Headshot of La Cieca

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A little list

EDITOR’S NOTE: In response to repeated urging by La Cieca (left), Our Own Dawn Fatale (right) has devised a “to do” list for the benefit of Met management, assuming the company makes it out of this summer alive. The listicle follows the jump.

Turn the Met Around

  1. Dream Big. Ambitious programming will excite the audience and the company. Endless runs of Aida, Boheme, and Carmen will have everyone in the doldrums. (PS: “Ambitious” doesn’t have to mean “expensive.”)
  2. Experiment. The next few seasons have to include experiments in terms of venue, timing, pricing, and repertoire to see what brings in the new audience the Met needs and deserves. The new contracts have to allow for flexibility.
  3. Create More Content Unique to the Met: Shared productions are budget-friendly, but there need to be more great productions that can only be seen at the Met—particularly of operas that are closely associated with the company like the Wagner works. Do this, even if this means cutting back slightly on the numbers of new productions.
  4. Kill the Five-Year Plan. The Met hires more major artists for more performances than any other company on earth. That means the Met can take the lead in doing away with this unimaginative and wasteful method of programming. Plan as if your next season were your last unless it goes really, really well.
  5. Show Your Math. If you are going to take out a full page ad in the Times, then provide the math to…
  6. Show Your Forecast. Share your high-level plan. If the Met is beginning an endowment campaign, share your high-level plan. There will be unprecedented demands on donors over the next few seasons, so you have to be transparent and honest if you want them to keep opening their checkbooks.
  7. Ditch the Lepage Ring.  It was a dud, and no one wants to pay to see it again. The overtime costs in reviving it will be unprecedented. Better to get the Schenk Ring out of the deep freeze or, better, borrow someone else’s. In the meantime, start planning for the New New Ring so it can get on the boards early in the 2020s.
  8. Make the Trains Run on Time.  The Met has to fix its existing productions that have endless intermissions caused by scenic designs that don’t work in the house (Lucia is exhibit A.) They kill the dramatic momentum of the show and make going to the opera more of an ordeal than it should be. While you’re at it, address those “brief pauses” in works like Eugene Onegin that leave the audience bored and firing up their smartphones for the five minutes it apparently requires to move a few chairs around.
  9. Buy One HD/Get One Free: Give every HD subscriber one free pass to bring a guest to the screening of their choice during the season.
  10. Page Dr. Repertoire: Run your proposed new production teams and designs by the dramaturgs in waiting at parterre box. We’ll tell you what will work!

As excellent as Dawn’s suggestions are, La Cieca feels that a mere 10 feels a bit skimpy. So she challenges you, cher public, to come up with more serious, thoughtful ideas about what can be done to turn the Met around. Should we reach a nice round 100 “to dos,” La Cieca pledges she will personally send the conflated list directly to Peter Gelb himself.

382 comments

  • kashania says:

    Everytime I see the photo at the top of this thread, I think that Bryan Cranston is playing Goro to Helen Traubel’s Cio-Cio San.

  • C.opera says:

    We have all these ideas about what the Met can do, and the 10 part list is a good start. A major problem not mentioned enough(or ever?) is that the Met, along with all its other problems, is the largest opera house in the world, it seems. It’s at least 1,000 seats larger than any of the European houses it’s compared to, and 1600 seats larger than most of them. So 90% houses are exponentially harder to achieve there, and almost none of the comments on any of these blogs ever deals with that particular problem .. or at least I haven’t seen any comments about it aside from alternative additional performance spaces … how about we think about a whole different theatre? Or(oh, I know this is ridiculous) how about just moving the back wall of the Met in about 20 ft -- get rid of a thousand seats, satisfy angry commentators like Manuella H who want a bigger nicer lobby and make 90% houses a lot easier to reach? filling 3,800 seats every night, particularly these days, is an absurd idea.

    • Uncle Kvetch says:

      A major problem not mentioned enough(or ever?) is that the Met, along with all its other problems, is the largest opera house in the world, it seems.

      I don’t mean to be argumentative, but it’s actually mentioned quite a lot around here. It was pointed out just today, in this very thread.

      So 90% houses are exponentially harder to achieve there

      But the Met was achieving them until fairly recently — that’s the rub. People here talk a lot about long-term trends — the aging of the opera audience and the way opera has slipped off the radar of mass culture — and that’s important and relevant, but those forces have been in motion for several decades now. They’re not sufficient to explain the precipitous recent drop in the Met’s house. Our esteemed hostess has pointed to the effects of the recession since 2008, which I think is true up to a point, but there’s been no similar drop-off in Broadway theatre during the same period.

      I don’t know what the answer is, mind you — I tend to think everyone’s a little bit right, but to what extent, I have no idea.

      Or(oh, I know this is ridiculous) how about just moving the back wall of the Met in about 20 ft

      I asked about a month ago if anyone knew of a precedent in which a performing arts space was successfully “shrunk” in this way, and no one responded. Maybe this will get the ball rolling. (I’d be more inclined to lower the ceiling and lose the family circle, but that’s just me.) But of course it’s a pipe dream. It would take nothing short of a miracle of engineering to pull it off while maintaining the acoustics of the house, even if the Met could afford it, which they most certainly can’t (or we wouldn’t be having this discussion). But hey, as long as everyone’s spitballing…

      • C.opera says:

        Well I’d say I think the idea of lowering the ceiling AND bringing the wall in if we’re fantasiizing … I din’t read your idea a month ago but it’s a great idea and I would’ve commented then ..but the thread you mention, unless I’m missing something, only had one mention of actual seats -- I’m not talking about the %age, just the staggering difference in the total number of seats to fill. Tho you’re right, they did fill a lot before now -- noone knows exactly why -- with all the theories out there but the fact remains that a 1000 seat smaller house (or 1700 smaller … sheesh) would cure make it a lot easier -- easier to fill and easier on singers voices and easier to try some new things.

      • Jungfer Marianne Leitmetzerin says:

        Thanks, Uncle K., for linking my data on the capacities of the Met and Wiener Staatsoper. While I don’t have the exact breakdown of seats and standing room, La Scala announced that after its 2004 renovation it has 2,030 seats (the breakdown of how tickets are allocated is kind of fascinatingly bizarre: http://it.wikipedia.org/wiki/Teatro_alla_Scala#Capienza). Operabase lists the Opéra Bastille as having 2,013 seats; the Bolshoi with 2,153 seats; and the new Mariinsky with 1,780.

        Not that anyone cares, of the approximately 70 theaters where I’ve attended fully-staged opera performances, my favorites remain the Staatstheater Stuttgart (1,396 seats) and Theater an der Wien (1,000 seats).

        • oedipe says:

          Operabase lists the Opéra Bastille as having 2,013 seats

          I don’t know what Operabase is talking about, but have you ever been to Opéra Bastille, and if so, did it seem to you about the same size as the Wiener Staatsoper?

          Here are the official figures from a Paris Opera publication. ONP is comprised of 4 theaters:

          Bastille has a capacity of 2745.
          Garnier has a capacity of 2027.
          Amphithéâtre Bastille has a capacity of 500.
          Studio Bastille has a capacity of 230.

          Total capacity of the ONP = 5502.

          • Jungfer Marianne Leitmetzerin says:

            My bad: I copied the wrong figure. Operabase lists capacity for the Bastille at 2,716 (which still seems conservative to me) and the Palais Garnier at 2013. I attended several performances at the Bastille back in the 1990s and was somewhat taken aback by the size of it, as well as its less-than-satisfactory acoustics (not to mention that it was at that time very user-unfriendly: people could not locate their seats, there was no help from ushers, nor could people differentiate between the men’s and woman’s bathrooms or how to utilize the facilities -- I had to show some men how activate the water at the sinks and locate paper towels). Wikipedia gives the capacity as 3,309 seats, but does not break down how many are standing room places (which, as you can see, highly inflates the total capacity of Wiener Staatsoper with more than 500 standing room places).

            Wikipedia lists the Palais Garner as having a capacity of 1,979, which is closer to your figure of 2,075. I have been there many times as well -- more than the Bastille -- and it always feels more intimate to me.

            Thank you so much for correcting my mistake. Chalk it up to still feeling woozy from a week-long illness and some extremely strong antibiotics and painkillers (whoopsie!).

            • oedipe says:

              No problem. Feel better!

              BTW, I see that Bastille has been achieving its goal of attracting people from all walks of life… :D

              I had to show some men how activate the water at the sinks and locate paper towels

            • manou says:

              It is never a good idea to hang around the men’s restrooms.

        • leonora3 says:

          Changing the interior of the house can dramaticly change the acustics of the house. You can’t mean it seriously, can you? Thanks to God, acustics is exelent in family circle as well ( I think better than under the balcony in orchestra). What is more important (in my opinion) is repertoir in such a huge house. I experienced sitting in one of the upper rows of the family circle (twice in my life) and I felt similarly as in Arene di Verona. Furtunately it was with Aida and Turandot and I was equiped with good binoculars what I use in Arena.
          Some operas like Comte Ory, L’Elisir, Don Pasquale,Cosy and then most of Mozart’s, Rossinni’s operas, (perhaps other bel canto pieces) would look much better in smaller houses that are like opera houses in Europe. Mozart conducted Le Nozze and Don Giovanni in Estate Theatre in Prague and it had around 800 seats(now it has fewer than 700 seats).
          I saw at Met Comte Ory, Cosy,the old Le Nozze ,L’Elisir, Don Pasquale, The Barber -- but not far from the stage. How did it look from family circle?
          I remember R.Bing in his memoirs 5000 Nights in Opera wrote about his worries. He had little doubts about suitability of this house for operas by Mozart (or other “chamber” pieces of repertoir).
          It would be easier to build another more “chamber” theatre, than to re-build the one you have and that is great for most Verdi’s, Wagner’s. Puccini’s and other operas.

    • Leontynes Weave says:

      The arguments about the size of the theatre leave out some crucial details imo. First of all, there are many more opera theaters in Europe than in the USA. For example in Berlin there are three big ones which are the Komische Oper, the Staatsoper and the Deutsche Oper respectively. So yes they seat many fewer people than the MET, but the MET has a monopoly on those who want to see live opera in a city of 8.5 million people.

      Given the limited number of opera performances in the states (about 1,600 a year compared to over 7,000 in Germany) , it should be no problem for the MET to be operating at 90% of capacity in a city with such a huge population.

      • C.opera says:

        I understand that but I think the combination of less seats and more singer and audience friendly houses -- all closer to the action and all more intimate experiences -- is a major part of the mix.

        • Clita del Toro says:

          Yes, that’s my gripe with LOC’s theater. When seated in the balcony, the singers seem too far away! And you think that the Met is bad! LOL
          Not that the acoustics are that terrific.

    • Jamie01 says:

      How would reducing the Met’s seating capacity help the economics? Would a 25% reduction in size allow for anything like a 25% reduction in costs? Or is the theory that scarcity will allow them to raise ticket prices and motivate people to buy tickets far in advance?

      I know that the trend among baseball teams for the last few decades has been to (get the taxpayers to) build new stadia that are much smaller than the old ones. This supposedly creates a more intimate, pleasant spectating experience, as well as creating scarcity which supports ticket price increases.

  • luvtennis says:

    I have q question: when did the 5 year plan thingy become SOP at the Met. When Bing had Nilsson, Price, and Sutherland debut in the space of a couple years, how flexibility did he have to get them back onstage after those initial triumphant debuts?

    • kashania says:

      It started with Joan Ingpen at the in the 80s. I believe Pavarotti was the first one that she started booking five years in advance which then made Domingo jealous.

  • luvtennis says:

    “how much flexibility did he have…” I gotta learn to type.

  • Lohenfal says:

    Did anyone else watch tonight’s broadcast of NYC-Arts on Channel 13? Paula Zahn tried to interview Peter Gelb on the Met’s current labor crisis, but was unable to get him to say anything other than the usual business about cutting labor costs, etc. He seems to have the “script” memorized and refuses to accept any responsbility for the problems facing the Met. The complete episode is already on the NYC-Arts website, if anyone is interested. There’s also a worthwhile segment on the Bolshoi Ballet which precedes the “interview.” :-)

  • Ilka Saro says:

    I thought the Lepage Ring was ditched. Are they actually planning to do it again? Didn’t I read a press release about it right here on Parterre? Maybe it’s time to adjust my medication… again.

    • La Valkyrietta says:

      Ilka Saro,

      A press release? I can’t locate it. I remember this article,

      http://www.the-wagnerian.com/2013/05/metlepage-ring-revial-cancelled-as.html

      I don’t know if that is the latest. The “machine” we were told someplace else, was not dumped on the ocean like an old subway train, but was placed in storage facilities in New Jersey and elsewhere ready to be dug up, tremble ye. There seems to be no complete assurance we are rid of the Lepage Ring, it is dormant somewhere ready to rear its ugly head like a dragon. Someone suggested the machine could be used as a set for La Wally. Heaven help us! If they manage to find someone with a voice as gorgeous as Tebaldi’s to sing that opera, the machine will drown it preparing its avalanche.

      • Ilka Saro says:

        La V, thanks for sending the link. And HE cites La Cieca! But I guess that maybe it wasn’t a public decision, and Gelb is still probably struggling to figure out if he can cut the Lepage Ring and still land, cat like, on his feet. Or maybe, if the rumor is true, he is just waiting for the right time to announce it, that special moment when doing so might give his debatable reputation a boost…

      • pirelli says:

        “Someone suggested the machine could be used as a set for La Wally. Heaven help us!”

        It would be better used as Birnam Wood in Macbeth. Or not at all. ;-)

    • Lohenfal says:

      According to Gelb’s statements in the interview last night, there haven’t been any problems at all with any of his productions. This could be part of his negotiating tactics with the unions, but it might also relate to a certain self-blindness. He would appear in a more favorable light if he did admit that some of the criticisms were valid. Paula Zahn was trying to lead him into that admission but was unsuccessful. Gelb was able to avoid answering her directly on most of her points.

      The interview is on http://www.nyc-arts.org. It starts about 15 minutes into the program.

    • Chanterelle says:

      Aren’t they bringing it back in 2016-17 with Goerke as Brunhilde?

      • imhere says:

        The machine is in climate controlled storage in Yonkers because of the delicate electronics and structure. It needs major work when it comes back and yes Peter’s current plan is to bring it back in a couple of seasons.

  • Krunoslav says:

    “I thought the Lepage Ring was ditched.”

    If only!

    • Batty Masetto says:

      Falstaff, Act II, scene ii.

      • pirelli says:

        If it goes like Falstaff at the end of Act II, does it then have to come back, shivering and lumbering (pun intended) in Act III? “Mondo ladro” indeed.

    • Ilka Saro says:

      “Fantaisie aux divins mensonges, tu reviens m’égarer encor.
      Va, retourne au pays de songes,
      O fantaisie aux ailes d’or!”

  • Stendhal says:

    http://video.pbs.org/video/2365286369/

    The above is a fascinating interview of Peter Gelb by Paula Zahn that aired this week on thirteen.org.

    Perhaps one of the keys to the Met’s future is finding a GM who doesn’t slander an entire art form, falsely and loudly claiming box offices “everywhere for classical music” are down in order to explain his own company’s performance results.

    Could we get a video of Lang Lang replying to this wearing gold chains, “my box office be booming/Bitches all over me, Nike endorsements looming”, that kind of thing…

    • La Cieca says:

      Box offices for classical music are certainly down just about everywhere in the United States, with opera suffering most. That San Francisco and Chicago are scrambling to fill seats by programming distinctly non-operatic works like The Sound of Music is as good an indication as any.

      Producing the example of one prosperous celebrity solo artist who has nothing to do with opera proves exactly nothing.

    • kashania says:

      How many opera companies have to file for bankruptcy before people stop positing that Peter Gelb is manufacturing some kind of crisis?

  • liza says:

    Love the idea of festivals and good food…let the opera spill out into the neighborhood. But to the underlying problem of a dimishing and disaffected audience. First, the Sills Solution. She brought the NYCO back into the black by slashing prices. Then bring the opera (not HDs of opera) to the peeps. Restart the 6 week tours. Ended because of cost overruns? Hmmm. Underwriting, some brilliant scenery with cutting edge lighting, hire tech interns and transport most by bus. And that should be the beginning of outreach programs. Partnerships to develop training and summer opera programs for the young could help build a new generation of opera lovers as well.

    • La Cieca says:

      She brought the NYCO back into the black by slashing prices

      Actually, no. By her own admission, she “brought the NYCO back into the black” by having a few million dollars land in her lap when City Center sold their air rights to a developer.