Ten ways to get more people into the Met

Ten ways to get more people into the Met


norman lebrecht

March 03, 2014

Manuela Hoelterhoff is an unhappy opera bunny. Each time she goes to the Met in the line of duty, her heart sinks deeper into her Jimmy Choos at the lack of consumer comforts and general progress at her regular place of worship.

What’s to be done? Manuela, who has probably seen more Met operas than any New York critic, has offered ten improvement ideas on the Bloomberg site. Nine of them are commonsense. The tenth is totally radical. Manuela is the first to break a taboo about the sacrosanct music director. It deserves to be widely discussed.

Read the full article here. The ten tips follow:





1. Open the Met an hour before, not half an hour, so people

can mingle.

2. Morph the useless and unloved gallery into a bar.

3. Turn the souvenir shop into a media center showcasing

material from the company’s huge archives and information on new

productions. Move the press room from its dim hole by the

bathrooms and provide seating for visitors to tweet. There’s

hardly any old-style press left anyway.

4. Get rid of the overpriced Grand Tier restaurant, which

blights a huge swathe of territory underneath one of the two

murals by Chagall. Have designer David Rockwell and Chef Marcus

Samuelsson create a casual dining space with bar tables and

sofas that flows across to the other Chagall.

5. Drop that pompous “no seating once the performance

starts” ukase. This is a place of entertainment. Every act has

a moment that is less sacred than others.

Sippy Cup

6. Permit drinks inside like the Brooklyn Academy of Music

and most New York theaters. For a long show in cramped seats, a

sippy cup can be your friend.

7. Expand and encourage the use of a free coat check. The

auditorium often looks like a refugee center.

8. In nice weather, fill that loggia with bars on both ends

and students from Juilliard next door playing operatic

transcriptions that drift enticingly to pedestrians below.

9. Start performing on Sundays. Is there another opera

company or theater that shuts down on Sunday to please unions?




10. Hire a charismatic music director to articulate a

vision for the future and excite a new generation. James Levine,

here since 1971, has never become a public personality

identified with New York. What is wrong with “emeritus”? The

Met needs a visible, socially engaged leader to supplement

general manager Peter Gelb. We need someone like Gustavo Dudamel

in Los Angeles or Riccardo Muti in Chicago. It’s time for a


(Manuela Hoelterhoff is an executive editor at Bloomberg

News. All opinions are her own.)


  • Brava Ms. Manuela!. Good ideas every one. Monday is traditionally dark night for theatres, so maybe they can switch? Thanks, Ann

    • Leslie says:

      MOndays have always, well, used to be glitter and be seen dress up night. I remember it well, from my Granparents’ seats at the old MET. My mother always made sure I was dressed, with gloves and a hat, too.

      I can’t say I get dressed up , now.

  • Simon says:

    I’ve never been at the Met (main reason: I’ve never crossed the Atlantic so far), so I won’t judge whether these imrpovement ideas are appropriate. However, I very much doubt whether nos. 5 and 6 are really common sense and I wouldn’t like to see them implemented in my home town’s opera house.

    • RW2013 says:

      Sippy cups, tweet seats, yearning for Dudamel…

      Simon, there IS no reason to cross the pond to a land where superficiality has well and truly triumphed.

  • lamorna says:

    Lots of fab ideas. Getting anyone from boring world to listen to their audience is probably the biggest problem…

  • Kenneth Berv says:

    Replace “Jimmy” with Gus? In her “creature Comfort List Ms. Holterhoff seems not to attend to the platinum performance standard CREATED by Levine, and the thrilling improvement in his own performances since his return from medical leave. Are we to assume that easier access to be be beverage is reflective of her “critical” discriminatory talents?

    • nyer says:

      Levine did help bring about a gold standard, but his work raising the musical standards is now well done and no longer requires him to continue. I understand why Ms H finds Jimmy to have become something of a Sacred Cow. Also, I disagree that his performances are so much more thrilling than the Tristans, Boccanegras, and Figaros he led in the 10 years prior to his illness. He is straining a bit to be his old self, but so far I don’t recognize him quite.

      • Leslie says:

        Jimmy led the first Cosi, that I have ever stayed awake for the whole opera. I have always found it a great slog. This fall it was full of energy and delightful. The cast was thrilled to be working with him again. I look forward to seeing it again in the spring.

  • ed says:

    Not bad- I like the one about students playing, though why just kids from next door Juilliard? As for drinks inside, imagine the mess- sticky floors, stained and smelly chairs, and from the first or second tier maybe a glass bottle or two misbalanced on a ledge falling on an unfortunate recipient in the parquet. For some of Ms. Hoelterhoeff’s other ideas that would need more architectural redesign to accommodate the creative thinking that was missed the last time, will it be another ‘back to the drawing board billion dollar change order’ for the Lincoln Center F-35 procurement? I am a bit amused that while the oligarchs (including her boss) put more effort into gussying up the Grand Tier restaurant, they didn’t think of the sensible stuff here about customer preferences and social needs when addressing the traffic management problem.

    Oh, I like opening up the sight lines to the Chagall and its whimsy. I’ve always reminded my tourist friends visiting the Center, not to forget to look for it and its very special ‘Where’s Waldo?’- i.e.- the little figure in it peeing- a nice Chagallian touch.

  • Brian says:

    That’s brave of her to go after the sacred cow of classical music in New York. The halo over James Levine – despite the persistent rumors of his past – seems to be firmly fixed in place. But the question needs to be asked whether a younger, more charismatic conductor could be a stronger figurehead for the Met and bring some fresh thinking to the institution.

  • Brian says:

    Well, and given the fact that Levine has ceded so much of the artistic decision-making to Peter Gelb does not reflect well on his stewardship. Granted, he’s been out sick for a couple years, but you’d think someone with his clout could have had a stronger hand on the steering wheel.

  • sdReader says:

    If only you could get Manuela to do the New York reviews for Slipped Disc!

    Then things would really be ticking — talented writer + big lively international audience!

  • ProChorister says:

    RE: Item #9 – Do you not realize that the Met Chorus – like most choruses at other major professional rep opera companies – are only guaranteed ONE day off per week? We are performers and subsequently have eschewed the traditional work week – but we are NOT slaves and deserve a semblance of a weekend, just like every one else. Having an off day has nothing to do with pleasing unions – it has to do with labor laws. I find this suggestion laughable, and frankly, offensive.

    • jaura says:

      Thank you, ProChorister! I found it offensive as well. However, I have often wondered why the Met performs on Monday nights, when most folks don’t feel like going anywhere, and not on Sunday afternoons, when most symphonic orchestras do perform. I think most people really enjoy music or theatre on a Sunday afternoon.

  • V.Lind says:

    I expect she comes pricier than The Bobbsey Twins Go to the Opera.

    If NL is right about Levine (not a given) it’s time he was sent out to pasture.

  • Gabriela Harvey says:

    I’m glad Ms. Manuela Hoelterhoff’s opinions are her own. Latecomers…..At the ‘Prince Igor’ performance on Saturday the door opened 11 times, at most inopportune times. As to bringing drinks in, it won’t be long before we would be stepping over isle trash as we do in most movie and broadway theaters. Why not add cell phones?

    • Leslie says:

      YES! No latecomers.

      But they are even loathe to let you in at scene changes, remember the deadly “brief pauses” in Onegin?

      But during the music? NO!

  • Scott Merrell says:

    I reject most of this erson’s suggestions:

    More people will not go to the Met becausue they can mingle for an hour before the performance.

    People that are interested in opera do like the Gallery. There are already bars down there.

    Most people like the opera shop, and it’s one of the few stores left in the city where you can find a good selection of, and purchase Opera CD’s and DVD’s. Even though I do not eat at the Grand Tier restaurant, the rich people do, and they are the main people that support the Met. The Metropolitan Opera is not merely a place of “entertanment.” . If you can’t arrive to the opera on time, that’s your problem. I hate being disturbed by late comers. We don’t nee d sippy cups in the Met. Get a drink before the Act if you must. I do wish the Met would bring back the Sunday afternoon concerts. Finally, we are very fortunate to have Levine.

  • Patricia says:

    The ticket prices are what keeps me away. I only go once a year, whereas when I first started working and was making less money I went more often.

    I disagree about the drinks in a theatre. A movie is different isn’t live (though the bad manners at Saturday’s HD “Igor” were as epic as the opera itself). The drinks during a performance an annoyance at Broadway shows and disrespectful to the performers. Bad enough the Met has a fashion blog; will they imitate the (doomed) French court and allow the fans, tourists, and Upper West Siders to talk non-stop on their phones during a performance as well?

    What would also help is better follow-up. Yes, the schedule is planned years in advance but didn’t management have even the slightest of ideas that “Parsifal” was going to be success for its three leading male singers?

  • Michael says:

    All Manuela Hoelterhoff’s points are worth considering except the ghastly one about drinks in the auditorium and the truly selfish one about latecomers.

    The US started the ridiculous practice of people never leaving home or the office without a bottle of water: most of the west followed, all applauded by the grateful soft drinks industry!

    Can people really not sit even for a long opera act without needing to reach down for a bottle, unscrew it, sip, screw the top back on and put the bottle back – sometimes in a bag which of course has to be zipped/unzipped each time twice? Even in hot weather – bearing in mind theatres are usually air-conditioned – there is no health hazard to patrons if they wait until an intermission before embarking on their (usually unnecessary) rehydration obsession! Can popcorn be far behind?

    Others have commented on the mess drinks will make. I take this opportunity of warning Ms. Hoelterhoff or anyone else – in the nicest possible way – that should I be walking down a row past their seat at the Met and I “accidentally” knock a drink he/she is holding (ideally red wine, please) which spills on their clothes, I will not apologise!

    “Every act has a moment that is less sacred than others.” Apart from a genuine pause where there is a seat change, I see no reason which anyone should be let in until the intermission. It’s brute selfishness to think that’s it’s OK to come in late and push past people who usually have to stand up to let them pass and block the view of those seated behind. Many of those who come in late are so unconcerned by the annoyance they cause that, once seated, they still finish off their conversation, play with their mobiles and re-arrange their clothing instead of just sitting down, sitting still and shutting up. Unfortunately at some opera houses, patrons are even let in during the overture/prelude, assisted by ushers who are equipped with flashlights for this very purpose!

    If I have decided to go to opera, I do not accept that, for the convenience of others, each act is to be deemed to have “a moment that is less sacred than others” where it is OK for latecomers to saunter in. An interesting comic question for the Met Broadcast Quiz, perhaps: will these moments be advertised in advance so people will know how late they can be and still be admitted before the intermission?

    Yes, I am angry and annoyed each time such boors destroy my other people’s pleasure so thoughtlessly! I have managed for thousands of opera performances over 45+ years NEVER to be late for a performance – it’s not that difficult!

  • Leslie says:

    Many of these suggestions are great.

    That gallery hasn’t had a good show since The Nose. That was brilliant and really made sense.

    The lobby, call it what you will, needs more seating, MUCH MORE seating.

    If you are having free coat checks, then you will need more than that one hard to get at coat room.

    Yes to letting us in an hour before.

    Manuela, have to been to our wonderful ladies’ room on the Family Circle floor. Not only are they kept incredibly clean, but are right there for us. I wish they were open after the show. The ones on the other floors are filthy, by then.

  • Eli says:

    How does anyone know that Ms. Hoelterhof wears Jimmy Choo’s? While she is at it how about zero-ing out the national debt, finding a cure for cancer and ending all wars. Oh, and a $10 top price for any seat/performance

    • ed says:

      And maybe also a $10 top price for ‘Jimmy’s Chooes’ so everyone can feel rich- like the $3.00 for a Rolex (that even works sometimes) that you can buy on 32nd and 6th Avenue?

  • Janey says:

    Something that would help the Met would be critics who were balanced and not seemingly bitter – a tone which turns off new fans. I wish I could read this critic’s reviews, but I’ve stopped.

    She has long called for Levine’s retirement, and usually in unpleasant terms, so this is nothing new.

    I do not want to bring drinks in and I would rather the choristers have one day off. I also wonder how the doors could open much earlier on days when there are matinees, or stage rehearsals. I believe the 30 minutes is for a very practical reason.

    I enjoy the Met Shop.

    Ticket prices are the biggest problem, and I believe excessive numbers of employees (ADs, rehearsal pianists, for example) is probably the reason.

    • NotAFan says:

      Too many employees and TOO MANY REHEARSAL PIANISTS are the reason the Met is in financial straits!!? are you kidding me. Are you not paying attention? Prices are going out of hand because money flies out of Gelbs hands like it’s his own to waste. He wastes money at every turn and than blames everyone else. How much money do you think it cost to re-build the stage so he could put that horrible Ring set on it? How much money does he spend coddling his favorite sopranos? How much money has he lost giving designers free rein to design, build, then discard what they don’t like? The number of employees is NOT the problem. GELB is the problem. The Met will continue to bleed money until he is removed.

    • RW2013 says:

      Without the rehearsal pianists and assistant directors, the house would grind to a halt.

  • adrock says:

    Perhaps the greatest boon for the holy Metropolitan Opera ticket sales should have been the closure of the New York City Opera. But hark, there is only one opera house and still not enough audience. As New Yorkers we have 2 baseball options, 2 basketball , 2 hockey, and 2 football options…BECAUSE… *** based on the capitalist model, they are financially solvent. If opera is to succeed in NYC there is gonna have to be more thoughtful/smarter/better ideas than putting a bar in the lobby and a better coatroom situation.

    Perhaps more nudity, more controversy and a hard line against RIDICULOUSLY UNSUSTAINABLE fees for conductors and singers. ***

  • Kitty says:

    Sorry, but this reminds me of an old Soviet joke in which when a brothel stopped bringing money because the “girls” were chosen for being trusted communists rather than for looks, the suggestions were to move beds around rather than change the girls.

    People don’t choose to go or not to go to opera based on what’s inside the theater and how good the restaurant is. And as to “Drop that pompous “no seating once the performance starts” — most people who are on time aren’t going to appreciate people continuing to walk in. They have a small auditorium with a screen where they broadcast the performance for people who are late. This is enough – and yes, I was late once.

    Here are my suggestions from a long time opera-goer:

    1. Make sure the quality of performances is always high. Only invite singers who are at the Met level. Maybe it means that the singers shouldn’t be booked so far in advance… or maybe singing is slightly more important than looks?

    2. Stop doing so many new productions and stop showing Eurotrash down our throats. There is zero evidence that “updated” productions bring in new people, but they most certainly turn away quite a few people. Is moving the action into a place where libretto stops making sense really sells tickets? Sure some experimenting is fine, but if you experiment and it flops, remove the production quickly. Nobody likes the new Sonnambula yet they repeat it again next year. Same about Tosca. How about instead restoring some old productions, but invite the directors to help singers move and act so that old productions aren’t associated with “stand and deliver”. Yes, some people like updated productions, but there is no balance today as the old productions are being replaced and even very unpopular new productions keep being repeated. Reduce the number of new productions, instead think about the operas that haven’t been shown in the Met for a while.

    3. Show some operas that haven’t been shown in a while e.g. Luisa Miller. Ask people who go to opera which operas they’d like to see, and take this into consideration when creating a schedule for future even if it’s a few years in advance.

    4. Were Prada costumes for Attila really necessary? How many people bought tickets for Attila because they wanted to see Prada costumes?

    5. Invest in education more to teach young people about opera. Talk to major network station about some programs about opera. There are people out there who honestly don’t even know what opera is. Yet every time an amateur butchers an aria on a tv talent show, people are amazed and teary-eyed. Part of it is the beauty of the music that survives even bad singing. Capitalize on that. Buy some advertisement time during America’s Got Talent to show real opera singers and clips from Met operas to people who don’t know what opera is.

    6. A while ago someone posted The Audition documentary on you tube as well as the Northwest competition. This was removed for copyright issues. Copyright is important, and yes, the Met is selling it. But how many people actually going to buy the DVD today who haven’t already done so? Maybe the Met could post it for free on You Tube during the same time America’s Got Talent is on and use YouTube ads to get revenue for it. Having it on YouTube would allow the people who don’t normally watch opera and who wouldn’t ever buy an opera DVD to see it (and yes, maybe go to the Met site and “rent” some operas with the Met player). One thing I did during the brief time this video was on is to post the links to people I know who like “opera singers” on tv talent shows. People like watching competitive reality shows and they just may watch this documentary and decide to listen to more opera; The people whom it may reach on You Tube are not those who’d have bought it otherwise.