Cher Public

Opera snooze

That much-anticipated and much-feared “exposé” about Peter Gelb and the Met? Almost completely rehash (whores in Tosca, the Ring set was noisy, those gazillion dollar poppies.) Of smoking guns there are none. Though it’s always fascinating to hear what the heir to the Piggly Wiggly fortune has to say about arts management. [New Yorker]

  • Krunoslav

    Indeed. The piece’s great revelation is that Mr. Gelb pissed of some major patrons by asking for a check before they could order dessert and coffee at a Met intermission.

    • And people complain about Hitler!

    • Even that is made to look bad when it isn’t necessarily. Major gift solicitations often take place over a lunch or dinner. A good fundraiser will make the “ask” when it makes most natural sense in the flow of conversation (which can go way off-topic depending on the donor). Some people like to money early on and then enjoy the rest of the meal with casual conversation. Other times, the ask is made over coffee. And sometimes, it happens in between. And no, the fundraiser will not literally ask for a cheque right there and then – just ask the donor to consider the donation. Now, obviously the donors in question felt that the ask was rushed so Gelb probably mis-timed it. Or perhaps Gelb was having trouble keeping the conversation on-topic and felt that he had an opening to talk money but the moment didn’t feel so natural to the donors. Or maybe they’re just fussy people who like to act shocked and appalled because someone asked them for money “before we had even had cake!”

      • Krunoslav

        “Cake is RARELY seen in the best opera houses these days…”

        • Tell Vienna!

          • Krunoslav

            Gwendolen. [With elaborate politeness.] Thank you. [Aside.] Detestable girl! But I require tea!

            Cecily. [Sweetly.] Sugar?

            Gwendolen. [Superciliously.] No, thank you. Sugar is not fashionable any more. [Cecily looks angrily at her, takes up the tongs and puts four lumps of sugar into the cup.]

            Cecily. [Severely.] Cake or bread and butter?

            Gwendolen. [In a bored manner.] Bread and butter, please. Cake is rarely seen at the best houses nowadays.

            Cecily. [Cuts a very large slice of cake, and puts it on the tray.] Hand that to Miss Fairfax.

            [Merriman does so, and goes out with footman. Gwendolen drinks the tea and makes a grimace. Puts down cup at once, reaches out her hand to the bread and butter, looks at it, and finds it is cake. Rises in indignation.]

            Gwendolen. You have filled my tea with lumps of sugar, and though I asked most distinctly for bread and butter, you have given me cake. I am known for the gentleness of my disposition, and the extraordinary sweetness of my nature, but I warn you, Miss Cardew, you may go too far.

            • Sigh… I still remember reading that play for the first time in high school and delighting in the Gwendolyn/Cecily exchange. The “I require tea” line had me in stitches.

      • messa di voce

        Regardless of what actually happened, Gelb is far and away the greatest fund raiser in Met history, making this little vignette rather pointless.

        • Indeed! That’s what many conveniently ignore. For all that people have griped about the cost of the new productions, few people are willing to acknowledge that Gelb has raised all the additional money required for those productions. The big problem is ticket sales and they are hurting across N. America. Using European companies and attendance as a comparison point is a bit apples and oranges.

      • armerjacquino

        Wait, is something being lost in translation here? I read it that Gelb asked for the bill for the meal they were having before they’d ordered dessert/coffee, ie hurried them through the meal. I didn’t think the ‘check’ in question referred to any donation he was trying to solicit.

        • It’s hard to tell from the context what sort of “check” is being talked about. Given how pissy some of the board members are, it’s easy to imagine one of them carrying to his grave a grudge over not being offered dessert and coffee.

        • That could well be that he asked for the bill too soon. In which case, it makes the donors in question even more churlish to actually complain publicly about it.

          But if this was happening during the intermission (a detail I missed the first time), how much time was there? Doesn’t the Grand Tier restaurant serve one course during each intermission? I mean, I know that Met intermissions are legendary for their length but even the most leisurely intermission doesn’t allow time for a main course and a dessert.

          Then again, some wealthy people are so used to having things their way that they never rush. They just assume that the world around them will move at their pace. Or perhaps they have box seats and can make their entrance mid-act. (Surely, if it comes to choosing between dessert or watching an entire act, the dessert always wins out).

  • Operanaut

    Definitely expected more. Expected Stewart to drop some major revelation and it never came. Lots of Board squabbling and re-hashing of labor negotiations. Still, adds to the overall sense of unease I feel about the future of the Met.

  • LT

    “Opera is the pinnacle of art forms because it’s all three: music, singing, and staging.”

    I guess singing isn’t music.

    • You know very well if the statement had said “music and staging,” a thousand queens would have stood up at once and screamed “BUT LA VOCE!”

    • Krunoslav

      ‘I guess singing isn’t music.’

      Well, it depends…

      • Porgy Amor

        I thought of going there too, Krunoslav, but I was going to try to hunt down a Sleepwalking Scene excerpt.

        • Krunoslav

          Porgy-- Surely Youtube has banned those, fearing legal liability.

          • Porgy Amor

            At the very least, you have to show proof of age, and then to score low enough on a hearing screen.

  • armerjacquino

    At a subsequent board meeting, Desmarais raised her hand and asked, “Will I ever see the old Zeffirelli production of ‘Tosca’ in my lifetime?”

    “The obvious answer was ‘How soon do you want it?’

    It really wasn’t. The obvious answer was ‘You had 114 opportunities over 24 years to see it’.

    • Porgy Amor

      And it’s on DVD. Watch it 114 more times at your leisure.

    • manou

      Diplomacy is all. Desmarais is a very elderly lady who could write a cheque to cover all present and future Met productions. Gelb has to strike a delicate balance between keeping the donors happy and not compromising the artistic integrity of the Met. How useful can it be to sneer at the “Piggly Wiggly fortune” when one would quite like some of it please?

      • armerjacquino

        It’s perfectly possible in that circumstance, I think, to give a diplomatic answer which boils down to ‘you won’t’.

        What if she’d said ‘will we see Katherine Jenkins as Amneris in my lifetime?’. Would it have been ‘diplomatic’ to say yes?

        • Krunoslav

          Or: “Will I see Broadway’s Betsy Wolfe as the Countess of Aremberg in my lifetime?”

          • seriously

            Please God, NO! Bets doesn’t belong on The Met stage.

        • manou

          Of course you can give a diplomatic answer -- your suggestion “You had 114 opportunities over 24 years to see it” may not be the first choice.

          And saying “yes” to the Jenkins question would not qualify as “diplomatic”. It would qualify as “caving in”, which is quite a different thing altogether.

          • armerjacquino

            Ah, but manou, I wasn’t saying mine was the correct or the expedient answer- just that it was (borrowing the form of words used in the piece) the obvious one ;-)

      • You perhaps did not attend the many meet-and-greets and patron meetings and press conferences Gelb held early in his tenure in which 90% of the questions asked boiled down to “When will you bring back the Zeffirelli/Schenk production of X?” He always answered tactfully, but to no avail: the answer they wanted to hear is, “We’ll junk our current production and give you exactly what you want to see, dear.”

        It is an unfortunate fact of life in the US that arts organizations end up spending 90% of their time and energy giving tongue baths to senile old coots who happened to have the luck to be sitting on an enormous shitload of unearned wealth. But just because you have to suck up to them doesn’t mean you have to let them dictate artistic policy as if you were their chauffeur.

        • manou

          OK -- “…giving tongue baths to senile old coots…” is not “diplomatic”.

          • armerjacquino

            Or hygienic.

          • One reason I’m not running an opera house.

        • manou

          By the way -- I am invited to not one but two of those meet-and-greets next month. I shall have to guard against any unwelcome osculations.

          • Try not to ask any stupid questions, then.

            • manou


        • turings

          ‘Hold me, touch me …’

        • Henry Holland

          That was one of the problems that Pamela Rosenberg had in San Francisco. She had previously been at the Staatsoper Stuttgart and it seems she was unprepared (and unwilling) to do the glad handing necessary at SFO.

      • The article doesn’t specify what Gelb answered, except in the negative snese that he didn’t immediately cave to the old dowager.

      • The answer Gelb has given to this sort of question is that he considers it the mission of the Met to be moving forward, not backward, and that historically the Met has not “rolled back” to a previous production.

        The answer the questioner wants is “Yes, I admit that I deliberately forced you to watch this horrible production because I hate opera and I am trying to destroy it,” but for some reason Gelb can’t seem to memorize that script.

    • liza

      That’s dowager speak for “You’re trying to tell me we have an overpaid management team and 155 titans of Wall Street and it took a bloody CLARINETIST to write a financial assessment?”

  • Chanterelle

    This appears in a mainstream upscale weekly which publishes articles designed to give commuters a substantial read between Grand Central and Greenwich, often on fascinating but off-the-radar topics. It focuses on management, finance and philanthropy, touching on issues of taste in theater but barely mentioning, you know, actual music. This is for a readership less interested in casting choices than union negotiations and, oh yes, the wisdom of writing a check to a company which could follow NYCO into oblivion because of mismanagement.

    It wasn’t written for the fans who argued for weeks during the negotiations, and who passed the time reading Michael Cooper’s tweets in the pre-dawn hours before Carnegie ticket sales last August.

  • overstimmelated

    There is an account of the Figaro prompter’s box incident -- complete with flammable set -- in which Gelb is decidedly the villain (rather than the anti-Levine version that was offered here). Of course, it’s possible that neither version told the full story.

  • Papagena Dimitrova

    This article barely skims the surface… Much ado about nothing!

    • Quanto Painy Fakor

      I posted these earlier on a different page here:

      “Methinks the author of the article had much more revealed to him that was
      either omitted or edited. That is particularly evident when he tells of the lay
      off of “Sissy Strauss, a longtime artist liaison who took care of visiting singers
      and threw an annual star-studded Christmas party … ” with the non sequitur of the Lovett letter.”

      “It’s a long read, and as we all know, Angela Gheorg[h]iu has never sung the role of Carmen at the MET and cooperate is rarely spelled [spelt] with a dieresis above the second O. I wish Volpe had made good on his threat.”

      • Krunoslav

        “the non sequitur of the Lovett letter”

        Oh, I dont know-- Gelb’s curt missive canceling the Lyle Lovett/Terrence McNally commission IT’S NOT BIG, IT’S LARGE now seems rash in the face of recent pictures of burgeoning star Vittorio Grigolo.

      • You must share more of your fan fiction with us sometime.

        • Krunoslav

          What have I been doing these last few years????

          • That was aimed at QPF. If there was so much more revealed, then he can share it with us.

      • antikitschychick

        “…and cooperate is rarely spelt with a dieresis above the second O.” Indeed; nor is teenager usually spelt with a dash in between ‘teen’ and ‘ager’. Odd.

        Any who, the last few sentences of the piece certainly paints a grim (if not grisly) picture of the Met’s future. Perhaps I’m being naive but I’m optimistic. I think next season has the potential to be a truly great season, esp in terms of casting. Also, I understand the concern that is mentioned over directors who are not well-versed in the musical language of the particular piece they are directing or opera in general, but the reality is that very few directors are and of the ones that are, not all of them will want to direct at the Met. I’m not sure if this would work but it seems to be that with respect to new concepts and new productions of familiar/staple operas, directors should work with and/or consult with conductors more. Think this might make the creative process less disjointed because the way it works now, it seems that the Met will hire a director for a certain opera and that decision will be completely, or almost completely separate and unrelated to who the conductor will be/is and I think there needs to be more collaboration between the creative mind that will shape the dramatic output and the creative mind that will shape the musical one.

        It’s the missing piece of the artistic triangle. Conductors work with singers and directors work with singers and those two relationships seem to always trump the relationship between conductor and artistic director. Perhaps conductors just don’t have as prominent a role in the grand scheme of things as they used to. That needs to be eradicated though because I think it would better serve the art form as a whole if a creative dialogue between the director and conductor would take place before it’s time to actually make everything happen onstage.

        Obviously this requires a substantial amount of flexibility and willingness to cooperate on both parts, but I think that’s what great art making requires. It may be that the Met and other opera houses are indeed fomenting these sorts of collaborative relationships but from an outsider’s perspective it seems there is a real disconnect in how everything comes together in the end.

      • overstimmelated

        “cooperate is rarely spelled [spelt] with a dieresis above the second O”

        In the New Yorker, it is! (Most people probably don’t spell dieresis with an “ae”, either.)

  • la vociaccia

    It blows my mind how people can balk at a production of ‘Tosca’ for being too ‘barbaric.’For all the talk about millennials being desensitized to violence, it’s actually rather disconcerting that these people will won’t find a story involving torture, false imprisonment and execution, attempted rape and a brutal lurid murder ‘barbaric’ as long as the sets are pretty

    • mountmccabe

      This is a fantastic point.

    • Henry Holland

      You forgot suicide at the very end la vociaccia.

  • Rowna

    My take: This article wasn’t written for anyone who logs onto this site, so it is more of a history of how we got here. Not much in the way of new true insights, and not nearly enough gossip. Here is where I am confused and hope that some of our most knowledgable Parterrati can help our my poor brain. First, I am not exactly sure how the Met is run. Is it a true no-profit, have a 5013C status? I seem to remember that when Lincoln Center was designated, the land was NYC’s. So, as some museums pay no electricity -- is that true of the Met? Do they have other special treatment? The most disturbing sentence was this, quoting from a board member in charge of finances: At a different board meeting, she asked about the employment contract of James Levine, the Met’s revered music director since 1976. Morris refused to divulge the contract’s terms. Ok -- so do we know what Mr. Levine earns? Was he paid during his absence? What about retirement? Inquiring minds want to know. And more facts please!

    • Krunoslav

      “What about retirement? ”

      They are awaiting Wigglesworth’s salary demands.

    • The Met is a 501(c)(3); you can view its 990 forms at Guidestar. The company’s fiscal year runs August-July, corresponding with the season; the most recent 990 is for fiscal year 2013, which began August 1, 2012. There are pay breakdowns for officers and key employees beginning on page 47 of the PDF — base pay, deferred compensation, etc. Gelb in this year had base pay of about $1.57 million, with deferred and other compensation as well as benefits bringing his total compensation to over $1.8 million. (Don’t be alarmed at the $344,809 base pay for Richard Wagner; that is the name of the assistant head electrician.)

      I don’t see Levine on the form, but he did appear on the prior year’s form, on page 8 of the PDF, where his company Phramus Inc. was paid over $1.5 million. If he was paid via Phramus in the more recent year, it would have been less than $1.3 million. (The IRS requires nonprofits to list the top five highest-paid independent contractors, and the lowest-paid of the five was paid that much.)

      Knowing the overall number for Levine’s pay doesn’t give much in the way of detail, though, and yes, it is pretty weird that they wouldn’t show an employment contract to a board member.

      I don’t know about real estate arrangements with Lincoln Center, etc., but this is the stuff I learned from just looking at these forms.

      I agree with those who say that the article was mostly a rehash for those of us who frequent this website, though it would have been informative for the general reader.

  • Signor Bruschino

    I just found it humorous that in this new era of cost cutting, Gelb and the musician’s rep had their ‘celebratory’ dinner at Jean Georges, one of the most expensive restaurants in the city. Couldn’t Fiorello’s cut it at 1/4 of the cost?

    • la vociaccia

      well geez, why don’t they just have it at Olive Garden in that case?

      • And just have some water (tap!) and endless breadsticks!

    • Yes, that would have saved literally dozens of dollars on a $300 million budget, with the additional bonus that the musicians’ rep could then go to the press and complain about how cheap Gelb was in dealing with the union reps. Real economy there!

      • Signor Bruschino

        It is the optics of the situation. When artists (those who make the big bucks and those who don’t) are asked to return a portion of their salary, going to a 4 star restaurant is just tone deaf. It’s all about judgement, and not about ‘dozens of dollars.’

        • armerjacquino

          Do we even know that this meal was expensed?

          • Krunoslav

            For all future Met dinner meetings:


            • armerjacquino

              Oh god, there it is *logs into Virgin Atlantic website*

            • Krunoslav

              Back in my standing room university days and after--in those periods when I was eating meat--Gray’s Papaya often furnished my pre-Met meal. Very satisfying.

            • Away with the fancy trappings; go with this.

  • redbear

    A decade ago, the San Diego Symphony was in its annual death throes. One person wrote a check for 100 million. They stopped dying. That same person gave zero to the San Diego Opera, which actually did die (to be revived by others.) I find it alarming that few here have any idea how absolutely essential the board’s support is to the Met and how clearly the story tells a reluctance for any of the billionaires on the board to whip out their checkbook. There are real divisions and no board leadership for America’s largest and, for many, most important performing arts organization. There is a coming Met fund drive for 600 mil and usually when the board announces the public campaign it is already half-way there. The board has pledged only 70 mil. of the 300 planned. (The Gates Foundation gives away, by themselves, over 4 billion every single year.)
    Back to San Diego. The La Jolla Museum of Contemporary Art museum plans expansion that will eat their 500 seat auditorium. A few had lunch and property was brought and building ordered for a new auditorium for 50 million. There wasn’t even a fund raising. There are plenty of people was vast amounts of money everywhere in the US, even NYC, and any one of them could solve the Met’s financial issues. This is beginning to sound like the final months of the NYCO.

  • Froshlover

    Redbear, your point is well taken. There is plenty of money around in the US, not even counting all the Russian billionaires who spend hundreds of millions for a place to live in the US for three weeks a year. But the Met management is unable to demonstrate to them WHY the Met is important, WHY opera is important, unable to seduce them into loving the art form, which would then open their pocketbooks.

    But then, to do that, Gelb would have to understand why opera is important—other than as an occasional source of celbs and a new port of call for self-proclaimed hipsters to spend the early part of their evening (one act--then off to dinner at a new hip restaurant).

    No one seems to be TRULY asking “Why is our audience shrinking, when other opera companies audience is not?” No one who is in a position to do anything about it is asking’ the major questions and not being satisfied with Gelb’s self-serving non-sequitors and less than truthful answers. (“Our RING didn’t sell because everyone’s doing the RING this year.”)

    So, a management that is clueless; a board that is oblivious; a once-loyal public that is staying home….sounds an awful lot like City Opera. Alas. The question is, will ANYONE on the Met’s board be able to avert the promised disaster?

    • No one seems to be TRULY asking “Why is our audience shrinking, when other opera companies audience is not?”

      No one is asking that because it’s not true. Opera attendance is shrinking at practically every company in the US.

      • Froshlover

        That’s not really true. Attendance is up in both Chicago and Houston so it would be appropriate to ask what they are doing that is putting butts in seats. And opera is flourishing even more in Europe so, again, it would be helpful to know what houses like Vienna (100% sold last year) and others that are cited in The New Yorker article are doing that the Met might try. It’s probably a combination of things, but it is worth investigating.

        • Greg.Freed

          I think the usual answer here, and one that seems convincing as far as Europe is concerned, is that government subsidies mean opera isn’t so prohibitively expensive. It really is hard to get butts in seats when a seat from which you can’t see facial expressions at all can run you $75 on the low end, but there’s not a lot the Met can do about that, given their expenses, and funding the arts just isn’t an American priority.

          • Yes, gov’t funding subsidises ticket prices and makes it more accessible. That’s a big part of it.

            But I would also add that opera is much more ingrained in the culture in Europe. It is not as central to the culture in N. America which is why ticket sales dropped after the Great Recession and never recovered. The casual opera goer in N. America does not have as strong a bond to opera. So, the fairweather single ticket buyers have dwindled, and many subscribers have stopped subscribing and have become fairweather single ticket buyers.

            • To my mind, opera was of narrower interest in Europe 30 years ago than it is today. I had a feeling opera attendance in Europe actually increased (certainly, in Paris, when the Bastille was opened, it increased substantially), so I grubbed around on internet for figures. One report I found, which seems focused on non-US attendance figures, says:

              “From the information given, classical music attendances decreased in 8 out of the 13 reports found, over the period covered by the statistics. However, 7 out of 10 reports showed an increase in opera attendance and 4 out of 5 reports showed an increase in ballet attendance”.

              In other words, there may be a “traditional” bond with opera, but there new people coming to it.


            • I should clarify. When I say ingrained in the culture, I’m not saying that the audience is all old people who saw Della Casa sing Arabella. The young audience members are still coming from a background where opera is less on the periphery (though hardly mainstream) than it is here in N. America. I’ve met people here who don’t even know how to pronounce “opera” or what it means.

            • Hehe, I was in Venice last weekend and heard people at the hotel, next to a church that does the usual Vivaldi concerts, ask if “the opera next door” was closed that night.

              I think what I was trying to say was there was not just a historic bond, but even something of a boom.

            • turings

              The most recent thing I could find on arts attendance in America is the NEA’s 2012 survey of public participation in the arts, which says opera attendance fell from 3.2% of the population in 2002 to 2.1% in 2012.

              They note that there was no statistically significant change between 2008 and 2012, holding steady at 2.1% (4.9 million) – so in this report’s findings at least, the economic crisis appears to have made no difference, which seems counter-intuitive. (p.12) In contrast, they found a 12% drop in attendance at spoken theater in the same period. (p.17).

              The report also indicates that there was a fall off in attendance rates at classical music events in the 35-54 age group – the number of younger audience members remained much the same, and there was a rise in attendance levels among older people. (p.13)

              The report is here if you want to check it out:


            • turings

              Looking at those NEA figures again, that stable 2.1% figure is maybe not that surprising – probably masks the situation you’ve described, kashania. They only asked if the individual had attended an opera performance, so it’s not going to capture a drop from a six-opera subscription to a single trip, or discount/full price tickets.

            • Turings: Right, that makes sense.

        • I don’t know about HGO but from what I understand, the LOC used to have 100% capacity. Then, their numbers began to drop (just like everywhere else in N. America). And now they’re doing musicals! So, perhaps the rising attendance to which you refer has to do with the fact that Sound of Music was on the program this season.

          • pirelli

            Well, so far they’ve done one musical. The previous season they attempted Oklahoma! but I would hardly say that they actually did it. :-(

        • Attendance is up slightly in the couple of past seasons over about five six years ago. Houston and Chicago have during that period shortened their seasons, changed the repertoire radically to mostly standards and added musical comedy to their seasons.

          Among the innovations in Vienna is the use of a non-union chorus of guest workers. It’s also a theater half the size of the Met that receives a large government subsidy. Good luck having the Met try any of those “innovations.”

          Opera is so expensive to present at the Met primarily because compensation for chorus, orchestra and stagehands is so very high. These sorts of coses are a lot easier to control in a social-democratic country.

          • seriously

            The chorus is the best in the world. That’s why I go.

        • SilvestriWoman

          Is attendance really up in Chicago? A friend, who’s been a full-season subscriber for well over 30 years, has said he’s never seen so many empty seats from his upper balcony perch. This was my first full season at Lyric, and I was pleasantly surprised at the number of free upgrades I was offered -- from the top reaches of the balcony to the orchestra. It certainly made Tannhauser more enjoyable from an aisle seat, several rows in front of the overhang. Even better was experience The Passenger upclose, as it proved to be one of my finest evenings in years. (Please, Lyric, bring this production back, and soon!)

      • kennedet

        There is no more important issue than audience attendance. It will determine the future of opera. It’s not a doomsday pronouncement but a fact. To see progress in 2 or 3 places is not enough to guarantee longevity. I know it has lasted this long but look at the dwindling audiences. Does anyone think there will be some new revival! It has been discussed, debated ad nauseum on this post and others,in opera Board rooms, etc., but there doesn’t seem to be a sure model that can be relied upon for success except early exposure through parents or schools. Isn’t this how most of us were exposed to opera? Yes, I know there are exceptions but my point is the focus has to be early education and exposure.

        • Bill

          Kennedet -- attendance has always been the
          main gauge of success -- even in subsidized
          opera houses, an opera is often not repeated beyond its scheduled performances if no one attends. The entire history of operettas and musicals is based upon attendance if they were to be successes as the financial box office generally ruled over artistic excellence.
          The impressarios or theaters would withdraw an unattended work and then bargain for another to keep audiences flowing in.

          And of course if there are not music programs in the schools, interest in classical music
          is not developed. When I was in grammar school we were singing part harmony in the 1st grade and we ALL had to learn an instrument (provided
          by the school). The local Episcopal Church paid its choir boys and although it seems like a pittance now, we generally received more a month than our allowances from our parents. We all learned to read music and the church (boy’s) choir gave concerts outside the church and we sang some complete oratorios in the church. The grammar school was a member of the Metropolitan Opera Guild and from the 6th grade we all went to the student performances at the Met, studied the story and the music beforehand. In the 8th grade (before high school) we put on a fully staged performance
          of H.S.M. Pinafore with sets, costumes, student orchestra, etc. All from our grammar school.
          They took entire classes to the Paper Mill Playhouse to see live operettas of Herbert,
          Romberg, Kalman, Friml etc and then musicals
          like Oklahoma. So it stood without reason that many in our class continued to go the opera and concerts throughout our lives. This was not untypical of all the suburban schools in our area of New Jersey. We had a town instrumental school for grammar school students on Saturdays founded by some parents and there was a summer instrumental school nearby for those in 7th grade and above with daily orchestra practice lead by the concertmaster of the New Jersey Symphony. In high school we had glee clubs, mixed choruses, an orchestra, a concert band, a marching band, talent shows,
          barbershop quartets, theatrical productions, All State Chorus, All State Orchestra. Even those who could not carry a tune were steeped in music.

          • kennedet

            Yes, Bill, “Gone are the days”. We had tremendous exposure to choral music. We sang most of the masterpieces of choral literature before I entered college. Handel’s Messiah was always performed and easy to memorize because it was done so much.

            What I’m afraid of is less opera at more expensive prices for the few that enjoy it. Twenty years is a very short time in history but not for some of us. It will be interesting to see what does or doesn’t develop.PBS has done an almost 180% turn around. Their programming is almost exclusively popular music. It’s very disheartening. I am constantly trying to acquaint people who are open to new musical experiences to get excited about opera.

            • armerjacquino

              Opera is undoubtedly much less a part of the cultural mainstream than it was fifty years ago. But that doesn’t mean it’s dying. There is a substantial middle ground, and it’s that ground that opera has occupied for all my adult life.

            • kennedet

              Armer, hasn’t there been enough information by this discussion to prove that opera is dying or do you disagree with everything that has been said? Opera was substanial also when many of us were middle aged. Do you think this is just a phase and it will blossom by osmosis?

            • armerjacquino

              It’s not an assertion that can be ‘proved’ one way or another. My take on the issues discussed in the thread just isn’t as pearl-clutching as yours, that’s all. I’ve been listening to people saying that opera is about to die for thirty years and I’m sure people have been saying it for longer.

            • kennedet

              Well,maybe we need to define dying in more exact terms. I don’t mean wiped off the face of the earth or totally obliterated but I’ll stop here. You seem dead set on arguing no matter what the issue.

            • armerjacquino

              Kennedet, I’m not ‘dead set on arguing’. We just happen to have different opinions on this one, that’s all!

          • semira mide

            Thank you for this, Bill.
            I remember a number of years ago when I believe it was Isaac Stern who, when asked why it was important to have music lessons in school said something like ( and this is quite paraphrased, I’m afraid) because you never know where the next great talent will come from, not necessarily a family in which there is money for private music lessons. I wish I could find the exact quote.

        • Today’s kids live in a different world than you or I grew up in, so it stands to reason that the focus and forms of musical education will have changed. There were a number of assumptions about class, nation and race which were baked into ideas of “classical music” in the 19th and 20th centuries, assumptions which seem less valid today. Kids nowadays are also exposed to a wider variety of cultures and cultural artifacts. (They also have access to forms of music education undreamt of in my youth: the internet, youtube, KTV, etc.)

          On balance, I’d say this is a good thing.

          • antikitschychick

            Well, I’d say kids can access greater exposure to a variety of cultures and cultural artifacts through technological resources as you point out but that’s not necessarily the same thing as being directly exposed to a wider variety of cultures etc., because certain prejudicial values and socio-historical perspectives have been institutionalized and systematically promulgated (Colombus day for instance), which is not necessarily a good thing as I’m sure you know. Your point about the number of assumptions which were baked into opera that are less valid today is well taken though.

            • pirelli

              …because certain prejudicial values and socio-historical perspectives have been institutionalized and systematically promulgated (Colombus day for instance), which is not necessarily a good thing as I’m sure you know…

              I feel that Columbus Day, and a good number of holidays like it, are really nothing more than an excuse for a day off and a long weekend. Who actually commemorates Columbus on that day anymore? Such days have really become rather meaningless in terms of their original intentions.

            • antikitschychick

              pirelli, I get what you’re trying to say and I honestly don’t want to go on a diatribe about Columbus day but you are proving my point in saying that it has become meaningless and yet still exists. That’s exactly what I mean when I say it’s become institutionalized: institutions, in this case schools, still uphold and adhere to it despite it being based on a false narrative. Moreover, to convey the erroneous idea that Columbus ‘discovered America’ to little school children when he did no such thing for the sake of getting a day off from work is morally reprehensible. If it’s truly become meaningless then it should be abolished. I get some ppl feel bad for the guy because of what happened after the fact but that has nothing to do with what Columbus Day signifies in America.

            • Camille

              “Who actually commemorates Columbus on that day anymore?”

              Well, actually, that is a good question. It IS commemorated in New York City. One year Franco Zefferelli was the grand hoo-haw of the parade. If I am remembering correctly that was in 2001, shortly after the 9/11 catastrophe and a bit of a brave show of civic pride. On that date it was appreciated.

              Otherwise, it is just a day off school.

            • I don’t get it. Are you guys talking about Indigenous Peoples’ Day?

            • antikitschychick

              Yeah touche m.croche. I was just using that as an example. But I think my broader point is pretty clear.

            • I’m perhaps more (guardedly) optimistic than you, a-k-chick. Changes in values and perspectives are happening all the time. You can tell by listening to the squawks of protest.

              Still a long way to go, though.

              The thing, though, is that these changes in values and perspectives have knocked classical music from its ideological perch at the summit of Music Mountain. Recent defenses of its primacy have been, shall we say, unconvincing. It is no longer obvious what music should be taught in schools.

            • antikitschychick

              yes that’s true also, and in a certain sense the freedom to choose is empowering and liberating; maybe a teacher wants to devote the curriculum to African music or folk music and that’s just fine but there are different forms of teaching through which kids can be exposed to all sorts of music, especially music they are not exposed to in their everyday life; I think what’s more important than classical music is that kids at least be taught, or given an historical overview of the development of western music, which would include opera, so that they’ll have a foundation on which to build. But in terms of the music class itself, well it can be devoted to all kinds of things and kids can learn to play all kinds of instruments. But they should at least know there is a type of performance art called opera, that still exists today. This can be done in a single class session and kids who are curious can be encouraged to seek it out for themselves. I realize we’ve gone from the abstract to specifics but as you know there are many different angles from which this issue can be approached.

              The article you linked to looks interesting. I will read it tomorrow morning and get back to you :-).

            • You write “Western music”, but I think you actually mean “the classical music canon”. If you actually really, really mean “Western music” -- then you are not going to be able to trace its historical outline. It is much too multifarious for that. Bulgarian laments, Iberian flamenco, jazz, rock, Sardinian polyphony, znameniy chant, Cuban son montuno are all part of “Western music”.

          • kennedet

            I agree m. croche, but where is the balance or a pittance of classical music in all of the many cultural varieties? Many teachers don’t or won’t teach it in my experience because they don’t enjoy it themselves. If it’s in their curriculum, it doesn’t mean they have to do a good job of exposing kids to it. This is not to blame teachers only. I haven’t been retired that long but I did not experience it when I taught. I was told it was mostly in the private schools but that was not my experience. I thought teaching at a school dedicated to the Performing Arts, in which you had to audition before you entered would allow you to educate students to classical music but that was a fallacy. Again we might agree that it must be in the curriculum but it is almost impossible to try to teach an opera class to high school sudents today. A well developed voice can be ridiculed and laughed at by students because it sounds operatic.

          • antikitschychick

            yes you’re right, classical music canon, or what is traditionally considered the classical music cannon are more apt terms to describe what I was getting at…although it certainly wouldn’t be a bad thing to expose kids to those forms of western music you mention…because that will ultimately inform whatever music making process they are involved in, if any.

            Haven’t finished reading the New Republic piece yet; hope to finish it by tomorrow.

            • Ok, so now it is the classical music canon which is supposed to be the “foundation on which to build”. But you haven’t really tackled the question: “why”? I mean, you like classical music, I like classical music, and everyone else here likes classical music. (Peter Gelb of course hates opera, but that’s another story.) It’s not at all clear to me, though, why it should be the fundamental basis for a school’s music curriculum. Actually, I think it’s kind of a bad idea.

            • antikitschychick

              Well, I don’t think it should necessarily be the fundamental basis of a music school’s curriculum; I think that should de decided by the teacher and the arts program director (s) or what have you…but I think if the aim of a music curriculum is to provide kids with a musical foundation on which they can build, classical music should be a part of that foundation, however miniscule or substantial a part it becomes will be deigned by the teached and the institution and eventually the individual student…all it can take is a single class, like my middle school choir teacher did with us. He didn’t devote the entire curriculum to classic music or opera but he introduced us to the form by inviting professional opera singers to come perform for us and tell us what they were singing about for one class session (out the entire school year). Thats all it can take imho because the key is to merely expose kids to the art form so that it entices them and challenges them, or at the very least know that it exists and knows its true form…and if it truly speaks to them they will seek it out. Maybe not right away but eventually they will. We should trust the art form enough that it will attract enough people in this and other ways to keep sustaining it. If it doesn’t then it no longer speaks to us in a relevant manner and should be discarded. I don’t think that day has come. It might if humanity ever evolves to a point at which the themes that opera centers on and explore are no longer part of the human condition or if we ever get to a point at which we no longer need music or we develop some other ‘higher’ form of expression that is not music-based.

            • antikitschychick

              Ughhh Italics fail. Sorry.

    • Bill

      Froshlover -- to answer your question as to why the
      Met audience is schrinking when other opera companies are not having reduced audiences

      1 -- the prices of tickets are higher than they used to

      2 -- the quality of performances are quite variable.
      Not everyone wants to hear an off-pitch Voigt or a wobbly Racette.

      3 -- my own take is also with only 22 operas
      with some produced 16 or 17 times a season
      lends to too little variety -- Vienna does
      over 50 operas a season, Budapest 46, Zurich
      and Munich and others more than the Met -- it
      may cost more to move scenery around, the
      performances may be a little underrehearsed compared to the Met -- but if one lives in the city
      and one sees a relatively uninteresting or poorly cast performance of say Traviata or whatever opera one likes to hear, one simply does not go again.

      4 -- Younger audiences are not often seen
      at the Met (as in many European cities) perhaps as
      they are no longer interested (as previous generations) in classical music. And the prices are too high unless the house is papered -- In
      European houses students can often purchase Restkarten at much cheaper prices to fill the house
      and standing room (if it exists) is usually dirt
      cheap which it is not at the Met. I think also that the sound at the Met in some of the Parterre (Orchestra) seats is a bit dimmer than up above
      in higher sets -- why pay $ 300 or $ 400 for worse sound.

      We do not read many statistics about the sale
      of subsciptions compared to years ago -- what are
      the percentages of seats pre-sold by subscription
      compared to 10 or 30 years ago. Years ago most of the best seats for most performances were already
      pre-sold by subscription but I suspect many in the last decade or two have let their subsciptions lapse (or died off) -- and years ago it was much tougher to exchange a subsciption ticket at the box office for another performance than it is today when one is allowed to change a number of dates at least well
      in advance. One still hears alot of foreign
      languages spoken at intermission at the Met
      (as in Vienna and most of the major continental cities) so it is most likely the drop in attendance
      in the last decade in the Met is because Americans
      (or American tourists visiting NY) are just not
      snapping up Met tickets as in years of yore.

      I for one live in close proximity to the Met but
      go fewer times a season than years past as some of the casting (particularly in the conventional operas) simply is not terribly enthralling. And some of the operas such as Rossini’s Armide, seen once, do not
      lure one in for a second hearing. I should rather hear an exciting performance of Fidelio for example
      which we have not had for a number of years but that is a personal taste. And why go to an opera I even
      love, such as the current Don Giovanni, when the
      production is uninteresting and ALL 3 of the leading ladies cast are inferior to almost all I have heard and seen in the last 60 years or so.

      • la vociaccia

        The quality of performances is ‘quite variable’ at just about every opera house in the world. The Met is not an outlier because they engage mediocre singers in leading roles.

      • Lohenfal

        Bill, all of your points are correct. So are many of the others on this thread. The fact remains that the Met’s condition must be dire. They’re now allowing subscribers to exchange tickets when they order or renew, something which they had tried in 2006-2008, when Gelb came in. Then they dropped the practice. When I called up in 2008 to ask what happened, the representative told me that it had proved too much of a problem, so they were going back to sending us the tickets first before we could exchange them. That’s the normal practice at City Ballet and the Phil, to send us the tickets first. The Met’s willingness to do this immediate exchange again indicates to me that they’re desperate for subscribers. Why else would they bend over backwards to be so generous? And this immediate exchange policy has been programmed into their website--it’s rather byzantine but does work. All the exchanges I indicated are reflected in the receipt they send me by e-mail, with all the other relevant details.

      • turings

        I wonder if the Met’s practice of having so many performances of each opera is partly due to the economics of getting star singers over from Europe – if they can’t pay very high fees, they can at least offer a long run.

        • steveac10

          Except the long runs tend to have multiple casts that frequently rely on less famous singers. With new productions they are able to offer singers more publicity, HD’s and the like.

          • turings

            That’s true for the longest 16-17 performance runs that Bill mentions, but Vienna will revive a production for just 3 or 4 performances, whereas as far as I know, Met runs are usually 6-7 performances.

            • Andie Musique

              The house is too large to fill. The effort to get tourists to put the Met on their bucket lists does not seem to be working. Stewart did not discuss this at all in his article. But I agree with comments about the Board. The Board continues to give Gelb money. His job is to make the Board happy. Mrs. Ziff who paid for the Ring seems still to be happy, although the word is that she stopped writing Gelb weekly checks to make up the deficit a while ago. Certainly Gelb can’t manage to produce 24-26 solid operas a year.

            • Bill

              Turings -- it is true most of Vienna’s
              revivals are just 3-5 performances but if they have Fidelio or Ariadne they do these operas
              virtually every season (not to speak of
              Tosca, Don Giovanni, Figaro, Zauberfloete,
              Boheme, the most popular Verdi) whereas the
              Met will do Ariadne one year and then one
              may have to wait 4-7 years for the next performance. Vienna does have certain
              operas they rather intersperse throughout’
              the season sometimes just for one or two performances in a month and then again a
              couple of months later and among those
              are Tosca, Barbiere, Elisir etc. They
              often cast young newer singers in the roles of Barbiere or L’Elisir just for one performance and if they succeed then book them for further performances the following season. These opera performances may not
              be very well rehearsed as such but it gives
              a chance to new talent and gives the audience to experience new singers.
              Some of these performances are quite routine as some of the runs of 3-4 performances of a revived opera are as well. What I like
              about Vienna is that you can surely hear
              Parsifal every Easter, Fledermaus every
              New Year -- the most popular operas most every season and the novelties each season as long as there is a public for them.
              On the reverse side one can hear an opera
              performance where the singers in it have
              barely met -- yet, in my opinion, a gifted
              artist with some degree of spontaneity in an opera with which they are familiar, can
              naturally play and sing against the other singers on the stage and sometimes they do not mesh so very well, but other times it creates almost true theater and the results are instantly successful. When I was first a student in Vienna of course practically no operas were performed in a block system except premieres -- one could see two
              Rosenkavaliers in the same week with completely different casts and different
              conductors -- but that was the glory of the old repertoire system which is hardly found
              anywhere these days except in Eastern
              Europe. Of course then (and earlier at the Met) we often did not know which operas were going to be performed and which singers until just weeks before the performance.

              The Met is a bit more complicated in that with the subscriptions consisting of more
              operas (7 or 8) rather than those in
              Europe (usually 4-5 performances, the
              planning of the whole season is more complicated so that subscribers in a series get more varied fare and not the same operas
              again in subsequent seasons. Proper planning must be a torture for those
              responsible. Of course even with the most carefully planned seasons in almost any opera house one does have performances which are absolute duds -- ragged orchestra playing, inferior singers. Gelb now relies on maybe two handfuls of top singers to
              attract audiences. But this is not new.
              Jeritza when she came to the Met helped
              reverse some financial losses with her
              popularity (and replaced Farrar as a top
              box-office attraction.) Flagstad and Melchior helped increase box-office intake
              at the Met in the throes of the depression.
              Much of the history (including its founding) of the Met has been beholden to generous donors (box holders at first). Rudolf Bing in his first season programmed a Fledermaus which was an immense popular success with all sorts of added performances the first season and tours were sent out. A canny manager can sometimes work box office magic
              and it usually has more to do with the success of a performance than advance
              marketing. It is appalling that some
              Met performances these last couple of seasons as mentioned in the New Yorker article have attendance records of less than
              65 or 75 percent of capacity. But many of the opera loving people I know who live in the suburbs come in less frequently to the Met as they can go to a local film theater and watch some of the opera performances there without transportation problems,
              very late nights coming home, etc. Most of the Central European Opera houses start performances at a time in which the performance will end around 10:00 pm or so.
              More convenient for getting home at a reasonable hour or gathering together someplace after the performance. I think these 7:30 (rather than 8:00 pm) starts at the Met have its attraction for suburbanites. I am sure that the Met has
              done lots of marketing surveys to determine
              how best to up the attendance percentages.
              All the donor money in the world is not
              going to drag patrons into the opera house unless the patrons want to see the operas performed and the singers they want to hear.


            • turings

              Thanks for clarifying this, Bill – interesting. I suppose the start times thing is a trade off between being able to make it after work and being able to get home at a reasonable hour. Though actually, most people I know who are in jobs very rarely make it to performances mid-week anyway.

            • Bill writes:

              “Many of the opera loving people I know who live in the suburbs come in less frequently to the Met as they can go to a local film theater and watch some of the opera performances there without transportation problems, very late nights coming home, etc.”

              This raises the question, which I think has never been decisively answered, about whether the HDs are cannibalizing the live audience. The claim is counterintuitive to me, since HDs have actually driven me to come to the house, but then again I don’t live near New York City. Could the Met come to an agreement with movie theaters within a 100-mile radius of New York, similar to the “blackout” system that the NFL uses with TV broadcasts of its games. I have no idea if that would be workable…

            • armerjacquino

              Dabrowski: any similar ROH arrangement in London would make me furious. I can’t often afford to go to Covent Garden so the cinema relays are a wonderful thing for me. Banning them from the London area wouldn’t suddenly free up the money for me to buy an in-house ticket, they’d just cut me off completely. I’m sure there are people in NYC who would feel the same if the Met initiated a local blackout.

      • ducadiposa

        I think Bill’s point about the number and variety of performances has some weight. This is much more of a problem in other [major] North American cities than New York though. Think of the number of operas in a typical season in Houston, Chicago, Toronto, Washington, Seattle etc. and compare it to Bill’s examples of Vienna and Budapest! We’re talking 6 operas tops per season. While I totally understanding the financial reasons for this (i.e. in comparing N.A. to Europe), you can’t neglect the effect this must have had on developing an audience for opera in these cities. I’ve mentioned this elsewhere, but the result is a huge pressure that each production carries a lot of weight both artistically and at the box office. These companies really can’t afford to have even one show not be a hit! The other side effect is that for those audience members who develop a real interest, there just isn’t the opportunity to see all that much in a season. Thank goodness for the smaller companies and university/conservatory performances that fill the gaps, but it’s not the same kind of experience.

        • Bill

          ducadiposa -- this is true but years ago
          many of the same USA cities which have thriving
          opera companies mow even if they only present
          6 different operas in a season, had no opera
          companies at all years ago when some of them relied solely on the Spring Met tour to present
          some 6 or 7 different operas in a week’s time.
          I do not recall all the cities the Met visited but it included Atlanta, Boston, Cleveland, Detroit etc. and in those days the Met traveled to Philadelphia almost every Tuesday to present
          a performance. Now most of the larger
          American cities do have a regional opera company.
          And many smaller American cities do a few operas
          every year. Of course in the old days
          quite a few of the Met singers were widely
          known nationally by broadcasting on the
          Railroad Hour, the Firestone Hour, the Bell
          Telephone hour and also personal appearances
          in concert all over the country. Here I am
          talking about such singers as Dorothy Kirsten,
          Eleanor Steber, Lily Pons, Patrice Munsell,
          Jan Peerce, Melchior etc whose careers were mainly in the USA and were to be found all over the place when the somewhat shorter Met season
          (November to April) was not in play. Nor do I think that many of the European singers now
          make these extensive concert tours all over the
          USA in large and smaller cities, universities as Columbia Artists Management, Hurok and others
          used to do for their artists -- Seefried and
          Schwarzkopf might do 30 lieder recitals in the early/middle 50s in 35 days hoping from one town to another (and with varied programs). A singer like Schwarzkopf might do a recital in New York,
          one in Montclair NJ, another in Connecticut and
          then stop in Madison, Wisc, Oberlin, Ohio and Ann Arbor, Michigan enroute to Chicago. Grueling and using propeller planes or trains to get around.

          I guess attendance at all the Regional opera
          companies varies these days -- but I think
          years ago many of the cities on the Met tour
          received oodles of money from many residents of the cities they visited and that money now may well go to the regional companies now established in those cities…and no longer to the Met.

          • ducadiposa

            Of course, it’s wonderful that all these regional companies established themselves and that these cities no longer just have to rely on MET visits for their opera fix. Totally get that, and in no way was I implying any kind of criticism/complaint about regional opera in N.A. Far from it! I guess the point I was trying to make was simply that [for historical and financial reasons] the operatic landscape for a large city in N.A. is SO different from similarly-sized (or much smaller) city in Europe. I think we here in N.A. are missing that opportunity you speak about to simply treat going to the opera as “another night out” in the best sense. It doesn’t *have* to be such a big event; it can cost relatively little. Sure, you may not always hear the best singers in the best productions which have been scrupulously rehearsed [which, kudos to our N.A. companies is often what you get] but… What you get in return is the chance to hear a wider range of repertoire; surprise turns by lesser known singers; a chance to revisit works season after season [and I don’t just mean Boheme here!] with different casts and conductors. I know the rep system at Vienna or Budapest may not always provide the most exalted artistic results but it does afford a greater choice for opera goers. It’s a different kind of thing but I often marvel how different…how our relatively wealthy cities can only support so much…and with that, we’re back to the MET and its apparent troubles. If it can’t be done in NYC then…

  • The Metropolitan Opera has a long history of connecting opera audiences with content that is musically excellent, soul-nourishing, occasionally controversial and full of stage spectacle. Being head of such a venerable Arts Organisation such as the MET means balancing the needs of the performers, musicians, stage-hands, accountants, donors, and all the other people that come together to make a traditionally VERY EXPENSIVE art form come to life.

    It can be done (and is being done very successfully in other opera houses) but finding the right person to balance all these diverse elements is an eternal challenge, especially when you are dealing with an institution with such history as The Metropolitan Opera. Often you have artists who don’t understand the production side of things (Admin etc.) or Administrators who don’t understand the Artistic side of things.

    That said, even in an age of instant gratification, Opera touches people on a very deep level. It’s the difference between eating Candy and McDonalds all day, and having a good home-cooked meal. Yes, there are people who eat mostly Candy and McDonalds, but once they’ve tasted a good meal, they will be longing for more of it.

    I believe that The MET will recover, it’s just going through a rough patch at the moment.

    Amanda Osorio-Africa Arts

  • Ilka Saro

    Pic at the head of the NYer article makes Gelb look like Dr. Strangelove. Or is it President Muffley?

    • GaGa

      The Wizard of Oz?

      • Milady DeWinter

        Well, he does look like a bit President Muffley, but the pictured reference is clearly Oz-nificent.

      • Camille

        Yes, of course, GaGa. Art thou a Lady, as well?

  • redbear

    One thing not mentioned here is a very important issue. The divisions between rich and poor is growing more dramatic every day in America. This has been widely discussed. When we talk about rich, we are speaking about the really, really rich and not just the guy who drives the Mercedes SUV (that the bank actually owns). The real problem for the Met is that the middle class is evaporating. This might not touch any reader here but if you look at stats, the middle class has taken a real hit and is a seriously smaller percent of the population that it was two or three decades ago. And who buys most of those Met tickets? Exactly….

    • antikitschychick

      While this is true and a good point, I don’t think it gets at the crux of the issue, because even the relatively ‘poor’ still manage to go to Beyonce concerts, attend very expensive basketball games, own the new Iphone 6 (or whichever is the latest one), etc. At this point I really think that if people want to go to the opera or listen to opera they can. The problem is that opera has become marginalized, so it’s not on ppl’s radar or list of priorities; it’s gotten to the point where the problem isn’t that opera is considered elitist and outdated, but that people, especially kids and teens don’t even know what it is, anymore than they know what a beeper or record player is because they’re not being exposed to it in schools or through any other medium. Moreover, opera is rooted in European traditions, so a lot of non-Europeans who immigrate to the US and become part of US culture aren’t aware of it either because it’s not part of mainstream American culture.

      I think armerj is right. Opera isn’t dead or dying but it’s become a niche art form. Thus, I don’t think the solution is to have an opera singer sing an operatic version of the national anthem at the Superbowl, although that’s not bad exposure, I think kids need to get proper music education so that they formulate their own informed understanding of what it is and come to learn it is not as archaic and alienating as some ppl say it is; plus, providing kids with a foundation, which does not equal propaganda (in other words they need to be exposed to the negative aspects of opera as well) will at least develop an appreciation of the art form because they will realize that most people have very skewed perceptions of what opera is, and they’ll be able to weigh the drawbacks against the benefits without the bias that highlights the negative aspects.

      • armerjacquino

        Yep. Agree with every word of this.

        The best way to attract people to opera is with opera. I remember cringing over a terrible ROH viral which had two teenage girls gossiping over the plot of DON GIOVANNI as if it were happening to their friends, painful attempts at youthspeak and all. That’s all very well, but any kid (dumb enough to be?) tempted into the house by that is going to get one hell of a shock when faced with three hours of 18th century opera. On the other hand ‘here’s some music which may be different to music you’ve heard before. Like it? Come and hear some more’ has a chance of working.

        • antikitschychick

          Ok that first line pretty much sums up the idea I tried to convey in my 2 paragraphs so I’m stealing it from you :-P.

        • manou

          People are always very interested in finding out about any aria or piece of classical music* used as background to an advert or a film, which demonstrates that once they are made aware of it they are interested and do want to hear more. A classic case is Nessun Dorma, which became ubiquitous after the football crowd took it to their hearts. So more exposure would be good.

          I am always delighted to see that the HD transmissions are made available free to schools -- does anyone have any data on how popular they are?

          * May the fleas of a thousand camels infest the armpits of whoever has massacred Satie’s Je Te Veux as the backing for an unnamed product (and may his arms be too short to scratch).

          • Camille

            “May the fleas of a thousand camels infest the armpits of whoever”…

            I love this imprecation and malediction and may just thieve it from thou! Now where is this infamous usage of my beloved chanson Je te veux? Infamia!!

            There is also the instance, of which I have only read and have no personal knowledge, of the song from Carousel, “You’ll Never Walk Alone”. having been taken over by crowds of fervent rugby or soccer fans in the UK…? Apparently it has become their anthem and enormously popular as a result.

            • manou

              Please feel free to thieve this very ancient curse from the Thousand And One Nights (I believe).

              Some brainless individual has chosen to illustrate an advertisement with the piano version of Je Te Veux, and has truncated it in the most tasteless way to fit the film clip.

              You are remarkably well informed -- “You’ll Never Walk Alone” is indeed the anthem of Liverpool Football Club:


              Che brava!

        • thirdlady

          Also, maybe the Met should attempt to present more new productions that might actually attract an audience and/or create some kind of buzz? I mean, the prospect of a Bart Sher “Otello” is not really enticing me to renew my subscription for 2015/16.

          Only the the Kentridge “Lulu” and the posthumous Chereau “Elektra” seem even remotely interesting. The rest of the season seems as though it depends on casting and, that, as we know, is always subject to change…

          But I’m looking forward to seeing Kara Walker’s “Norma” at the Biennale! Increasingly, I think my opera dollar is better spent in houses far from the Met. Which is a shame, because I live in New York…

        • kennedet

          Sorry, but it dosen’t. How about trying to get young people, especially teenagers, to listen when their entire listening experience has been 2 or 3 minutes per record versus a 3 hour performance. Today, they might be turned off because there’s singing instead of talking or rhyming. Remember when we thought hip-hop was just a fad. Now one of the most popular stations on radio is classic hip-hop.Yes, they might enjoy the famous arias but it ends there. They also don’t appreciate the sound. It is too different than what they are used to hearing. These are just a few problems teachers who are interested in teaching classical music to young people must encounter.

          • armerjacquino

            So what’s the solution? It’s all very well to go around saying the sky is falling. Your argument seems to say that opera isn’t entertaining enough to transcend the changes in taste that have happened over the past decades, and I simply don’t believe that’s true.

            If it’s not good enough to make ‘them’ (nice othering, by the way) ‘appreciate the sound’ then it doesn’t deserve to survive.

            • kennedet

              Armer, reread my last sentence and I am done. I don’t have a solution. I sincerely tried when I worked in the system. I unlike you don’t have answers to everything. You make it very difficult to post here becuase of some need to be constantly argumentative.

            • armerjacquino

              Please drop the unfair ad hominem stuff. You were the one who rejoined the conversation with a disagreement. You can’t just call people argumentative because they don’t share your opinion. I have no personal beef with you, I simply don’t share your pessimism and have tried to explain why.

  • pll

    A few random comments: tickets to sports events can cost much more than to the Met, yet the Yankees are doing very well -financially! I don’t think classical music is on the radar for many New Yorkers with the income to purchase pricier tickets. I think this reflects a lack of a meaningful arts education over the last generation. Plus, Americans can take great pride in being culturally ignorant. Commercial TV used to offer culturally enriching programming. It’s been a steady cultural decline for quite some time.

    • RobNYNY

      Baseball, like most major league sports, receives enormous public subsidies in the form of free stadiums, giveaway of naming rights, 1% p.a. municipal bond issues, use of eminent domain for private profit, etc. For most ML sports, it makes the difference profit and loss. For the arts, such things are close to unimaginable.

  • Bill

    redbear -- I think over the last decade opera ticket
    prices at the Met have ascended much faster than
    middle class salaries -- if a couple wants to attend the Met and the better tickets are in the $ 200-460 class
    per ticket, purchase a champagne (in plastic glasses)
    during intermission, have dinner prior to the performance in a nearby restaurant, perhaps have to hire a baby sitter or whatever then it is a hefty
    sum to fork over so the performance had better be darn good. That said, Broadway prices have also steeply risen. So why not stay at home and watch NCAA
    basketball on ESPN. Even the standing room at the Met is quite high per ticket and a few times I stood this season there were about 4 standees in the Parterre
    section when 100 tickets are offered for sale and
    perhaps another 75 in the Family circle. In Vienna
    it is 4 Euros in the Parterre and 3 Euros in the Balkon or Gallerie -- 550 places in all and quite a bargain!!

  • marczilla

    I think this is all good discussion and as opera lovers of course everyone is concerned with it being as healthy as possible.
    I also think we are entering a new normal. A subcategory of an art form cannot set itself outside the ongoing stream of artistic progress and expect to remain healthy on a large scale.
    You can’t ignore everything that happens in rest of your medium and not get passed by. The people who are decision makers in the opera world decided about a hundred years ago that the rest of music had nothing to offer them. They were above developing vocabularies and changing forms. I don’t know if there us a way to walk that back without some really serious upheaval.
    As it is companies go through producing a core rep that has been the core rep for a veeery long time and some outliers. Even some modern and contemporary pieces can be produced if they don’t stray too far from the formula. The musical vocabulary gets more academic and the onscreen action gets more abstracted.
    For some reason opera has never felt the need to reinvigorate itself, take from the new, incorporate invention. Other art forms have done exactly that. While opera languishes Ballet is healthier than in years.
    And to be clear Lyric Theater as a whole is very healthy, lucrative and growing. It is opera as a subset that is struggling.
    The unavoidable fact is that creative interesting people want to be where the action is. Composers and directors and choreographers want to have impact. They want their work to stand a chance of entering the core rep. Performers want a venue where they can affect their audience and be inspired. They want a chance to make new work, debut roles, As the best talent looks at opera and finds another road so does the money. Many of the old names you would associate with the met and other big houses have handed down decision making to a younger generation that would rather produce other form of lyric theater, dance or straight theater. They want to be where the action is too.
    I think if the opera world is really honest with itself they would admit they’ve been trapped into a box by defining “opera” as a very specific style of delivering sound and a few musical forms rather than distilling a set of values from which to progress.
    Honestly as I look forward as someone who enjoys opera and purchases tickets I think the answer is to downsize and learn how best to live healthily in the niche that remains. Opera will always have a devoted public. Opera is intoxicating to the public that is drawn to it. So get leaner, move faster. Continue to exploit the regions where becoming an opera singer is still an attractive artistic path. The places where other things haven’t natively caught on yet. There will of course be adjustments for producers and audiences. But at the end I think it’s entirely possible to have a healthy sustainable system for opera.

  • Kenhere

    We don’t have to like Columbus or what followed from his “discovery” to recognize that he changed the history and culture of North America -- and if he hadn’t, someone would have had to for there to be opera here. So if Columbus Day is meaningless, that’s just because nowadays we don’t bother to note his significance.

    • Eh, I think the impetus behind establishing Columbus Day as a national holiday has less to do with his importance on some abstract historical scale than with the ability of Italian-American and Irish-American communities to exercise political power at a federal level. Nowadays, Italian-American groups often oppose any attempts to have Columbus Day renamed.