of any number of opera singers who would have a field day with the hostesses of The View. It might seem like pandering, but it’s good outreach.

Why can’t the Met do a free concert or two in Central Park in September before the season starts when there are lots of big names in town for rehearsals and the weather is lovely?  As a supplement to the annual Open House, why not provide a free live streaming video feed of a dress rehearsal?  This way anyone interested in the open house can attend, at least virtually.

Why not make some of the Met’s HD telecasts available through Netflix streaming service for brief time period?  Offering a free trial of the Met Player is nice, but making people go through a complicated sign up procedure for a free trial of Met player when millions of people have Netflix already just needlessly limits the Met’s promotional reach.  Netflix has an incredibly sophisticated recommendation engine, couldn’t it be used to target subscribers who are likely to appreciate a scientifically chosen streaming opera?

Again, the Met needs to go where its potential audience is and not wait for its audience to find the Met.  If some of these ideas are unrealistically expensive because of features of the union contracts, isn’t now the perfect time to revise those contracts?

Supposing better outreach accomplished the goal of getting more people to the opera house, what is their experience at the Met likely to be like? When they purchase their tickets, they will discover that the ticket pricing chart looks like Exhibit A from the Occupy Wall Street Handbook. Anyone who desires to spend less than a $100 has to be way up high, way off to the side or standing for the whole performance.

When they arrive at the house, they must step in from the spacious plaza into the teeming lobby, that is if they can ever get past the patrons having unsuccessful first encounters with revolving doors.  Security people bark unhelpful instructions rather than actually do something about the people loitering at the most congested places to stand in the Met lobby.   Once past the ticket scanners, their bags will be pointlessly searched, further impeding traffic flow.  Bag-checking is an unfortunate hangover from over a decade ago when that drama queen Rudy Giuliani insisted on it for when he went to the opera. No other performing facility in NYC routinely searches bags.

There is no helpful signage to help operagoers find their way to their their seats or to the inadequate restroom facilities.  Only the elevators have signs to tell you which level you are on in the opera house, but there are no signs to direct patrons to the elevators.  If the operagoers have splurged on orchestra seats, they first must contend with the traffic jams at the poorly thought out entrances at orchestra level. Ushers are not positioned along the main aisle to help people find their seats or deal with the surprising numbers of confrontations caused by people sitting in the wrong seats.  It is only when the lights are about to go down that the ushers spring into action to help  the dazed and confused.  On a good night, all the ticket holders in the orchestra are seated by the time the performance starts, but usually there is still noisy reshuffling going on well after the downbeat.

If they made the mistake of arriving hungry, they have the option of having an extremely expensive, rushed dinner or waiting 15 minutes in a line at intermission  to choose from a food menu seemingly cribbed from a Good Housekeeping magazine circa 1972 (“Surprise your family with a sandwich served on an exotic croissant.” ) There is nothing at the Met that a vegan can eatone of the many signals to a young person attending the opera for the first time that the opera may not really be for them.

Signor Fatale has requested that I point out that he believes that I have made attending a performance at the Met sound more appealing than it is in reality.  Nonetheless, no one goes or doesn’t go to the Metropolitan Opera based solely on its user-friendliness.  But they may not come back as frequently or as readily, particularly when the Live in HD performance is cheaper, more user friendly and has a half-time show. The Met should at least be able to compete with the Metroplex on food.

In my ideal world, the under-utllized Damrosch Park would become food market/food hall a la Chelsea Market or Gotham West Market, a boon to both Lincoln Center attendees and local residents and a way to reduce Lincoln Center’s isolation from  its neighborhood. Since the lawsuits by concerned citizens all claiming to have consulted The Aggrieved Spirit of Bubbles would likely prevent that from happening for at least a decade,  I have an interim plan that could be implemented immediately.  Allow food trucks to park in Damrosch Park from 6-10 PM.  Wouldn’t it be great to grab a schnitzel before Arabella?  Since the food trucks all have dedicated followings, have the trucks give out discount ticket vouchers for the Met the first month they are there. During winter, Lincoln Center could set up a heated tent or outdoor heaters

The Met could even set up its own opera-themed food truck. Anyone for Pasta alla Norma before Norma?  Fish and chips before Die Frau Ohne Schatten? Better still, the Met could sponsor a contest to create an opera-themed food truck and I bet you could get a six episode reality show on The Food Network out of that.  I know the Met doesn’t own Damrosch Park, but Lincoln Center has just neglected it for the past 40 years.

While the necessary full-scale renovation to expand and reconfigure the house’s public space is unlikely, the Met could extend the lobby level further into the plaza (as originally planned) and reconfigure the rear rows of the orchestra to widen the aisle at the back of the house so that the traffic flow is not quite so horrible.  While helpful signage would be a boon to the bewildered,  the Met could deploy iBeacons and an iPhone app as baseball stadiums have done.  Smartphones could help guide patrons to their seats, allow them to pre-order food for intermission, purchase merchandise or a download of the SiriusXM broadcast of the performance they just attended. Attendees could use that same app for an automatic download of program notes complete musical examples for review before the performance

Fixing the Met will take lots of little changes, some really big ones and a transformational leader who can bring about those changes soon. The Met needs a General Manager with a fierce commitment to opera as an art form and a vision for how an opera company can thrive in a culture that doesn’t think it needs opera at all. Is Peter Gelb the hero the company needs right now? If the Met emerges on more stable financial footing after the upcoming union negotiations, will he use that opportunity to implement a plan that guides the Met towards a future every bit as illustrious as the Met’s past.  Nothing I’ve read gives me the confidence that he’s the guy who can get that done.  I hope desperately to be proven wrong.

Photos: Mary Altaffer (Gelb)Cory Weaver (Fabiano), Wilfried Hösl (Kaufmann), Ken Howard (Goerke, Met lobby, Hansel and Gretel)

  • BB

    Lord knows the Met has missed out on many of the greatest singers in the world (Mary Garden, anyone?) and some it did get were treated badly (Gobbi, Varnay, Hotter, ad infinitum). But a brief bit of history: Gatti-Casazza very nearly got sacked by his board when Galli-Curci made an absolute sensation in Chicago and then appeared in NY with the Chicago company on tour. The board was furious he hadn’t engaged her. And she never did appear at the Met until the 1921-22 season. Back seat driving is easy and risk free but a board that holds general managers to account for some of these missed opportunities, or at least asks questions,
    might not be amiss.
    Btw, I was under the impression that the Met went full bore ahead on planning seasons six-seven years in advance with little or no flexibility with Sarah Billinghurst and that, under Bing, the planning was not more than 2-3 seasons ahead.

  • coloraturafan

    I love that you mentioned Maria Agresta! Certainly I would love to see her added to the MET’s stage. But I have to toss out the name of one singer who I don’t feel got a very good chance at the MET… Elena Mosuc… They gave her Olympia, and I heard it didn’t go over well. But in all fairness, she’s really past Olympia and the purely coloratura roles at this point. She’s much better in the more dramatic coloratura roles of Donizetti and Bellini.

    • Guestoria Unpopularenka

      Can she fill the hall with her voice? She sounds quite piccola to me. If anything, they should have Devia here while they can.

      • coloraturafan

        I’ve heard Mosuc and Devia both live, and I think Mosuc has a larger voice than Devia. I think Devia is able to get by in larger houses, but is probably best heard in the smaller Italian theaters that she generally sings. I heard Mosuc in Dallas and there were no issues with the size of her voice, and also in Brussels at the Cirque Royal which is not a traditional house and again the voice was easily heard. I think she would handle the MET as well as any of the other sopranos they are using.

        • Guestoria Unpopularenka

          Well, my example was a little poorly given as Devia is not a monumental size in any case. But they should certainly get her for Stuarda, for example. Would be a great contrast to DiDonato.

  • Guestoria Unpopularenka

    And why doesn’t living legend Leo Nucci appear here at all? It’s a shame.

    • Camille

      Yes, indeed.

      A Rigoletto, a MacBeth, a Giorgio Germont, even.

      ‘Twould have been nice—but then, we do have another proven septuagenarian Verdi baryton, so — what me, worry???

      • Guestoria Unpopularenka

        Well, that one you mention may become a bass in the near future.

        • Camille

          Oh no! I have my heart set on his Emperor Altoum!

          What a disappointment!

          • Batty Masetto

            Ma belle Camille, this Californian Altoum is definitely coming to NYC at the beginning of May and would dearly love to see you. Since we no longer have each other’s email addresses, may I ask La Cieca to send you mine again so we can reconnect?

            • Camille

              Avec plaisir!

              Faîtes à votre aise et à bientôt!

              Big Küssies!!!!

          • Fear not, chere Camille! In 10 years’ time, Himself will sing Altoum down an octave.

            • Camille

              Or maybe he will be singing Azucena!

              Look, I am waiting to hear that all goes well with the Roberto in Roberto Devereux before I buy my tickets!

              You mentioned something about a Hilton across from the Centre—but, thank you, I think I would prefer to stay in a little back alley picaresque place, if you know what I mean.

              Once I am in NYC and hear the reviews, my decision will be made as to when I am able to make it, and if all goes according to plan. As I have never been to Toronto before I do look forward to going there!

            • Camille: I’m sure you’ll be to find a smaller hotel through one of the usual websites.

              I’ve watched two rehearsals and it’s sounding great. Sondra is in excellent form. FYI, Filianoti had to return to Italy due to a family emergency and is missing the first three performances. But Leonardo Capalbo is doing a great job as Roberto. He has just the right voice for the role.

              Toronto is quite lovely in May. Obviously, rain is always a possibility but the temperatures are higher by then without the humidity that comes in July (basically very similar weather to NYC, just a few degrees cooler). And there are tons of fabulous restaurants with cuisines from all over the world.

      • antikitschychick

        Agreed. He was very compelling in the Nabucco I saw from La Scala w Lumi which was a pleasant surprise for me. He is still singing well, his musicality is first rate and his acting was pretty compelling too. Moreover, if Placido gets to sing at the Met then so should he.

        • PushedUpMezzo

          Nucci has recently been job-sharing with Domingo, at least at Covent Garden in Nabucco and Traviata. It would be nice to think that the Met could have done something similar.

          • Feldmarschallin

            Well in this month’s Opernglas there is an interview with Nucci and he says now that he is older his family is very important to him and he doesn’t like to be away from them for long and also that he has certain houses he prefers to sing in. I assume the Met isn’t one of them and he is not singing very many engagenments anyway so why would he want to travel all the way to New York when he can sing in Wien or München and stay close to home. As La Cieca says the immigration is a hassle as well as the different time zones and NYC is not for everyone. It is nice to have seen and been there but I think many singers once they have sung there a couple of times think ok now I can do what I want since I have the Met on my resume.

    • Most likely the Met has not offered Nucci the sort of deal that will get him to New York.His schedule right now is basically guest appearances in Italian theaters and in Vienna and a couple of German houses.

      Coming to the United States is something of a hassle, especially for an older artist. It doesn’t make any sense to cross six time zones and go through passport control to sing a couple of performances, so Nucci would probably have to commit to a full run of, say, Traviata, which would keep him in New York for five or six weeks. Maybe he doesn’t want to be away from home for that long, especially during a New York winter.

      He doesn’t sing anywhere in the New World so far as I can tell, not for the past eight seasons or more, and I question whether he is still a sufficiently big name to move tickets for, say, eight performances of Traviata at the Met.

      It’s easy for you to say it’s a “shame,” but it takes two sides to come to an agreement, even when the party on one side is a living legend.

      • Rory Williams

        yes, LaC. So well put.

      • Guestoria Unpopularenka

        It is a shame that he doesn’t sing here. I didn’t necessarily mean that it’s a shame on the MET’s part. I’m aware that many artists don’t appear there because of their own will, not for the lack of an invitation.

      • antikitschychick

        So it seems Cieca… still, it would be nice if he appeared at least one more time at the Met, preferably in an HD as a farewell or something. I’m telling ya’ll the man still has the goods. Germont is an excellent suggestion, btw :-D. I’m fairly certain he would be pretty compelling if his voice doesn’t all of a sudden deteriorate.

        • antikitschychick

          also, it would be nice to get an actual Italian singing in an Italian Opera lol just sayin’ :-P.

          • Guestoria Unpopularenka

            We have Frito-Lay.

            • antikitschychick

              lol ay that’s mean…she was a great singer once and is still a great artist imho…time is so unforgiving.

            • Camille

              Yes, she was. Look at that Trovatore from Scala with Muti et al (including a still spry Nucci) sometime for an idea of what La Barbara did do. Very admirable and bellissima.

            • Guestoria Unpopularenka

              Ma anch’io ero una volta ammirabile e bellissima. Adesso sono solo ammirabile.

            • Camille

              Diavolessa, lo so bene che sei tu!!!

              Comunque sia, ogni fior nasce e poi muore, poi non c’è niente da fare.

            • Guestoria Unpopularenka

              Stai delirando! Vai a dormire!

        • Krunoslav

          Nucci’s 2004 run of VESPRI was very impressive. After that I think the voice has dried ( though like Bruson he has something to impart stylistically) and I think La Cieca is correct: he would neither have a triumph nor move a lot of seats.

      • messa di voce

        Nucci sang over 150 performances at the Met and never once set the house on fire. To call him a living legend or to imply that bringing him back has anything to do with solving the Met’s problems . . . not going to buy it.

        • Bill

          Messa -- Nucci sang his 500th Rigoletto in Vienna just this past month -- also sang it in Budapest earlier in the season -- reviews were relatively positive though noting tht the voice is a bit dryer than it used to be -- next season he sings some Simon Boccanegras in Vienna where he is an Ehrenmitglieder -- Cieca is correct, it would not make sense for Nucci to come and sing a couple of performances at the Met at this stage. Nor VGruberova, nor Devia, nor Shicoff, nor Baltsa or any other very aging star who is still appearing on stage -- it might be nice for the
          public to replenish their memories -- At his peak Nucci had to contend with Cappuccilli and Bruson and I recall more thrilling performances from both Cappuccilli and Bruson. Still there was some excitement when at the end of his
          career Taddei made some memorable highly aclaimed performances at the Met. If Domingo or Fleming cannot sell out the house, Nucci would not make much of a dent in attendance, I should think.

        • 98rsd

          Thank you. Nuclei was consistently underwhelming. He was not in the same category as Gavanelli, Macneil, or even Quilico. I know they were eons ago, but I wager Nucci sounds better the farther away he is.

  • Guestoria Unpopularenka

    That Tsarskaya Nevesta production looks mesmerizing. They should get it with the same cast Peretyatko, Rachvelishvili and Tomowa-Sintow, too. It would be a hit because it’s like a reality show. Quite unusual.

  • Flora del Rio Grande

    A nice fantasy trip, Dawn Fatale, but not much more than that.
    You do mention, but only skirt the issue, that hiring a soprano
    to sing Brunnhilde five or more years hence is risky business,
    especially a singer who has had serious vocal issues until
    recent seasons and happily came out of it all in splendid form.
    But will it last? Did Joan Ingpen call your Mr Gelb and suggest
    such an approach for the next Ring? I cite this as Joan is
    famously the poison pussy of the Met who initiated hiring singers
    so far ahead certain ones did, in fact, not have the voice when
    the time came.
    But fun as this sport is, the hard facts are the Met has become
    a rendezvous for new money/hedge fund “Society,” yes yes in
    the classical sense: to show of the diamonds, the couture, the
    winsome unmarried daughter who is ‘ready’ to come out for
    the right hedge fund young man etc etc etc.
    What about the poor workin’ stiffs who happen to like opera
    but are likely to go in jeans (clean ones) and a sweater and
    ride public transport to and fro? He/she used to be very well
    served, from the time of Mayor LaGuardia and Morton Baum by
    the second opera company in town, where you could catch
    a competent Cav and Pag for $3., back when. THAT is the issue
    in the New York opera environment far as I am concerned. London,
    Berlin, Paris, Vienna — all have secondary opera companies or even
    tertiary, and you need not spend the week’s grocery money to get
    Mom and Pop to the opera. Such is the way it should be, and for
    a long time was.
    Something is wrong, wrong, wrong with New York’s culture that
    does not recognize that. If the oil-rich ladies want their picture
    in the Times and so on and on, that can still be arranged as they
    give their 20-million or 50-million donations to a thrilling Ring
    Cycle or whatever (that often is in disrepair), AND the man in the
    street could still find a cheap seat for Lohengrin — if the NYC musical
    establishment were in better hands.
    I must sadly conclude that Gelb will reign supreme for as long as he likes,
    for the people he reports to (Met Board), simply does not give a sxxx! Too
    bad. Sad. And I am not optimistic, are you, really, Dawn?
    I think the Met has passed the point of no return, as has New York musical culture. It’s a money culture and not an artistic or serious music culture.###

  • skoc211

    Outreach to local universities seems like a no brainer to me. Fordham, my alma mater, has an entire campus a block away. And it’s where the performing arts departments are based, no less!

    Ticket prices also need to come down for the Family Circle. I’m a twentysomething who brings his twentysomething friends to the Met occasionally, but if it were more affordable I would go significantly more often. I distinctly remember that I got tickets for $15 back during my sophomore year in 2007 (with much lower fees, too) and I went constantly.

    I get my opera fix through Spotify and DVDs from Netflix (you’d be shocked how expansive the collections are for both). And the vinyl records I buy for next to nothing at Academy Records -- got Manon Lescaut and Un ballo en maschera with Callas, Strauss’ Four Last Songs with Elisabeth Schwarzkopf, and Puccini arias with Montserat Caballe today for $9 today!

    • antikitschychick

      “Outreach to local universities seems like a no brainer to me.” A resounding YES to that! But this is something every opera company across the US should be doing…

      When I was minoring in music a couple years ago in College, I was shocked to find out how little some of my peers listened to or even cared for Opera. Some of them were just very steeped in their own training and didn’t have the time to actually attend performances while others (music education majors for instance) just weren’t getting the exposure because they were secluded inside their small bubble of classes, recitals, juries, master classes etc and didn’t really venture beyond that. Getting some of these students to actually attend an Opera at a professional theater company I think would change that. IMHO this should be a requirement for all music majors, not just the vocalists. Also, music appreciation (which is one of those basic electives that a lot of lower-division students take) should not just be about Jazz and the Beatles. Students should be exposed to classical music as well. When I finish Grad school I’m totally going to try and teach a music appreciation class that does precisely that. Some of ya’ll would balk at the stuff kids are listening to these days…and not just kids actually, adults too. Mainstream culture is in dire need of good music and its time that our generation step up and try to eradicate that. So vote for me in the next election! lol j/k :-P.

      • williams

        Any reason student tickets need to be $25 and $35 a pop? One would think an otherwise unsold seat at a nominal price (or even free) to a kid interested enough to attend would ensure more paying fans down the road.

        • Guestoria Unpopularenka

          And that facility or service fee they slap is disgusting.

          • williams

            That had escaped my notice. Unconscionable. “Oooh…let’s squeeze a couple of extra bucks out of the high school kids…”

        • Sempre liberal

          I recall going to Philadelphia Orchestra concerts in the early 90s for $3 and (horrors) $4 a seat for weekend amphitheater seats and on M/Tu/Th nights $5 and (horrors) $6 for the best unsold seat the night of a performance with my student ID.

          There is absolutely no reason the house should not be full each night.

      • Fidelia

        You actually don’t even need a music appreciation class to start with. When I was in first grade, my teacher had us listen to orchestral works throughout the year, like Saint-Saens’ Danse Macabre at Halloween; we listened to Amahl and the Night Visitors at Christmas, and at the end of the year our class put on a puppet show of Hansel and Gretel (in English) for the whole school. The puppets lip-synched ;-).
        In 9th grade, the French teacher taught us the language but also a survey of French history, with Rameau, Lully, Berlioz, etc. as we followed the time line.
        They got us young and they got us liking classical music as well as jazz and the Beatles. I’m eternally grateful.
        So Anti, I’ll certainly vote for you but remember you can also go for your music education through other disciplines, as many as you like.

        • antikitschychick

          hey Fidelia…thanks for sharing that anecdote :-). I too was exposed to Opera as a young kid (it specifically happened when I was in middle school via a choir class I was in). I mentioned the music appreciation class because if I get my Masters and/or Ph.D I will prob teach at the college level but you are definitely right in suggesting that its great when the exposure starts at an early age :-D.

      • luvtennis

        Did you go to Harvard, Antichick? I ask because you capitalized the word “college” in your post. Harvard folks tend to do that….


        • antikitschychick

          Hahaha funny that you caught that Luv (Nice to see you back btw!). I assure you io non son a Harvard prep :-P don’t have anything against them or being well educated but I’m not particularly fond of a certain level of self importance that type of writing style would suggest so I do apologize if thats the impression I gave. Truth is I was prob going to write some other word (a noun most likely) and ended up writing college instead. I’ll try and proofread more carefully next time lol.

  • Lankin

    I never understood the MET’s policy to plan ahead five or more years with their contracts. Voices change, sometimes a lot, over the years, and so does the ideal repertoire. Of course, for the singers performing at the MET, it means huge popularity, but the downside is the MET persistently not showing singers whose careers skyrocketed, and who the audience want to see now, not in five years’ time. One example -- even if I don’t know the course of events there is Linda Watson. She debuted in Bayreuth with Kundry in 1998, and sang the same role at the MET in 2003. I had the pleasure to hear her often, before her Bayreuth performance, and she was simply outstanding. By the time she sang in NY, I’m afraid to say, it wasn’t quite the same, voice-wise. A pity.

    • steveac10

      It’s a mindset that took hold in the 70’s when the number of guaranteed seat fillers was dwindling and travel between continents had been made relatively easy. Better to lock Luciano, Eva, Jesse and Placido up now than have to scramble and end up with a less famous artist a year or so out. It’s the “checking off the boxes” mentality foisted upon the classical world by Joan Ingpen and her acolytes (one of whom is still entrenched at the Met). To me it’s just more of what has become a problem in all the arts classical, pop and in between. By the mid to late 90’s A&R had been sidelined by the bean counters at every level and in every corner of the arts. Intuition, gut and forethought no longer have a place. Now it’s all about the spreadsheet being complete and ROI.

  • hamish

    the Hercules is over-rated……..perhaps because it seemed relevant at LOC four years ago. It is an oratorio…..very static. Lucy Crowe sang wonderfully as did
    Alice Coote.
    I always love Handel’s Italian operas, but I could not wait for this to be over.

  • operaassport

    I can’t believe that any thinking human being would argue that drinks should be allowed in an indoor auditorium. It’s not a picnic or a baseball game.

    • antikitschychick

      come to think of it liquor does tend to induce sleep…so if it becomes a free for all ppl will doze off before the tenor hits his first B flat…hence my suggestion that they serve energy drinks instead :-D.

    • williams

      Well I do think it is OK at pop music shows. Amplified and without intermissions they are undamaged by a tipple in one’s seat. No one can hear the tinkle of ice cubes or aforementioned dreaded slurping anyway.

    • armerjacquino


      You can snob it up all you like. Plenty of ‘thinking human beings’ have taken drinks into auditoria in this country for years and the sky refuses to fall.

      I find it hard to believe that any thinking human being would have such a ridiculous pearl-clutching reaction to a bit of wine in a disposable cup, but there we go.

  • Constantine A. Papas

    When something goes wrong, the easy way out is to blame someone else. If Gelb is replaced, is the Met going to thrive and be put on autopilot of success? Are we all delusional? Most of the bloggers here know in depth the demands and the frustrations of the beast be it the Met or Vienna. BTW, Vienna State opera will stream live HD performances on the internet starting in a few months. You can also view past performances. For old the price is around $5, and for live around 19 Euros. I already opened an account. It’s free and you pay only for performances you want to see. If the TV set is relatively new, there’s a setup to transfer the picture form PC to TV. The sound, in my case, comes still from the PC speakers and subwoofer which are of pretty good fidelity. I recently watched a live performance of Forza Del Destino on my PC from Munich with Harteros and Kaufmann. It was thrilling. Maybe the Met can do something similar.

  • toitoitoi

    Your marketing ideas are all spot on. SF Opera is all over recruiting Millennials; they’ve got free tickets for Merola performances, and a kind of 20-something club that has a lot of social events tied to low-cost tickets to performances and education. The Met website is showy but not all that functional, as you point out. Smarter social media marketing wouldn’t cost much and would reach the audience they’re after. And why don’t they run their opera broadcasts at every college and university with a music department, FREE? It’s not like they’re gonna lose on that, if you restrict the seats to those with student ID.

  • aulus agerius

    I don’t know what the plan is in Baltimore. For their non-star Nabucco in a few weeks the cheapest seat in the house is $52 + $14 in fees! How can that work??
    OTOH, on the same weekend in Philadelphia the orchestra/opera joint production of Salome with Camilla Nylund is Sold Out for 2 performances. How often do we see that sign hung out?
    I was considering going to both and as a consequence of each development will be going to neither

    • Lalala

      I’ve wanted tickets for that Philadelphia “Salome”--but, as you said, it’s sold out--SINCE LAST AUGUST! It’s being done as a collaboration between the Philadelphia Orchestra and the Opera Company. That creates quite a ticket base for just two performances. I wish they’d add a performance (or two).

    • Carlo

      Nabucco in Baltimore is available on Goldstar for about half-price.

  • Dawn and a lot of commentators have noted that the five-year planning cycle is not desirable. And while I agree that a two or three-year planning cycle (especially for casting) would be far more preferable, I just don’t see how it’s going to change. To my knowledge, all the major houses book the A-list artists around five years out. Even a second-tier company that wants to secure a major singer will have to book him/her five years in advance.

    To present this criticism as a short-coming of the Met rather than a symptom of the whole industry as Dawn’s article does is rather unfair to the Met. Yes, the Met has enough prestige that it might be able to get away with booking some Met-centric singers closer to the production time, but that would require either the artist to break his/her contract somewhere else to just “pencil” the Met in their calendar give years out with the hope that the Met will not change its mind closer to the date. I don’t see this is a viable alternative. The only solution would be for all the companies to decide to move to a three-year cycle. But then, that’s just a big game of chicken, isn’t it? And hardly realistic.

    I wonder what the solution is

    • steveac10

      One solution might be rather than booking Kaufmann or Netrebko for a specific role 5 years out and take the old school -- let’s block out March and April 2019 fox X number of performances and we’ll decide in 2017 what we’re going to do. The Met proved with Rigoletto that 5 years is NOT needed to plan and build a production. It was no worse than any other home grown production of the Gelb era and certainly did not look cheap. So you’ve know you’ve got the stars contracted, but you don’t have to hope they can still sing Salome in 5 years.

      There are still quality singers that many of us would be happy to hear that are not booked 5 years in advance and end up doing nothing for a big part of a season. Take a trip to OperaBase and peruse the schedules of a few stars and you’ll see huge gaps in their schedules for even this season. Sometimes I wonder how even a Stephanie Blythe or an Eric Owens can survive without teaching jobs in the sticks.

      • messa di voce

        Isn’t that essentially what happened with Netrebko, Pape, et al for next season? Faust was pencilled in, they ultimately decided they didn’t want to do it, and so now we get them in MacBeth.

  • The Met’s current prescription for its woes includes gagging the gutter press.. On Superconductor.

    • steveac10

      I’ve been in unions for years -- and sat on the negotiating teams for multiple contract negotiations. Nobody ever even suggested the press attend the sessions. I guess I just do not understand the game AGMA is playing this time. I’ve seen no significant posturing by the leaders of the other unions, but AGMA seems to be determined to shut the house down before the negotiations have even begun. It’s like the bizarro world version of the Minnesota Orchestra board locking out the players when the players were willing to work without a contract while they were negotiating.

      • kennedet

        Agreed steveac10. This is a little frightening and bizarre. It’s diffifcult to focus on singers, food, alternate performance spaces, etc. when the major problem is the unions. A 16% percent cut for the choristers is unheard of! I could never imagine the death of the Met years ago, but I could in this world today. Let’s hope it’s not too late.

  • jrance

    Don’t look to the Met’s board of directors to do anything about Herr Gelb in the current debacle. Reportedly board members who are not firmly supportive of Gelb and his policies have been marginalized; the board is dominated by Mmes. Ziff and Bass who pour their millions into whatever project Gelb deems worthy. he’s unlikely ever to be called to account.

  • m. p. arazza

    “Smartphones could help guide patrons to their seats, allow them to pre-order food … use that same app for an automatic download of program notes … musical examples…”

    Great piece, but I think it would be misguided to give people any further excuse or encouragement to turn on their bloody phones inside the auditorium for whatever reason. And I’d like to think the Met would feel the same way.

  • Damn, girl. Why is the Met not hiring you to head up their Audience Development department.

  • wladek

    Perhaps opera is going into that good night and the sooner the better …people
    have found out that opera is not a necessity of life as they have found out that
    symphony orchestras are also not a necessity to having a good life. Millions
    upon millions live with out opera and live good happy lives at that …the
    sensibilities that brought opera as an entertainment to a particular segment
    of society are not the same sensibilities that define society to-day . It is no
    longer fashionable to go or be seen at the opera to prove one is “cultured “.
    It has arrived to the state expressed in that wonderful funny opening scene
    of “A Night at the Opera “.

  • accentpro

    Superb job of brainstorming. I hope someone at the Met takes note.

  • ilpenedelmiocor

    In other news, related to jrance’s comment above, there is something of an unprecedented palace coup going on here out west, in which the roles and the plot are remarkably similar to what I can discern from Dawn’s piece. The staff, God love them, are in open, very public revolt, and the old guard on the board of directors lost a big battle today. May this be a learning moment for all…

    • Batty Masetto

      More power to them, but it’s hard to know where it can lead when the market research returns results like this:

      “Other research from August, 2013 showed the audience preferred an opera of one to two hours long.”

      Good luck on that…

      • WOZZECK!!!!

      • ilpenedelmiocor

        Ha, well, the opener of the season this year was Pagliacci. Yeah, that’s right, you heard me: Pagliacci. By itself.

        Me, I of course refused to pay $220 for half the product (plus: Carlo Ventre — unfortunate last name, among other things….).

    • oedipe


      Thanks for posting these links.

      The survey results are particularly interesting.
      It is very revealing that, after the price of tickets (and who would disagree that high ticket prices represent a barrier?), the biggest deterrent from opera attendance seems to be peer pressure: the fact that family and friends are unwilling to come along. In this specific poll, the length of the performance does not appear as a major impediment.

      Also of interest is the relatively low priority given to famous performers, casual dress standards and the availability of activities before/after the event as catalysts for the decision to attend.

      It is notable that, although the sample is strongly biased towards highly educated, well-off middle class Caucasian couples, the interest in opera among these people is not very high. Maybe the age of the sample has something to do with this? (Half the people are under 40).

      • kennedet

        I think opera lovers will always support opera whether we have our favotite singer or production not withstanding. Yes, some will leave performances earlier, become frustrated with various singers or periodically not attend but opera lovers will always be there(if only to critcize) until the end(especially on this blog).

        I don’t think this is the crux of the problem. To constantly bemoan our favorite singer and/or what production/s should be presented does not deal with problem realistically. These surveys are dealing with expensive ticket prices, lack of interest on the part of a specific demographic, ageing population without the renewal of the next generation, class,etc. These issues are where we need to focus in this discussion.