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The Met last night at Semiramide – half-empty

March 7, 2018 by norman lebrecht

80 comments.


This cannot be ignored. It’s a regular sight.


Comments (80)

  1. Bill says:

    Surely you know that a major storm is about to hit New York, and people are not going out right now. It was predicted to start last night, but it is now arriving later than expected.

    1. James says:

      I don’t know, the east coast has been bracing for a storm for today’s evening commute. Nobody thought it was coming yesterday. Business as usual. Also, it’s NYC, not Louisville or Tulsa. One would imagine the place would be full every night, given the sheer quantity of people!

    2. Una says:

      What, every night there’s a storm???

      It is in the cinema on Saturday all around the world at a fraction of the price of having to go if people want to see it. No everyone’s cup of tea in New York by any means.

    3. David R Osborne says:

      This was the largest audience to ever witness a performance of Semiramide, period.

  2. alexandra says:

    what possible purpose is this post except for some kind of sordid clickbait? there’s no one unaware of trends in audience declines in the performing arts. meanwhile plenty were aware of a pending major snowstorm to the metro area, some still without power from the last one, and prepping for it. suggest you think about what meaningful contribution to the arts, and to others – and make necessary changes forward, or just take it down.

    1. Pean says:

      Opera houses in Europe are full. It may have to do with the management and not wth declining arts.

      1. Nik says:

        And the size of the houses compared to the Met.

      2. Una says:

        You can’t say opera houses in ‘Europe’ are full! Which country of Europe do you mean? We are not the United States of Europe but part of a very varied continent where opera has as many different followings. Germany is not France is not the United Kingdom or Ireland. United KIngdom has about five opera companies with two in London in what we consider to be our largest houses. Covent Garden and the London Coliseum – home of English National Opera which is not an opera house but a London theatre – each hold at a guess over 2, 000 and with far fewer performances than the Met but far more varied and innovative, particularly ENO. The Met holds 3,800 people with Chicago Lyric close behind with 3,500 and that city with only a population of 2.7 million – around the population of Manchester in England, and they don’t have an opera house at all, just Welsh Opera and Opera North who visit the Lowry Theatre that holds 1,700 but you can always get a ticket and at a reasonable price. London has a population of nearly 9 million, with a far longer history, before you add in the daily commuters for absolute miles outside but enormous opera houses we do not have here. Something to be said at times for not dreaming too big – half full or half empty, still has 1,400 people in there, which for all countries of Europe is a lot of people at prices not so affordable for everyone!

        1. Bogda says:

          And what about Paris,
          Bastille 2.700
          Garnier 1.900
          Chatelet 2.000
          Champs Elysees 1.900
          Opera Comique 1.200

        2. Bogda says:

          Sure Chicago has population of only 2,7 mio within its city limits, but Paris has only 2.2 mio. But neither is actually relevant as metropolitan area of these cities is significantly larger. Chicago’s is close to 10 mio, and Paris’s is 12 mio, NY on the other side comes above 20 mio

          1. Save the MET says:

            Agree with the comment it is the management, it is that simple. The other complaints I see are white noise. The MET’s marketing sucks, Gelb has demonstrated he only brings in the crowds with controversy, or very specific singers like Kaufmann and Netrebko. It is high time he is removed, the man is not creative, his productions are generally gimmicks, Euro-trash, or from hunger. Further, he does not know the repertory, or for that matter understand opera fans. Time to bring in a GM who can handle the business end and cede the Artistic Director position to someone who fill the house with butts in seats. His tenure has been a giant mistake and a negative period of the history of the company.

  3. Jon H says:

    When it comes to great things – if people really want it, they’ll pay for it, and then you’d have it.

    1. Una says:

      Maybe in America, but here in Britain you have to pay for other things first and see what money you have left.

      1. V.Lind says:

        Yes — like petrol. Americans pay relatively nothing for gas. (AND whinge about it, with probably the lowest prices in the developed world).

        And don’t get me started on taxes in general…

        1. Cyril Blair says:

          We spend all our money on health insurance premiums and health care. $10,000 per person in 2016.

  4. Susan Fisher says:

    This is not the first time that his has happened. It is truly sad that the number of opera lovers in NY seems to be on the decline. I was at the performance of the Barber a year ago and it was also half empty.

  5. V.Lind says:

    Alex Ross at the New Yorker was not enamoured of that Semirade. (YN-S comes off a little better, and reminds us that it is early days for him).

    As one of the few serious music reviewers left working in a NY publication, it is possible this had some effect — it would not surprise me that Met goers were New Yorker readers.

    And Camarena is out.

    https://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2018/03/12/the-metropolitan-operas-split-personality?mbid=nl_Daily%20030618&CNDID=40741291&spMailingID=13064104&spUserID=MTMzMTg0ODA5MjA4S0&spJobID=1360570062&spReportId=MTM2MDU3MDA2MgS2

    1. Olassus says:

      If it was sold out on subscription, as it should be, Ross’s opinion and Camarena’s sickness would have no bearing.

      The Metropolitan Opera is collapsing in the aspect that matters most — with its audience.

      1. V.Lind says:

        You’re not entirely wrong. But having worked for several orchestras, I can tell you this: on this side of the ocean, at least, subscriptions are a declining scheme. People want to make their decisions closer to the time.Too much can change between the spring and six months or a year later for people to commit, just to save a small amount –or even to secure a place in what might be a popular show. And halls have not made it a lot more attractive, with their draconian seating and refund policies, whereby someone might want to hear a particular artist or piece and the programme is changed when they get round to time, or where they want to sit in a particular area and thy are placed anywhere within the same price range.

        So weather is a factor. And there will be others, from the personal to the public (babysitting issues to unpredicted presidential address…)

        And, of course, as you note, audiences are declining anyway. An opera that is not a household name if you are not into music in a big way, a replacement cast, poor reviews and a threatened storm in a city that can be flattened by same — expect a lot of empty seats.

        1. Vaquero357 says:

          To totally back up V.Lind, I go to many, many concerts every year, BUT I haven’t subscribed to anything for almost 20 years. Sure, you get a bit of a savings on the total package, but something invariably came up that made me miss at least one concert, so financially I wasn’t coming out ahead. Plus, how can I tell in April of this year if I’ll be free to go to a concert in June of next year? And at ~$50 per ticket, the “turn the ticket back and get a charitable donation receipt” just doesn’t cut it.

          Then there are the conflicts. Back when I subscribed to concert series, something else that I’d rather go to would come up, but I ended up attending the subscription performance because I already had an unrefundable ticket.

          What I love about my local orchestra (Des Moines Symphony) is that I can decide I’m up for a concert 2 hours before it starts, walk up to the ticket window, and get a seat. Yes, I know, the orchestra’s management would like to have my money in the bank months in advance, but I end up going to as many, if not more, concerts than if I subscribed.

          So yes, subscriptions just don’t fit in with the modern world.

      2. Bruce says:

        To piggyback on V. Lind’s comment: my orchestra (much much smaller, on the other side of the country) is also experiencing a decline in subscriptions. Not a decline in attendance: subscriptions are down but single-ticket sales are up. However, that means the marketing team has to do more work to attract those single-concert attendees (and try to turn them into regular concertgoers). If we stuck to old marketing models (send out a brochure once a year and wait for the renewals to roll in; a discreet newspaper ad and press release/ guest artist interview for each concert), we would be experiencing a significant decline in attendance.

        I wonder if the Met just needs to develop a more flexible approach. Surely they’ve tried and are trying; it can take a few years to figure out strategies that work — and sometimes what you end up figuring out is that there’s no strategy that works: you have to keep thinking up new strategies forever. (I suppose once you’ve done it long enough to have a couple seasons’ worth of successful strategies, you can start recycling them and see if they still work. That’s a risky game, though: if something that was successful 3 years ago doesn’t work now, you have a whole production/ run of performances that is not well attended. Then you have to deal with the negative effect on the bottom line, and the accompanying schadenfreude from Slipped Disc.)

        1. Olassus says:

          You must sell on subscription, Bruce. There is no alternative. Subscription is not an “old” model but a timeless one. (Brochures in the mail may be “old,” but that is a different discussion.)

          Selling on a single-event basis costs about seven times (7x) as much as selling on subscription, to new people. It is unfeasible. It can work as a top-off, but that is all. And selling on a single-event basis is about twenty-one times (21x) as costly as renewing a subscriber. (Some people claim 6x and 18x is more accurate, but you get the idea.)

          This means your marketing team has to understand subscription selling, which is a quite different (and healthier) proposition to the consumer.

          You sell packages, only packages, without variables, and you make your orchestra a part of people’s lives. It is the mirror image, actually, of the contracts with the AFM, and of season planning.

          1. V.Lind says:

            Olassus, I heard that so often from orchestra management. But they are wrong, and so are you. That is what they WANT; it is the optimum result; it gives them the much-needed look at a year’s revenues in advance. But THE PEOPLE DO NOT WANT IT. This is an on-demand society, with more options in everything than ever before.

            I often subscribed myself, persuaded not only by discounts and any other perqs, but by the argument that, in busy lives (which we had at the time), setting aside dates in advance for something you really want to do means you have the leverage to tell a boss or colleague that you are COMMITTED elsewhere that night and cannot stay late or do this, that or the other. The person who sold me on it said it was a reward to hard-working people that they could play hard too. However, it did backfire on us — out-of-town business trips that could not be rearranged as they were for professional events; illness, weather. Etc.

            But the last straw for me was, as I have said on these pages before, when I subscribed to a small Dance series with VERY specific instructions to the box office as to where I would sit. Given the number of rows I included and the number of seats we were prepared to accept in each, they had a lot to choose from. We insisted that the order was conditional on getting seats in this area, and we ordered so early that it should not have been a problem. In the event, the seats we were offered were all back row, which I find difficult for Dance. I managed to get better seats for other nights for a couple of the events (and we had offered the option of any of the nights, but they had ignored that along with every other instruction). But my Dance partner could not change the major ballet of the season as an important conference was to take place in another city the following day, requiring flights and early starts. So we cancelled the event and were left, late in the season, with an exchange involving only the rest of that season — which we had clearly not chosen.

            As I said elsewhere today, until houses start treating patrons with some respect, they are going to lose subscriptions BIG TIME, and deserve to. Despite having worked for orchestras, and knowing their motivations and needs, I do not care. It is their problem. Patrons want what they want, they want to know they will get what they want for their money, and they want not to be jerked around. At this stage, I attend nothing unless I go to the box office and walk out with acceptable tickets in my hand,praying that I do not get run over by a car between now and two days from now.

            I have seen the marketers at work — they try these guilt trips like how much less it costs the company to have subscribers. They need to get it into their heads that that is NOT the patrons’ concern. Maybe the foundations can try that on, begging for donations to support worthy causes from programming to outreach, but when it comes to ticket sales, it is a purely commercial transaction in which patrons expect to GET WHAT THEY PAID FOR. So I have no sympathy for any of your economic arguments above, valid though they might be. NOT MY PROBLEM. Marketers, as Bruce noted above, need to rethink how they are going to sell tickets. And stay abreast of social trends, which I imagine is what he is getting at by talking of refreshing strategies on an ongoing basis. Subscriptions, at this point in time, represent a different era. They are only one step forward from Old Jolyon Forsyte retaining a box at the opera, and going every week, whatever the offering.

          2. Olassus says:

            Nobody wants to commit. That is human nature — yet people make commitments all the time. You have to show that it makes sense.

            George Frederick Handel signed up subscribers for his oratorios. Walter Legge signed up subscribers to fund his recording projects.

            Get to a full, tight house. Asses on seats. The musicians will love it, and the auditorium will feel an energy that Peter Gelb cannot generate.

      3. kaa12840 says:

        I was there on Saturday and Camarena sang

        1. Charles from Chicago says:

          The Chicago Symphony Orchestra offers free ticket exchanges for subscribers and a lot of people take advantage of it.

    2. John F. says:

      Several years ago, the small chamber music society, of which I am president, faced half full houses for top notch groups. Unacceptable! Our board took a bold step to change course. With a limited number of performances and no repeats as orchestras, operas, and other theater groups often have, a missed performance or two meant people would not subscribe. People would say, “Oh, I’ll just buy single tickets,” They don’t. Furthermore, we NEVER had an instance of single ticket sales even covering the cost of our advertising and mailing costs. Single ticket sales were charity for the well-heeled and no financial benefit to the organization. Single ticket buyers almost never contributed to our annual fund campaign.
      V. Lind is correct that people won’t buy subscriptions to save a small amount, but then ignores doing anything about it. Olassus is NOT wrong at all. There is no alternative to a strong subscription program to fill the hall.
      What our organization did was price the subscriptions at levels where there are “no excuses”. We sell subscriptions, for a very limited time, at the same price as student tickets. After that period ends, a subscription saves less than 20% and we never offer discounts ever on single tickets.
      Since taking that step we are frequently over subscribed, almost every seat is filled at every performance, still sell single tickets as we used to, and offer liberal privilege to exchange for another concerts. After all, things come up in life that keep us from attending some concerts. Donations have increased because subscribers have a commitment to the organization. The financial health of the organization has greatly improved. People feel they made a good decision buying a subscription because hundreds more people are attending and really like the concerts too.

  6. Cym says:

    Sad. But, on my next trip to NY, I won’t have to face a « Sold Out » sign when going to the Met !!

  7. Caravaggio says:

    If you build it (quality), they will come. But when the Met casts substandard, incompetent and ho hum singers, as is the case with Semiramide and the current run of Elektra among so many other serial examples, it should not surprise when the crowds stay away, storm or no storm. That the storms should be happening on stage but are sadly not materializing, well, you do the math.

  8. Robin Worth says:

    The stalls were full for Boheme on Feb 25th (apart from the areas behind the camera)

    I don’t know what went on upstairs, but the house seemed lively

    Give the public what they want……..

    And New York does not like Regietheater

    1. Bogda says:

      It doesn’t like Zefirelli as well. When was the last time any run was fully sold out? And most of productions at the MET are clearly everything but Regietheater. So how can you say that NY doesn’t like Regietheater when it actually doesn’t even had a chance to experience it.

  9. David says:

    Nonsense.

    Tonight’s Boheme and tomorrow’s Butterfly are 85% sold.

    SEMIRAMIDE’s sales are not the rule, but the exception.
    Relatively obscure opera, no star box-office-draw singers, poor reviews.

    Excepting SEMIRAMIDE and Elektra (75% sold?), practically every performance this month, including weekdays, is over 80% sold, especially everywhere other than Orchestra, which, aside from being expensive, generally has the worst acoustics in the hall.

    1. Maria says:

      Boheme and Butterfly are 85% sold out – what a surprise!! Bog-standard boring repertoire.

  10. David says:

    I now see that performances a couple of weeks away are not as well sold, but, in my experience that will change closer to performance time and after the reviews appear for the first performance in that series (Lucia, etc).

    https://www.metopera.org/calendar#/on-stage?year=2018&month=2

  11. Joel A Stein says:

    The chandeliers are still down and lit, so the performance was not about to begin.

    1. John Kelly says:

      Monsieur Poirot you are correct and others so quick to hammer the Met should take note. This could easily have been taken ten minutes prior to curtain as many like to settle in and read the program. The picture is FAKE NEWS. Yep, fake news on SD. Tsk tsk.

      I was at Elektra on Monday night and it was about 75% full downstairs. Very good performance I might add.

      The first poster is also correct the blizzard outside made travel in from the suburbs impossible so many may have switched their tickets to another performance of Semiramide.

      1. Andre says:

        Well, our friend and blog owner doesn’t look for pictures of low attendance at other houses. For instance, how did The Royal Opera House look during February’s “Beast from the East” cold snap and blizzards. And the chandeliers in the picture from the MET are still down so it could well be up to half an hour before the curtain rises. But all that said, New York has its own problems as does each city. London seems to rely on visitors with expense accounts. It’s the costliest opera house I’ve ever had to afford.

        1. Andre says:

          PS: my partner and I attended opening night and Semiramide seemed sold out.

  12. Michael says:

    It’s no secret that ticket sales are on the decline but a few things to keep in mind: 1) at 3,800 seats, the Met is huge for opera theater standards. La Scala is nearly half the size. If the Met were the same size as most European opera houses, it would routinely sell out; 2) This is Semiramide, a 3.5 hour Rossini opera that most people haven’t heard of. Crowd favorites like Boheme and Turandot have better turnouts. We should want the Met to show both the crowd favorites and the lesser known works, to keep things interesting for those who attend regularly; and 3) this was a Tuesday night when most people either had to work the next day or were deterred by the storm which was supposed to start Tuesday night/early Wednesday morning.

    1. DAVID says:

      Look at tonight’s Boheme, tomorrow’s Butterfly, and next week’s weekday performances. Generally selling quite well. SEMIRAMIDE’s an exception.

      1. Michael says:

        Also, as one commenter above noted, there’s no way to tell how soon before curtain this picture was taken. It could have been 20 minutes before curtain when people are still flooding in.

  13. Styra Avins says:

    Good for Joel Stein, noticing the chandeliers. I was there on the Saturday night performance (I saw two performance of Semiramide in one week, weirdly enough!! both times friends had extra tickets). I can assure you that on Saturday night the house was almost full. Not chock full, but a very good house. What, exactly, does Mr. Lebrecht have against the Met’s Semiramide? Something very odd here. Of course it’s not your standard opera, it is in fact the last of the Baroque operas, the Opera Seria. There’s a good reason that form of opera declined; the action is all in the vocal gymnastics, hardly any action on stage. I thought of that as I listened to the rather incredible vocal acrobatics, having just watched the Half-pipe competitions at the Olympics. One snow-boarder after another trying to outdo the astonishing aerial spirals done by the previous athlete. Once you get into the mood, it’s fun! So what’s the problem with the Met’s Semiramide? It sounds very much to me like an attempt to undermine the Met.

    1. Frankster says:

      In today’s New York Times Tony’s review indicated a general trend of Met audience decline. Somebody named Gelb noticed the same thing. Attendance at a single performance is not representative of anything. Audience decline and audience aging in America is a reality and the choice, finally, of Gelb is to give up on adventure. Europe has embraced new and audiences are up. You make choices and you have consequences.

  14. Edgar says:

    Gut the MET and rebuild a smaller auditorium inside, with half the number of seats. Then produce good opera, and shake the conservative New York audience out of their somnolent regression with new music, unknown operas which undeservedly languish in obscurity, create a small opera space in addition to the bigger auditorium for chamber opera and new and experimental pieces, curated by folks from Juilliard next door, use the small smaller space for children’s opera, …, …. etc., etc. Plenty of new opportunities present themselves once the much too huge tanker MET is dissembled and transformed into a multi-venue performing space. What is lacking is daring creative imagination. Last but certainly not least, a new and smaller auditorium will also provide the opportunity to modernize and augment lots of other necessary spaces, including patron rest rooms (especially for women patrons). Such as things are, the MET is like the Titanic, sailing full steam ahead toward the iceberg.

    1. Michael says:

      The creation of the (new) Met is also a pretty ugly story that relied on Robert Moses’ use of eminent domain to seize housing from poor, minority families in order to clear land for construction of Lincoln Center. These sorts of unholy alliances between government and business always have their casualties – oftentimes the poor and not politically connected – and lead to unintended consequences, like financial burdens.

      1. Sharon says:

        This was true all over the country. The “urban renewal” of the sixties, of which Lincoln Center was a part, kicked out the poor and put in housing, offices, theaters etc for the rich in its place. The idea was that this jump start would “trickle down” by creating more employment (kind of like Trump’s infrastructure plan) and ultimately create more housing for the previously marginally unemployed but now working steadily people. Of course it did not really work that way. The decently paying jobs created by these projects went to people living in the suburbs. The saying at the time was “Urban renewal means Negro removal”.

        1. Michael says:

          Sharon, I agree and this further evidences how well-intentioned government programs to help the poor and minorities so often do just the opposite. Too often we judge government programs by their intentions and not their results.

    2. Edmund J. Cole says:

      Why Gut it ? Put the productions that draw in it. There is a smaller venue just across the plaza where The city opera use to perform. Put the Regietheatre there.

      1. Bogda says:

        That’s certainly a better option and I’m really wondering why they haven’t done this so far. It would make a lot of sense to start from a smaller stage to build traction and develop audience for new modern operas and productions. Try some experiments it certainly would be easier to fill in a smaller audience and use the main stage for traditional productions of major operas. Over time they might end up having enough audience to fill the main stage 😉

      2. Edgar says:

        Paul Taylor American Dance is performing at the Koch theater next door, they just opened their season. No need for Regietheater there. The Met will founder like the Titanic, sailing full speed toward the iceberg as the company’s board and general manger stubbornly keep their current course. The house has gotten too large for this day and age, and is already the monument of its once glorious past. Too bad the New York audience seems not to get this. The sooner the Met gets gutted and replaced by a smaller venue (which allows space for affordable housing), the better. With New York City Batllet in disarray, and the NYPhil for the umptieth time trying to fix a terrible hall which needs to be torn down and replaced by a space that deserves to be called a concert hall, Lincoln Center as a whole looks less grand by each passing day. Why not do away with the whole thing, and create an entirely new structure with opportunities for affordable housing, education, recreation, public meeting spaces, and performing arts venues in a variety of styles and sizes? There is no lack of money at all in NYC, but certainly a huge one of imagination and daring boldness. Maybe the best thing to do on the Plaza would be an outdoor “Götterdämmerung”, with the entire Lincoln Center going up in flames….

    3. Elegance Voice says:

      Building a smaller theatre is not NECCESSARILY a good answer. It’s has minuses as well as plusses.

      One minus is that a company like The Met rakes in a huge amount of income on high-selling productions like Boheme and Turandot. Selling a 3800 tickets a night (or close) to those shows is surely a big source of income. Halve the size of the theatre to 2000, and you’re still staging Turandot and Boheme but only every selling 2000 tickets maximum – nearly a 50% reduction in income on the shows that DO make money and subsidise the less-well-sold like Semiramide.

      Of course, into the equation, if you shrink the theatre, you can shrink the size of the chorus a bit, the size of sets a bit, (maybe a couple fewer strings in the orchestra but no real change there) – so some lower costs on the production side; but I’m not sure they would add up to cover the reduction in ticket revenue. Some other theatres struggle to make bank simply because their theatres are too small – they can’t get enough bums on seats to pay for what’s on stage simply because they don’t have enough seats.

  15. Bogda says:

    This whole BS how MET is too big, and “give audience what they want” just doesn’t make sense. MET Is clearly significantly bigger than all major european houses, but so is New York. It’s at least 5 time as big as Vienna or Munich, and auditoriums are half the size, not one fifth. These opera houses could actually sell easily MET size auditorium for many of their performances several times over. MET can’t sell Netrbko’s Tosca (apart from opening night)
    Also isn’t MET (next to Scala) the only major opera house who is avoiding any kind of modernisation of its productions (and please don’t count Rigoletto as a Regietheater) but audiences are staying away. So is Zefirelli really what audiences want? That’s what they’ve been getting for years, and what is the result?

    1. Michael says:

      I didn’t say the Met is too big but it’s certainly more difficult to fill 3,800 seats than 2,000.
      NYC has about the same population as London or Moscow and both have opera houses comparable in size to the rest of Europe. Maybe London and Moscow could fill up a house the size of the Met (and maybe not) but there could be reasons for that other than something the Met is doing, such as cultural. The Met does have “modernist” productions, like Traviata and their previous Tosca (and this season’s new Cosi). But contrary to what you say, I believe it’s still the Zeffirelli productions that fill the most seats, many Americans viewing “regietheater” as Euro-trash.

      1. Bogda says:

        Moscow has 5 large opera houses playing simultaneously almost every night. Bolshoi on its own has two stages, which are basically always sold out. Getting tickets for any show in Moscow can be quite difficult.
        As for London, well it’s not the best example. It suffers from similar problems as NY, trying to stage productions that would please many. This concept just doesn’t work. They’ve been trying to improve recently but still far away from the rest of Europe. Just look what Paris’s been doing recently and what kind of traktion it’s generated. The same as Munich. One of the most popular opera houses in Europe is Komische Oper Berlin and it’s one of the most radical theaters around, but at the same time has some of the youngest audiences anywhere. Paris is also successful in attracting young audience.
        Btw. Met is not able to fill up house with any production. Just look at Tosca with Netrebko (only one night sold out). Luisa Miller with Beczala and Domingo half of tickets still a available. With such a casts they would be sold out several times around in Vienna.
        Of course it’s not all about productions, a lot also has to do with education, but there are clearly ways to bring audience to opera that are working in Europe. Maybe they won’t work in US, but have they even tried?
        MET is living in this fantasy world In which it still believes it’s a relevant opera house. It’s not. Not much artistically relevant has come out of it for ages. It still has money and brand that sells well and attracts top singers but it’s living in the past. Opera is nowadays created somewhere else. And maybe that’s the reason that people are not coming anymore.

        1. Michael says:

          Fair points. I didn’t know Moscow had five large opera houses but that makes sense given what I know of the Russians. I read somewhere that the Met only makes 70% of possible ticket sales revenue. So they’re leaving a lot of money on the table by failing to fill those seats. They’ve tried to appeal to younger audiences with limited success. I’m wondering if in Europe opera is viewed more as entertainment for the masses while in America there’s a stigma of stuffiness and opera being entertainment for elitists. The Met itself was founded after disputes between “old money” and the nouveau riche.
          They’ll have to come up with something because no business is sustainable for long whose clientele (and donor list) is predominantly comprised of octogenarians.

          I’m curious what specifically are the European opera houses doing to attract younger audiences? You mentioned regietheater in your earlier post but I feel here in the States such productions are more polarizing.

          1. Bogda says:

            there is also a lot of polarization in Europe as well. Germany and France are leaders in trying to make opera relevant today. True they are having huge state subsidies so they might not always be concerned about box office returns. But somehow over time they’ve manage to find a proper formula which seems to be attracting new audiences to theaters, and it’s eventually translating into box office now. My wild guess is that what Vienna or Paris generate in box office returns is not that much different to what Met does.
            Certainly not everyone could nor should act as Komische Oper, which is only staging radical productions, but I must admit I’ve never seen such a young audience anywhere else, nor have I seen such an enthusiastic reactions night after night. Their formula seems to work.
            I believe that many are slowly realizing that there is no such thing as traditional vs modern production, there is however good vs bad.
            Latest production of La Boheme in Paris (the one set in space) was so polarizing that it almost ended in a fight, but that was exciting in a way. It was alive and relevant. People were actually discussing the meaning of La Boheme and it’s relevance. I for the first time actually followed every word of the libretto and focused on the story. When was the last time you’ve experience that with a Zefirelli production. One goes to see Zefirelli la Boheme to have a nice evening, see nice pictures and hear nice tunes, but does one really care about what’s going on stage.
            I personally believe that opera that is not engaging audience and that’s only focused on nice pictures and lovely music is a dying art form.
            Vienna is a bit of strange thing though. Stateopera is constantly full. They sell something like 99% of all tickets for the season. Though productions are not really exciting and often quite boring. They however do manage to attract mainly locals who are generally crazy about music and could wait hours on the street to get inside. Classical music is still a very relevant thing there, but here I believe it’s connected to eduction and a bit national pride. Having sad all of that, Vienna also has another opera house Theater an der Wien, which is only doing radical modern productions, but is also managing to compete musically almost on the same level as Stateopera, by attracting some of the top stars for all of its productions. What’s more interesting is that it is also almost always sold out. They do produce usually unknown pieces, new commissions and baroque operas.

        2. MacroV says:

          Moscow does NOT have “five large opera houses.” It has the Bolshoy’s two stages (about 1,800 and 1,000 seats, IIRC), the Novaya Opera, the Stanislavski and Nemirovich-Danchenko theatre (each about 1,000, I’d guess), and the Helikon (maybe 300). It’s definitely an active opera scene, but combined have fewer seats than the Met and old City Opera. Plus, at least at the Bolshoy, opera is only half the nights, ballet the other half. Attendance is generally quite good, but tickets when I was there were also quite cheap (certainly for an American salary); the MET would probably sell out ever night at those prices. I’m not sure I’d pay even the cheapest price for Semiramide at the MET.

          1. Bogda says:

            Helikon has a new auditorium that it the size of Novaya opera and additional 4 small ones. Stanislavsky has btw. two stages. There is also an operetta theater whose auditorium was originally built to seat more than 3000, (as was bolshoi’s) but has been changed after reconstructions for a more comfortable seating to a lower number 1700 (as was Bolshoi).
            There is also a youth opera house that seats close to 1000
            Not sure when you were last time in Moscow, but Tickets to Bolshoi were anything but cheap. They run close to 200$ for orchestra seats (10,000 rubles for the main stage, depending on the show) btw. few years ago before the currency crash in russia tickets cost the same amount which would’ve been more than 300$ at that time. When Netrebko was recently performing Manon Lescot tickets were being sold for more than 1000$ and were gone in an instant.

          2. Bogda says:

            It’s true that Russians prefer ballet to opera, no doubt about that. That’s why tickets are usually more expensive and why they still produce regularly ballet at the Kremlin Congress House which seats 6000. Bolshoi used it as it’s second stage during soviet times and produced operas there as well, but this is now rare.

  16. anon says:

    no naked choristers

  17. Alexander says:

    Semiramide is a great opera, but where can you find another great Sutherland to dazzle in the title part ? Kudos to the Met for having the guts to stage it with the cast they could have at their disposal … Albina Shagimuratova would certainly refuse for whatever reasons , I would hardly recall another ( somehow) coloratura to keep up with the highest standards of the golden age … Angela Mead deserves , doubtlessly , many praises for her try. The Met , at any rate, is a wonderful opera house , just my opinion, of course 😉

  18. JH says:

    I was there.
    Camarena sang.

    The picture was taken several minutes before I took my seat, it is visible in the picture . The house was not sold out but was close.

  19. Aisha says:

    I noticed that chandeliers are still down . People were still not in ?
    Maybe it was too early ?
    I saw it on the opening night I was full . I liked it very much even the costumes 😉 Met is best deal in town from every point of view . My life will be sad without it

  20. Vaquero357 says:

    I’m thinking the people guiding the MET back in the early 60s built the house at Lincoln Center with about 1,000 too many seats. A house that seats 3,800 people running 7 performances a week was pretty optimistic, even in 1966.

    Nowadays, people have SO many more “entertainment” options (yes, sorry to use that word). It’s not that there still aren’t plenty of people who love opera, but I foresee the days when the MET can close off the upper tier or two of the house and maybe cut down on the number of performances per week. That’s not going to help cash flow though…

    As for this Semiramide production…..we’ll see what’s going on with the movie theater transmission this weekend.

  21. Kristiaan says:

    It got a very lousy review in this week’s New Yorker (described as ‘aimless’; ‘production demeans Rossini), ‘her showpiece aria suffered from uneven phrasing’.

  22. Vaquero357 says:

    Oh and…..the U.S. is a multi-cultural country – and opera just isn’t part of a lot of those cultures. So it’s a hard-sell to get working people to agree to support with tax dollars what many see as an arcane, elitist, European art form. It’s also just too expensive for many people.

    Years ago, while I was waiting for my late-night train after a performance of Lucia at Lyric Opera in Chicago, a particularly articulate and personable panhandler conned $3 and a doughnut out of me. He chit-chatted a bit, asked me what I had been doing in the city that night. Said I, “went to the opera.” Says he, “Oh yeah that sounds interesting. I should go some time.” I didn’t tell him he’d need to panhandle a lot more than 3 bucks to afford a ticket.

  23. DAVID says:

    Opera is a European art form that has less and less attraction to American audiences that less and less identify with traditional European culture ie. First and second generation European immigrants.

    Unlike in Europe, you will almost never see opera on American TV.

    However, a certain number of people will still love a great show, so some will still come to big productions with beautiful music from operas that they have heard of.

    To compare American audiences to European ones and blame Gelb, rather than American culture for the lack of interest in opera , is ludicrous.

    1. Kristiaan says:

      Interesting point – i wonder whether this is unique to the Met or whether other opera houses (say the Lyric in Chicago – which i used to go to many years ago when i lived in chicago; San Fran) experience the same phenomena

    2. Bogda says:

      Isn’t it also ludicrous to claim that people are interested only in grand shows with beautiful music, when you haven’t offered them anything else. And that what is on offer is clearly not attracting audiences

      And how about Japan, how close is that culture to European? And how crazy are they about classical
      music?

  24. anon says:

    Photo is fake news.

    It is intermission: The house lights are up, the orchestra pit is empty.

    1. Alexander says:

      I’m inclined to share your opinion

      1. marg says:

        Likewise – first thing I noticed was the empty pit – so taken either before the show or in the intermission. Misleading evidence to say the least.

  25. Jane Scovell says:

    The photo, obviously taken during the intermission, is very misleading. I was at this performance, seated in the orchestra, row O 3. There were a lot of empty seats for sure but not to the extent shown. People did leave at intermission, probably to avoid the storm. By the way, the white haired lady seated in the orchestra row O 1 is Marilyn Horne.

  26. Alexander Platt says:

    Perhaps the Bel Canto revival, which I think began in the 1960’s with Callas, Sutherland and Marilyn Horne, has had its day.

  27. Jackyt says:

    The Royal Opera House recently put on Semiramide with Joyce Didonato in the title role. It was a wonderful performance, and very well attended. The production was interesting too.
    As to subscriptions, what the ROH offer is very flexible packages where you get a discount for booking 2 or more productions, choose your seat, and don’t have to commit too long in advance. Perhaps the Met could copy their example?

  28. Sharon says:

    Another issue, which V.Lind touched upon but needs some elaboration, is the changing nature of work and the role of working women in the audience or potential audience of opera. In yesteryear shows would start at 8:30. The men of the professional class which made up the bulk of the audience would frequently have enough autonomy in their jobs to leave work early before a weeknight performance, return home, eat dinner, and take their homemaker wives to the opera and be free to come to work late the next day. I know that at least the New York City Ballet also had early bird, 11 am, weekday matinees. This gave middle and upper middle class housewives the opportunity to attend the ballet, do lunch, and still return home before the kids returned from school and prepare dinner for the hubby.
    Nowadays however professional jobs are more insecure. The ever increasing number of self employed “consultants” are afraid to cut into the workday for fear of missing a deadline. Those in salaried jobs do not want or are afraid to request vacation time and are definitely afraid to just leave work early and/or arrive to work late. Fewer people are married and among those who are virtually all working age women are employed or are looking for work.
    A three and a half weekday night opera, even if it begins at 7 pm, is just too long and it ends too late, especially for the suburbanite. In fact, no weekday night performance is convenient unless it starts at 6:30 pm and lasts only an hour and a half, as some off-off Broadway performances are beginning to do. Even the retirees do not want to be out so late on a weekday night.
    Going to an opera performance is completely discretionary and less appealing when one is more tired on a weeknight, (will one want to buy a ticket if one is afraid of falling asleep?) and also competes working longer hours, watching videos, going to the gym, surfing the net, computer dating, trying to “get lucky” at a singles bar, spending time with the kids, doing chores, and just getting more sleep at home after work.
    I do not know if this is feasible but there would certainly be more single ticket younger audience and probably more younger subscribers if the house were dark on most weeknights and there were more weekend performances by extending the season. This would also allow the opera’s locally based full and part time employees to obtain more work throughout year since they would have more time, for example, the chorus and orchestra, through teaching, the stage hands through other carpentry and construction work etc. It would also give more of a chance to perform to more locally based non superstar singers and conductors who are not limited by very tightly scheduled guest appearances. The audience member who needs his/her increasingly insecure day job or consulting contract will not compromise it in order to see a super star anyway.
    It is not just a question of audience tastes, although this is not unimportant. Operas have to understand the day to day needs and constraints, especially the economic and physical health needs and constraints, of the audience demographic that they are trying to reach.

  29. Hans Kellner says:

    This aria is getting tedious.

    1. Styra Avins says:

      This has turned into a discussion about opera in America, and the role of opera in general, in European culture. Interesting in itself, and the subject of some insightful comments, in my opinion. Maybe the Met can benefit from some of the points that have been made. But what I don’t understand is the reason for posting the photo and the headline, clearly a bit of fake news, the first place? Does anyone have thoughts about it?

  30. Opera Lover says:

    After reading at least six negative reviews of Meade and after hearing that Camarena’s part was cut 45 minutes by the conductor, and after Canarena called in sick, I exchanged my Semiramide tickets for another opera. The same thing is happening with Goerke in the current Elektra run and I’m very worried about her being cast as Brunhilde in the Met ring performances next season. Parsifal last month at the Met with that dream cast was absolutely magnificent with all magnificent reviews and the house was very full for every performance and the same will be the case for the Netrebko Tosca later this season.

  31. Christopher Purdy says:

    That could very well be an intermission shot.


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