Bare patches and frowns appear at the Met

Bare patches and frowns appear at the Met


norman lebrecht

October 16, 2013

Our mole in the box-office says the season is not selling well.

Onegin and Norma are selling out and James Levine’s return in Cosi fan tutte has guaranteed a strong house. But the more adventurous stuff – Two Boys, The Nose and Midsummer’s Night Dream – are selling so slowly they are going for discounts.

The economy is taking its toll. Individuals are buying fewer tickets in half-season batches.

For the season so far, the Met is playing at 65%, we hear. That may explain why Peter Gelb has mislaid his usual cheery smile.



  • Natalia says:

    Things are not looking good at the Met…

    What also surprises me are the many empty seats for Die Frau ohne Schatten in November.

    • Robert Secret says:

      Gosh, wish I could be over there, such a fantastic opera, Strauss at his very best!!! Hard to believe it is not sold out already.

      • Derek Castle says:

        A knowledgeable friend of mine thinks it’s a load of old tosh. Chaqu’un……You must admit, it does go on a bit!

        • Hanna says:

          Of all the Strauss operas Die Frau ohne Schatten seems to arouse the greatest reaction pro and con. There are those who flatly call it Strauss’s greatest opera. There also are those who call it overwritten, pretentious and empty….


          It’s one of my all time favorite operas and I think it’s A SHAME that there will be no Met HD broadcast in November.

        • Michael Schaffer says:

          Yes, it does go on a bit in some places, I suppose. But let’s not talk about Strauss. Your knowledgeable friend obviously knows better how to write an opera than Strauss did, so I guess I should rather spend my time listening to his operas than Strauss’. So – what’s his name, and what are his greatest works?

  • Una says:

    The Met audiences is so traditional. and not dissimilar to Covent Garden when they do the same. I got into Wozzeck about five years ago at ROH for eight pounds sitting, albeit Amphitheatre, as they couldn’t sell the tickets. Then moved for the rest of it!

  • SPW says:

    There were empty seats at the recent ROH Elektras-depsit ecstatic reviews for th eproduction and the singeres-especially Goerke.

  • Could it be that we need a “People’s Opera” with more affordable tickets…

  • The Nose and Midsummer Night’s Dream are not really adventurous-maybe that’s why they’re not selling. The Nose was done relatively recently at the Met, and it’s not the kind of thing people will go see again. Midsummer Night’s Dream, a master;iece though it is, is done too frequently, so even Britten fans are probably a little tired of it. Two Boys will probably start selling after it opens, since people don’t really know anything about it yet. Of course ticket prices are not helping…

    • I see that Kostis’ name links to the Tulsa Opera. The combined statistical area population of Tulsa is 1.12 million, but judging by the website the Tulsa Opera only does three productions per year. According to Operabase the city ranks 495th for opera performances per year. None of this makes Tulsa at all unique in the USA. It follows the norm. And I’m sure the people involved are doing a great job, put on fine productions, and are basically heroic in their efforts. I’d love to see their work.

      Once again the numbers point to the abysmal status of arts funding in the USA. We have the talent, the desire, and the training, but almost no money to do our work. Eventually this will drag down even the Met unless something is done to create a public funding system for the arts like ALL other developed countries have long had.

    • Reconstructed Modernist says:

      I know that I have no desire to pony up to hear the sort of comfortable twentieth- and twenty-first-century fare that Gelb is serving up. And while Moses und Aron will rarely fill the house (it was half-full when I heard it), at least Levine and Volpe had the good sense to balance a small number of performances of such works against all the performances of Aida, Boheme, and Carmen, where the house made its money. Nor do the Nose, Midsummer Night’s Dream, and Two Boys provide any evidence that the Met has remained a “serious” artistic institution. And to program all three in one season? Well, that’s simply folly.

      • MWnyc says:

        “Nor do the Nose, Midsummer Night’s Dream, and Two Boys provide any evidence that the Met has remained a “serious” artistic institution.”

        You’re kidding, right?

        Commissioning new work from promising composers (as well as famous ones like Glass or Adams) is one thing serious artistic institutions are supposed to do.

        And if presenting Shostakovich’s first opera, based on a story by one of Russia’s greatest writers, in a spectacular staging by one of the visual art world’s major figures (one who already had several widely admired opera stagings under his belt) with Valery Gergiev conducting, in a production that nearly sold out its first run and got a huge amount of press attention – if that’s not artistically serious, I don’t know what is.

        And programming all three of those operas in one season isn’t necessarily folly at all. Programming them all in the same month might be. But there are countless factors in scheduling an opera season that most of us don’t know about.

    • MWnyc says:

      Kostis, Midsummer Night’s Dream in the Britten version (as opposed to the Shakespeare original) isn’t done frequently at all in New York; it’s been well over a decade since the Met last presented it. Was it the best choice for the Britten centenary? I don’t know. It may be that the Met’s programmers thought that presenting an adaptation of a well-known comedy would be safer than programming Peter Grimes or Billy Budd, let alone Death in Venice or Gloriana, if they couldn’t absolutely guarantee a box-office superstar in the title role.

      The Met did stage The Nose – brilliantly – three years ago; it was rapturously received and sold very well, with a notably younger audience than one normally sees there. So it makes sense that the Met thought it would be worth reviving. But you may be right that it’s not an opera people would want to see again so soon, and Paulo Szot (singing the lead) is three years farther away from the fame he gained for winning a Tony in 2008 for South Pacific. I think scheduling seven performances of The Nose this season was a mistake; they’d have been better off box-office-wise with four or five.

      If Two Boys gets good reviews and press, it will sell well. Surely the Met was aware of the risks.

  • Dave T says:

    Could it be because ticket prices are stratospherically high? And could that be because pay is so high– artists, stagehands, administrators– pretty much everybody. Oh no, no, no, that can’t be it. It’s because rich donors aren’t forking over enough money. That’s it, that’s always the cause of these problems.

    • squirrel says:

      Tickets are really reasonable at the Met. They came down this season, too. YOu can get a seat for $25. You can also get really good ones for $50. Try that at Yankees Stadium.

      • sdReader says:

        An empty seat = an undelivered product

        … ossia, Filling the house is Job No. 2.

        The Met should price backwards, based on this goal. It certainly has the technology to do so!

      • John Kelly says:

        Quite right and standing room is even less. Or you can pay $500+ to sit near the front on the end of a row. The Met has adopted Broadway show type pricing, but at least it’s affordable and there are plenty (i.e. hundreds) of inexpensive seats. The beer is cheaper than Yankee Stadium and while we’re mentioning it, a Premiership football match is as expensive as Yankee Stadium. Covent Garden? More than the Met for sure.

  • Laurie Davison says:

    tickets for excellent seats in Family Circle are as low as $25. That’s only slightly more than to see a 3D movie across the street. That’s not bad at all — I bought my first subscription this year going to nine operas, including all of the ones that are selling poorly. It’s too bad they’re not selling as well as the comfort fare, but isn’t that to be expected? Can you really expect people to fill an opera house of 3900 seven times to see a brand new opera / production without a star attached?

    • For the Family Circle in a 3800 seat hall don’t forget your binoculars. Not the best way to experience opera in my view. The prices in Europe are about a quarter of the Met’s. You can often have front orchestra level seats for about 80 dollars instead of 400. And for the new operas even less. Decent seats really do make a significant difference in building publics.

      And we won’t even discuss the large donations required to get the priority ticketing to insure getting good seats even if you are rich enough to afford them.

      • Andre Gaskins says:

        IT’S THE MET

      • Janey says:

        All is becoming clear! You aren’t so much concerned with US opera funding. It is a red herring. You simply do not like US opera companies (or perhaps US opera?) in any way whatsoever.

      • John Kelly says:

        Albeit the Family Circle is a long way away from the stage the sound is still very very good. Last time I looked La Scala and the Vienna State Opera were more than the Met across all seat ranges, and they are the competition. Smaller houses are probably less expensive but also mount wonderful productions that can be just as enjoyable. I enjoyed Butterfly at the Schiller theater last year – just fabulous. Andris Nelsons sang and conducted a la Barbirolli. Great stuff.

  • David Boxwell says:

    Yep, it’s hard to put 7600 glutes in seats virtually every night of the week. Even for performances of the reliables (Trav, Cav & Pag, Car-Men, Lawbohem, etc.). Especially without gubmint subsidies.

  • Frank Sloan says:

    There’s actually a week coming up when there are two performances each of The Nose, Midsummer Night’s Dream, and Two Boys with a single Norma sandwiched in among the others. That’s like a true kamikaze week. Even the Normas are not selling all that well.

  • SPW says:

    check prices at ROH, ENO, Scala, Vienna-even Amsterdam. The cheapest seats are either very partial views or for full views, about $45 or more. These cheap seats sell out quickly and there are very few of them. Let’s not complain about ticket prices at the Met unless you must sit in the orchestra or other expensive locations.

  • Nico Muhly says:

    Darling, send your box office mole to me in the hall tomorrow around 10:30 or 11. We’ll work it out together. It’s particularly opera-villian to work in sales somewhere and then call up the +44 to complain about how badly it’s doing. I love this industry! Everybody come see Midsummer. It’s some great music making. But tell the mole to come holler.

  • Janey says:

    The government shutdown led to many Americans choosing to hold on to their money. Perhaps they will clutch their wallets a bit less now.

  • Robert Garbolinski says:

    Are you surprised? That man has ditched all the good productions that people have loved seeing time and time again (i.e. The Zefirelli and Jean Pierre Ponelle ones and replaced them with crap modern ones which no-one wants to pay to see. My example is the beautiful Ponelle Manon. This was replaced by a totally modern production seen first at the Royal Opera House and was so visually awful I will never pay to see it again. it was then transported to the Met to the horror of the paying public. The point of going to the MET was the stupendous quality of their productions. This has now been completely destroyed by that man! They need to buck their ideas up. No wornder the audiences have gone down. it’s not the economy ifs their (his) fault.

  • Nico Muhly says:

    Ooh girl, I just talked to my OWN box office mole and apparently it’s at 87 point something percent? Is that better than 65? I don’t know, I’m just a stupid composer. Your mole didn’t come say hi, I’m sad. I was going to prepare a little modified Ottolenghi-inspired salad made out of preserved lemon, fennel, and underripe olives: the bitter and acidic tastes to which he has, one presumes, become accustomed.

    • MWnyc says:

      Oooooh, you THROW that shade, Miss Thing!

    • oracle says:

      I am going to preface this post by saying that Nico Muhly is a remarkable and talented young composer. That said, the Metropolitan Opera Box Office is taking him for a stroll with the number 87%. Next week with “Two Boys”, “Midsummer’s Night Dream”, “The Nose” and a single performance of “Norma” based upon yesterday’s ticket sales, is set to be the most disastrous week in Metropolitan Opera box office history. Ask Peter Gelb; if he’s honest, he will tell you it’s the truth. The Metropolitan Opera runs dynamic computer software also utilized in other theatrical venues throughout NYC, which can make the ticket sales appear to be more brisk and the house on any given day appear much fuller than it really is. Giving the potential customer a sense of desperation to “act now” in order to obtain tickets for a given performance. It is highly disingenuous and frankly, the NYC City Council should take on the practice, as it is fraudulent and against the best interest of the citizens of the City. Actual full price ticket sales to date for the run of “Two Boys” is a much, much lower than 87%. Muhly should ask them to produce the most recent daily sent to all senior managers within the house. The most recent daily’s show a very different picture, I’ve seen it. The box office contact may now attempt to tell Mr. Muhly that with their anticipated $25 rush tickets, they expect to be at 87%, but that’s the stuff crystal balls are made of and not cold hard facts as they stand today. Of course all of this could quickly change with a few amazing reviews after the prima. But at this point, it is only conjecture.

      So here is the deal. Obviously Muhly’s opera is timely and relevant. But producing an opera of this subject matter with a young composer at a house the size of the Metropolitan Opera a huge financial risk. Keep in mind, this is not an opera which is cast with big stars. Despite Gelb’s ad nauseum pushing of Broadway directors, in the opera World, Bartlett Sher is not a real drawing point. So the average opera goer has to decide if they want to see a new work from an upcoming composer and then is the subject matter of interest. When one is dealing with a group of patrons whose average age is in their mid 60’s, this sort of work can be a huge stretch. The full burden of the decision comes down to the composer in this instance. Sure, some will be curious and come to hear something new, but your bread and butter Verdi-Mozart-Puccini-Strauss-Wagner patrons by and large will miss this one and turn their subscription tickets back to the house, or not buy tickets. (Muhly should also request the figure of returned subscription tickets for his opera and then ask for the typical return number.) Which leaves you with a marketing dilemma from the get go. You now have to woo in a younger non-opera audience into your house, a much bigger task and the clip from the opera that is currently making the rounds from my perspective is not compelling as a marketing piece. If the composer has a large group of followers, like a Philip Glass, or a John Adams, that makes up for some of the shortfall. Muhly has built fans, that is for sure, but frankly, I’m in the business and I was not familiar with his work. After conducting several Google searches and listening to a variety of YouTube clips, he’s obviously accomplished and has been highly productive in his 32 years, but he’s not a Glass, or Adams at this point in his career. He does not have the name recognition to fill the cavernous house for each of the scheduled performances. The Opera House is on a major pr campaign with the major newspapers and blogs, but will it bring in the new ticket buyers required to fill their house? So continuing on from a business perspective, that means that Cosi, Onegin and Norma have to fill the house each show to make up for the shortfall of face value tickets purchased for the performances of “Two Boys”, “The Nose” and “Midsummer’s Night Dream” and or find donors to make up the gap. Perhaps with the demise of the New York City Opera, some of their donors, not on the Metropolitan Opera’s rolls will join, but this is an age old question. Gelb may be lauded for producing Muhly’s and other’s adventurous works, but at what cost?

      Finally, in my opinion, Muhly would have been better served if the Metropolitan Opera took a smaller house somewhere else in the City and produced the opera with a successful outcome guaranteed. Sure that format would have been a departure for them, but so is producing “Two Boys” by a young and upcoming composer. I surely hope he is successful in this venture, but the business model and dynamic are against him.

      • Dave T says:

        Excellent post, Oracle. I’m interested in your statement, “The Metropolitan Opera runs dynamic computer software … which can make the ticket sales appear to be more brisk and the house on any given day appear much fuller than it really is.” Please elaborate.

        Does this mean that the seat grid one sees online, showing which seats are available and which unavailable, is phoney? Are unsold seats shown as sold? If that is the case than the credibility and trust in the MET, or other houses, would be shot. And that’s we be very bad for business, at least my business.

        • oracle says:

          It’s called “Dynamic Ticket Pricing”, essentially a shell game for the potential ticket buyer. Think of Dulcamara’s aria “Udite, Udite” it works the same way. By the way, the system is employed by Broadway theaters, American Ballet Theatre, Yankees, Mets, Madison Square Garden and other events with large venues.

          * At the beginning of a season, all seats are shown.

          * If the event is not selling, blocks of seats that are not sold are shown as sold, these seats are moved around the house. There is a psychological science which makes the ticket buyer feel a sesne of desperation that they have to act now, or they will not get a seat for the show on the date they have available.

          * 72 or so hours before the event, if the event is a loser, they will start to show more seats and drop the price and as it gets closer to the opening of the event, the prices drop further.

          *If seats are still not sold, some are sent to the rush ticket program at $25 each.

          *If the house still has big empty patches, the menagment starts to call schools and organizations that are willing to come in for free tickets. Then they start giving out tickets to house employees for friends and family. (papering) This is usually employed the first night, so the critics see as full a house as they can get. Critics are not that stupid as to not notice groups of indidivuals they do not normally see at the opera, but the house does it anyway. It is all about illusion. After the first night, a dog is a dog. Though as I said in my first post, a few good reviews and that can change everything.

      • Mark Buller says:

        I’m glad you’re not the one in Gelb’s position. Opera would go nowhere.

        You say that “Two Boys” isn’t attracting the old-people-who-only-want-to-hear-the-thousandth-Boheme crowd? Great! You say that the Met is scrambling to find a younger audience? Sounds like a great idea to me.

        Maybe Gelb is trying to make opera more relevant, less of a museum full of 150-year-old operas. That doesn’t sound like a problem to me.

        • oracle says:

          An opera company, despite the fact that they are not-for-profit, is a business. When you operate a house that seats 3800 on a nightly basis in-season and donations are becoming more and more difficult to obtain, you have to make smart decisions. Gelb has been trying to change a dynamic that is akin a mouse moving an elephant. This week as I said, based upon the current trend is going to be the worst weekly ticket sales in Metropolitan Opera History. He’s running all 20th/21st Century opera with one performance of a 19th Century work. If Gelb had a smaller chamber theater he could gamble, but at this point he’s running out of chips, he’s kicked the can down the road, stolen from the pension fund and not returned even the principal. You need to concentrate on what you can sell to the audience you have, marketing 101. You can be all for other forms the art form, but you better be sure you can cover your arse. I’m not being a ney-sayer, I’m just speaking common sense.

          • Derek Castle says:

            Perhaps ‘nay-sayer’? Otherwise, I couldn’t agree more. Covent Garden has a small house where they can put on ‘new opera’. One poster mocks at 150-year-old opera. Why are we still watching this stuff? Because Mozart, Verdi, Wagner, Puccini. …..just happened to be geniuses. A lot of recent, trying-to-be-with-it music is, IMHO and that of a respected broadsheet reviewer, ‘a load of old tosh’. Life is too short (mine, anyway) for repeated listening of S. Reich, E. Carter&Co, vainly attempting to find some point to it all. Grumpy ‘wrinklie’.

      • sdReader says:

        Valuable post! Many thanks, Oracle.

  • William Schneider says:

    If the Met wants a full house it should put on more Wagner in the traditional manor.One new opera a year is enough and then try more Baroque Opera.Just my two cents.