More shame for the Met: Berlin Opera boasts 94% sales

More shame for the Met: Berlin Opera boasts 94% sales


norman lebrecht

July 13, 2018

Daniel Barenboim’s Staatsoper on Unter den Linden sold 196,000 this season, playing to a 94 percent capacity, it was announced today.

That’s up from 91 percent last year.

Peter Gelb’s Met plays below 70%. Most nights it’s two-thirds unsold.


  • Daniel G says:

    Please send this article to the Metropolitan Board are responsible for this. They have left the company in the hands of Peter Gelb who has tried to turn the opera company into a theater company. In opera, music comes first. I hope someday the Metropolitan Opera will return to its past but the Board must take action and get rid of Peter Gelb before its too late and it suffers the fate of the New York City Opera.

  • phf655 says:

    More typically anti-Met invective. There is much to criticize at the Met, but why make up statistics that aren’t true, and make comparisons that don’t make sense?
    The Berlin Staatsoper just reopened after a lengthy renovation, so is essentially a new theater, with all of the buzz that goes along with novelty. Additionally, the entirety of this tiny theater could probably fit on the Met’s stage (if the side and back stage areas are taken into consideration). And the Met is never two thirds unsold.

  • Tiredofitall says:

    “And the Met is never two thirds unsold.” From the inside, I can tell you that is simply untrue…by a long-shot.

    False statements just undercut your argument.

    • Also Tired says:

      The Met has row upon row of empty seats. This even after aggressive papering downstairs and all manner of discount ticket flogging.

  • william osborne says:

    Contextualizing information is helpful. Berlin has three full time opera houses. They all average between 80 to 85% capacity. The Met seats about 3800, far larger than almost all houses, so its capacity numbers tend to be low, though they used to be much higher. (It’s also too big by almost all musical standards.)

    The German houses literally aim for about 85% which allows a balance between popular and innovative programming. The government keeps close tabs on how the houses are doing and large reports appear periodically. Read about one here in German:

    Remember that NYC lost the NYCO which reformed and now runs on a dismally small budget that would not even suit a small European town. That’s much more of a scandal than the Met’s loss of public.

    • william osborne says:

      Opera tickets in most of the EU cost only about 25% of what they do in the States. And the houses are far better at keeping costs controlled and quality high. There are no stage hands paid half a million a year as at the Met. And no oboists making $410k a year as recently reported about a US orchestra. These controls also allow for cultural funding to be spread more evenly around the country instead of being concentrated in a few financial centers where the very wealthy live. And it allows for far more full time cultural institutions. The American cultural funding system is in need of massive reforms.

      • John Rook says:

        A very pertinent and informative comment.

      • Sharon says:

        I agree. The tickets are just too expensive and tourists in general come for Broadway, not opera.

        Papering the house? Never heard of it at the Met. Discounting? Only through a complicated computer rush lottery or in the nosebleed section.

        Another issue is the Opera in HD. The filming is now so good that I feel in the movie theater like I have a $350 seat. Why pay $300 for a ticket at the Met when (at least in my non musician’s opinion, I can have a good experience with a $26 ticket locally?

        Believe me, I am not complaining because I greatly benefit. Apart from the price of the ticket issue I personally would not have the time to attend most Met performances if they were not at my local movie theater and I live in the Bronx.

        The Met receives a lot of government money and has to do outreach. However I believe the major sports teams will not broadcast locally unless the stadium is a certain percentage full. Maybe the Met needs to follow suit.

        In addition the fact that Levine is not longer being broadcast on Met Opera radio may be a factor. (The one opera broadcast with him conducting a couple of weeks ago appears to have been a one shot thing; maybe in error). The issue may not be Levine himself but the reduced quality of the other, much older, broadcasts.

        The radio broadcasts represent the live Met orchestra. If it does not sound so good, even if a listener consciously knows that the reason is the age of the recording, subconsciously he/she may be less likely to choose the Met if he/she is considering a cultural activity on a free night, especially when the price of the ticket is considered.

        • Yes Addison says:

          Or they might hear Renata Tebaldi, Birgit Nilsson, Leontyne Price, or Carlo Bergonzi on one of those broadcasts and think that THAT is what they’ll hear at the Met, which would be a great inducement.

          In any case, there is not and never has been a preponderance of very old broadcasts on Sirius. Here is the schedule for the coming week, which is hardly atypical.

          As you see, in the programming week beginning Monday there are broadcasts as old as 1950 and as new as 1998, and far more from the Lincoln Center years than from the 39th and Broadway years. The decades most often played are the ’50s through ’90s. Once in a while, something older or newer than that range (the ’41 Fidelio with Flagstad and Maison; the ’07 Boccanegra with Hampson and Gheorghiu), but at the fringes.

  • Anonymous says:

    Shame on Peter Gelb.

  • John Porter says:

    So, how many tickets did the Met sell and how many did Berlin sell? This direct data comparison was omitted making this piece, from a statistical standpoint, obtuse.

    Perhaps the Met sells more tickets, one might never know and this blog post leads the reader to believe the underperforming by comparison. I think it is well understood that selling tickets, with as many productions as the Met offers, in a hall of that size is increasingly problematic by American standards.

    There are less that 1400 seats in the Staatsopera and 3800 seats at The Met. It may just be that the Met sells more tickets, for those who count such things.

    I think Osborne is on the mark: we should be talking about why New York cannot syupport two major opera companies rather than comparing percentage of tickets sold per concert at The Met and The Berline Staatsopera.

  • La Verita says:

    94% of what total figure versus 70% of what figure? If it’s 94% of 1400 seats vs 70% of 3800 seats….

    • norman lebrecht says:

      False accounting. The Staatsoper competes in Berlin against the Deutsche Oper and Komische Oper. Together, they have as many seats as the Met. And together they are playing in the 90s.

      • Tiredofitall says:

        And don’t forget that Berlin has about 40% the population of New York City (@3.5 million to 8.5 million). On the flip side, the median household income in Berlin is about 50% higher than in NYC. These demographics should figure in the equation.

      • Monsoon says:

        The Met does 7 operas a week. These other companies do 3 or 4.

        Even after you combine these 3 opera companies, the Met probably has a larger total ticket inventory each season.

        And as I noted in a post below, while there may not be another major opera company in New York City, there is still plenty of other opera in the city’s many other theaters.

        • william osborne says:

          See my comment below. NYC is no longer even in the top ten for opera performances per year. And even if the Met’s weekly totals are sometimes high, their season is only seven months long while corresponding houses in the EU usually run about 10.5 to 11 months a year.

        • Sharon says:

          Other Opera Companies? Semi professional outfits like the Amore Opera, Little Opera NY, Chelsea Opera etc. taken altogether do maybe 60 performances full opera performances a year in New York City, if that. And these little opera companies do not have full orchestras but do have unsophisticated sets (painted backdrops etc.)

          • Tiredofitall says:

            Thank goodness someone said it. The efforts of the small companies are laudable, but the comparison is apples and oranges.

    • Saxon Broken says:

      I am afraid Norman is right on this. All the full-time opera houses in Berlin are selling 80-90 percent, and they put on more shows than New York does each week. The three Berlin venues together have comfortably more capacity than the Met.

      Of course “most of the shows have two-thirds unsold” can’t be true if the Met sells 70 percent capacity on average. But nevertheless, the figures do not look great in New York, with too many shows not much more than half full.

  • Caravaggio says:

    The obvious bears repeating: The size of the Met auditorium has overstayed its welcome. Time to gut it and start anew. Ever declining interest in the art form coupled with ever declining standards of singing, not to mention the unprecedented disappearance of vocal stars, is the writing on the wall anyone not paying attention needs.

    • barry guerrero says:

      I couldn’t agree more. When “Gotterdaemerung” – of all operas – sounds as though it had a mute stuck in it, you know something’s wrong.

  • Anonsong says:

    Perhaps it is most pertinent to compare the Met with the Met? In the early decades, when the the population had it’s wealthy, and it’s poor, as it does now, they managed to keep the house full. Now there are even more wealthy people, and citizens of modest means can afford the standing and rush tickets. We also have more visitors from abroad with the means to attend the opera. Berlin, Houston Grand, etc., face the same competition for the “entertainment “ dollars, yet their attendance is up. They also face the same lgeneral lack of student music education and arts funding. Two thousand eight, and the years directly succeeding don’t really count, as it was a dagger to a major organ that nearly killed art and industry altogether, so they don’t count… But aside from that, insults and indifference from the top alienated the most loyal fan base, negatively affecting the numbers, and all the desperate marketing dollars in the world will never compensate for an (with some notable exceptions) inferior product. Opera fans feel incredibly strongly and deeply about their art form. If the Met was producing in it’s previously wondrous form, wild horses could not be keeping them out of those seats. Seductive reasoning.

  • Jackie says:

    If most nights the Met is two thirds unsold, ie only 33 percent of the seats are filled, how many seats would have to be sold on the not-most nights in order for the attendance to be in vicinity of 70 percent on average?

    Let’s not Donald Trump the math for the sake of a saucy story, mkay?

  • Marcus Clayton says:

    I am not sure why, at the Met at least, anyone should be particularly concerned about ticket sales. The Met’s operating budget does not rely heavily on the box office receipts. Of course, it would help if the box office sales were better overall.
    But the Met has always relied on donations from individual donors and corporate donors to fund their budget. I’ve been going to the Met since the early ’80’s, and there have always been performances at the Met that didn’t sell well.
    Also, I don’t think the problems with the Met can be laid totally at Peter Gelb’s feet.
    It is the board that is the problem. Obviously someone on the board felt it was a good idea to keep James Levine on for decade after decade, robbing the place of any artistic growth. Gelb inherited this mess, and now look where it has gone.
    ‘Hopefully Maestro Yannick Nézet-Séguin will guide the Met to a new level of musical and artistic integrity.

  • Michael says:

    People in NYC tend to work later hours than people in Europe, making weekday shows prohibitive. It sounds like the Met is doing just fine on weekends if it still averages 70% even though most days it’s 2/3 empty. Not saying this is the only reason attendance is lower, but let’s not over-simplify the matter. There are many socio-economic reasons for why someone may attend a show in one City more often than another, none of which confer shame on the Met.

  • Rob Jackson says:

    Just get rid of Gelb at the MET. It’s a starter.

  • Tiredofitall says:

    As a New Yorker, I can tell you that is not necessarily true. The subways, restaurants, and bars are packed by 6 p.m. every weeknight. Most people work 9-5 or 10 to 6 or earlier. Every restaurant opposite Lincoln Center (Bar Boulud, Boulud Sud, Fiorello, the Smith, and others) are buzzing by 5 p.m. every day.

    There are a multitude of reasons for the Met’s decline, and I fear most of them self-imposed. One of the most obvious being the cannibalization by the HD transmissions, not just in the metro area, but across the country. Yes, there are certainly benefits, but a careful cost-benefit analysis was never done, or at least paid attention to. The start of the precipitous decline in opera house ticket sales followed their debut season.

    Another reason is that Lincoln Center is not a welcoming place for individuals or families desiring a night out. Food in the Lincoln Center area, particularly at the Met, is prohibitive (and pretty awful). When Lincoln Center had the option to put in a restaurant on campus, they opted for the VERY high-priced and exclusive Lincoln Restaurant, rather than an affordable option for the multitudes. (A vanity project of Reynold Levy).

    Much like going to Broadway (which, by the way, is not suffering from 8 p.m. curtains), a night at the Met can set a couple or a family back hundreds and hundreds of dollars. Hardly culture for the many.

    • Also Tired says:

      Tired is right. Gelb has cannibalized the audience. The HD venues in New York and environs are full of people who no longer go to the Met for live opera. It’s a shame for musical reasons (the experience is clearly not the same) and also mangerially stupid. Totally forseeable. Gelb did this – no one else.

    • Michael says:

      My point is that on average people in NY work later than people in Europe, not that no one in NY gets out of work at 5 pm. Also don’t think the Broadway comparison is fair since Broadway is largely supported by tourists while opera is more supported by locals (and maybe the Met should do a better job luring tourists.) The larger point is that any comparison of one city’s opera house to another’s requires a much deeper analysis before blanket condemnation is imposed on one house.

    • barry guerrero says:

      “Another reason is that Lincoln Center is not a welcoming place for individuals or families desiring a night out”

      Gee, you think! I found that the good AND affordable restaurants were in Brooklyn or Jersey (and even those weren’t too cheap, but what is!)

  • Monsoon says:

    Not only is this a specious comparison because the Met has more than 2.5x seats, but the Met does 7 operas a week. It looks like the Staatsoper does just 4.

    So in a week, the Met’s total ticket inventory is 26,600; Staatsoper is 5,600.

    But wait, there’s more. The Met does about 225 performances per season (I’m pretty sure that it’s the busiest opera house in the world for opera*). That’s 855,000 potential ticket sales.

    So when people wonder why it is that smaller European cities have multiple opera companies and NYC only has one, the Met could sell enough tickets to fill three opera houses. And while there may not be another major opera company in the city, there is plenty of other opera, such as at BAM, Rose Theater, and the Park Ave. Armory.

    *Wiener Staatsoper does more total performances when you include ballet

    • william osborne says:

      Berlin had 445 opera performances last year, and New York 248.

      Moscow had 603, Vienna 500, and St. Petersburg 491. NYC is no longer even among the top ten for opera performances per year.

      Details at Operbase:

      • Monsoon says:

        1. I question the count of opera performances are. The Met does around 225 in a season; there are way more than 23 other opera performances in the city. I suspect that they are just looking at performances by major opera companies. There are a ton of small opera groups in the NYC— see the New York Opera Alliance’s website (

        Further, they’re looking at metro area, not the city — there are way more than 23 other opera performances in the metro area.

        2. Using metro area creates an apples and oranges comparison. The NY metro area is massive — is stretches from New Haven all the way to the Philly suburbs. It takes as long as two hours to get to the Met from the edge of the NY metro area. It doesn’t actually represent the region that the Met serves.

        3. People who don’t live in the city wrongly use the attendance at the major cultural institutions as a metric for the health of opera and classical music in the city. Look at the weekly event listings in “The New Yorker” magazine — it’s insane how much is going on. Lincoln Center and Carnegie Hall are very much in competition with BAM, 92nd Street Y, and the Park Ave Armory — they all host the same A-list musicians and ensembles.

    • Brian Bell says:

      To me, it seems pretty obvious that the MET needs to start what is called in some circles as “demand pricing”. The goal should be to get as much income as possible on any given night. In order to do that, one must swallow hard and accept the fact that one must price the seat, not what you think it is worth, but what is required to fill the hall. It is the AUDIENCE that decides what La Boheme is worth on a Wednesday night, it is up to the management to decide if they want to price it so that 3400 opera lovers will show up. So if one sells the seats for 20 bucks and sells out the hall, well then, aren’t you doing a slightly better job of fulfilling your mission to perpetuate opera through the 21st Century?

      • Monsoon says:

        The problem isn’t the price. Front and center in the Family Circle is only $35. The view obviously isn’t as good as the Orchestra or Grand Tier, but it has the best sound in the house. And depending on the night, you can sit in the Orchestra Balance for like $140 (that’s like the price of doing anything in NYC for 3 or 4 hours at night).

        The issue is that the Met does 7 performances a week; with everything else you can see and do in NYC, is it really surprising that ticket sales on a Monday or Tuesday nights are weak?

        If the Met cut a day most of those people would migrate to other days of the week and their utilization capacity would jump. But to cut a day they have to negotiate new contracts with all of the unions.

        Or what’s probably an easier lift is doing one or two nights at a smaller theater. If the blue hairs are going to clutch their pearls anytime the Met performs a contemporary opera at Lincoln Center, how about establishing a residency somewhere else in the city for that.

      • Tiredofitall says:

        With all due respect, you must not attend the Met regularly. They have been doing demand pricing for years, following the practice of Broadway theaters and airlines. I’m sure it is as effective at maximizing income per seat as it is at pissing off long-time attendees.

        • Brian Bell says:

          Doesn’t matter whether I’ve attended performances at the MET. Empty seats are empty seats. If they have been doing demand pricing for years, they aren’t doing a very good job of it.

          • Tiredofitall says:

            Well, it kind of does matter when you’re making ill-informed statements about what the Met is or is not doing and then posting them. Not to be crude, but that is “talking out of your b—“.

          • Saxon Broken says:

            Errr…is it better to sell two-thirds of the venue at a high price, or fill the house at a low price? Which raises more income?

  • MacroV says:

    Another question: How many different operas are staged at the MET each year vs. in Berlin or Vienna? The MET does about 25. I suspect in Berlin it’s 40+ between the three houses. If one opera doesn’t sell particularly well in a season, it doesn’t drag down the overall numbers the way it would at the MET. I’ll give James Levine credit for one thing: He did some operas that he really believed in – notably Wozzeck and Lulu – even though they generally won’t come close to filling a 3,800-seat theatre.

  • Manuela Hoelterhoff says:

    Unlike every opera house on the planet the Met does not perform on Sunday, a day when quite a number of people might actually like to go to the opera. this goes back for decades and the unions like it that way.

    • MacroV says:

      Excellent point. Really, the MET should play on Sunday and go dark on Monday. There are a surprising number of U.S. orchestras that don’t play (or play infrequently) on Sundays. I understand the desire to have some time off on the weekend, but they are in a business where they need to play when people have time to come listen.

    • Tiredofitall says:

      Good point, and, to be fair, performing on Sundays has been on the agenda for a number of years. Sadly, it is a union sticking point that probably won’t go away, since the company has no bargaining chip (i.e, money) to balance such a proposition.

    • Nik says:

      Yes! The ROH often does 3pm matinees on Sundays which are highly popular. Obviously they are much more convenient for out-of-towners who want to catch a train home, but even I who live locally often go to these. It’s a lovely way to spend a Sunday afternoon, and you get out in time for a civilised dinner instead of having the usual choice between eating really early or really late. I’ve no idea why this isn’t emulated by every opera house in the world.

  • Emil says:

    Yet more shame for the MET: The Green Bay Packers have several thousand names on the waiting list for seasons tickets!!!

    Since we seem to be comparing things with radically different structures, funding situations, pricing models, and socioeconomic contexts and little in common, the Green Bay Packers comparison to the MET is as valid as that of the Staatsoper.

    P-S: “Berlin Opera” could refer to any of the three full-season opera houses in Berlin.

    • barry guerrero says:

      “the Green Bay Packers comparison to the MET is as valid as that of the Staatsoper”

      Yes, but what about the G.B. Packers to the Staatsoper?

      Perhaps using the San Diego Chargers of Inglewood, instead, would make for a more relevant comparison.

  • John Porter says:

    I think that a more accurate point to make might be about American taste and/or the taste of New Yorkers. The Met isn’t that big a deal anymore in New York. In Berlin, well, classical music is a very different matter entirely. A good deal of the classical music is German and Germany has always placed this music (classical/opera) on a higher pedestal than New York/America. There are any number of major cities in America that do not have a real opera company. Norman, shouldn’t the issue be around why America cannot embrace opera and classical music the same way it is in Germany?