‘If you can’t sell Carmen at the Met, something is clearly wrong’

‘If you can’t sell Carmen at the Met, something is clearly wrong’


norman lebrecht

March 24, 2015

James B. Stewart, author of a generally supportive article on Peter Gelb in the New Yorker, adds some edge to his investigation in an interview on NPR. He observes that the Met is presently selling 70 percent of its seats, as against 90 percent before Gelb, and that the audience is just getting plain… older.

Listen here.



  • Gonout Backson says:

    A tremendeous lot has been done to convince the young people that opera is not for them and to turn it into the epitome of “uncool”.

    The “done” can be equally divided between “facere” and “non facere”.

    The “non facere” defines itself: parents, school and media just doing nothing.

    The “Regietheater” bunch would be the main culprit in the “facere” department: insulting the art verbally (with idiotic arguments) and actively (with idiotic productions).

    Unfortunately, the above can be applied – with some modifications – to large chunks of “high culture”.

    • John Borstlap says:

      Unfortunately, all this is entirely true.

      A beginning with some sort of restoration could be started with leaving regietheater behind and create visually interesting and attractive productions in the spirit of the work at hand, which offers an ‘opening’ to the work. Next, commissioning new tonal composers for writing new works that have a human / expressive interest and that are singable, so that the art form be injected with new life and break through the glass of the museum box. And finally, curbing salaries of ‘stars’ and executives to more reasonable and acceptable standards, taking-away the negative impression of high-brow gold pits for snobs.

      • Karen says:

        Opera has been told to get more entrepreneurial, to exploit itself as a brand and move out into the real world in search of wider popularity. Everything has been tried, from television relays to souvenir tea towels to evangelizing visits to sink schools, with only limited success….. (I have yet to meet a teenager who claimed to have been inspired with a love of opera through a project run by an education department).

        Which brings us to the question of the audience. ‘Where are the young?’ is the battle cry — to which the answer must be that they are there in small numbers, pretty much as they have always been. Look at any photograph of an opera audience from the early 20th century and you can see that the basic make-up remains pretty much unchanged in terms of age as well as class

        There is a sophisticated young audience for opera but it is very discriminating and it doesn’t want to be fobbed off with second best. Its members haven’t been been formally educated or instructed to enjoy opera, they have simply been drawn to it by their own musical or theatrical sensibilities and aesthetic curiosity.

        This is as it should be.

    • Brian b says:

      The Stewart article has a telling anecdote in which Gelb even crossed swords with Maestro Levine over the location of the prompter’s box for Richard Eyre’s new Nozze. Gelb put it in the orchestra pit which bifurcated the orchestra and made it impossible for the orchestra members to maintain contact with each other. But Gelb thought non-musical values more important and objected that the box didn’t go with the production. (Moreover, a production which is acoustically singer-unfriendly, absorbing sound instead of allowing them to project into the auditorium.) Levine–and Mozart–ultimately prevailed and Gelb resented it.
      Mozart wrote that in opera the words must be the obedient daughter of the music. Can anyone doubt he would have said as much about productions and stage direction?

  • Robert Garbolinski says:

    Just do superb productions which are so gorgeous and fabulous to see that the audience will be amazed and want to come back and see them many times over the years. Just listen to the audiences – full prices and rubbish productions put people off.

  • John Kelly says:

    Dispiriting. I was at Hoffmann on Saturday evening and the house was about 70% full, if that. A shame as the production is terrific, the singing was outstanding, the orchestra was superb under Levine as usual and the production had been very well reviewed and rightly so. Mind you, the same was true at Carnegie on Friday- maybe 60% full – the St Louis Orchestra gave a SUPERB concert (so I am not about to agree with Mr. Lebrecht that David Robertson is someone we don’t want at the NYPO). I am not sure what’s happening here – maybe New Yorkers have given up artistic events for Lent, including the many Jewish New Yorkers!

  • Robin D Bermanseder says:

    Efforts to bridge the widening gap through collaborations with (gasp) popular culture continue to be derided by the purists, despite increasing efforts by many practitioners. Is this a cause or a symptom of the underlying problem?

    If parents/teachers detect this attitude in perceived experts, why should they think differently?

    If children detect this attitude in their parents, why should they thing differently?

  • Daniel Farber says:

    The Stewart article can in NO WAY be read as being “generally supportive.” It is a masterful piece of objective reporting that allows Gelb to explain himself. His explaining amounts to self-immolation. Stewart understood that less is more, that a horrible person/horrible manager entirely unsympathetic with the art of opera, if given free reign, is going to emerge as, well, “horrible.” I’ve loved the Met for most of my 72 years and am devastated by what Gelb has wrought in a relatively short time.

  • John says:

    Well, at $240 a pop, I think I’d be out there selling mine if I couldn’t go.

  • bratschegirl says:

    While it’s true that all of us in the performing arts want to find ways to bring what we do to audiences of all ages, the “graying audience” chant has been around for decades and really isn’t particularly useful. Subscribers, particularly every-week subscribers, to the symphony and opera need to have a certain amount of (a) leisure time and (b) disposable income, and that group tends to skew older. Always has, always will.

    • Anne says:

      I generally agree with that, but when I hear the music that much of the younger generation is listening to, I’m struck by what sounds to me like the widening gulf between their style and classical. IMO, it is probably harder to make that leap from pop to classical than it used to be.

      Where are the George Martins and Jon Lords now?

  • Scott Foreman Orr says:

    They need to sack Gelb and throw him in the River like Gilda! Domingo should take over the Met and revamping of NYCO if it gets off the ground! If opera wasn’t for the young, why are conservatories filled with aspiring talent? Updating operas doesn’t do anything to create a younger audience and it angers us older die hard opera fans! Gives us what we want/ask for or loose our support! Also stop hiring Ken’s and Barbie’s to sing repertoire they have no business singing! Opera has never been about sex appeal or acting ability! It’s first and foremost VOICE! Vocal enhancing in opera and theater in my humble opinion is cheating and fraudulent!