The Met puffs up a tiny rise in its bottom line

The Met puffs up a tiny rise in its bottom line


norman lebrecht

May 14, 2019

Peter Gelb has reported that, across the season that ended this weekend, the box office reached 69 percent of its capacity.

That’s up from 67% in the past two seasons and 66%, a record low, in 2015-16.

‘To me that that’s encouraging news. It provides us with some cautious optimism,’ Gelb told AP. ‘If we haven’t entirely turned the corner, we’re at least moving in the right direction.’

He admitted, however, that many tickets were being sold at discount, and went on to spin that statistic to maintain that 75 percent of actual seats were sold.

Botom line: the Met is still playing one-quarter to one-third empty.



  • Mustafa Kandan says:

    It is a massive hall and best seats are rather expensive in European standards. The other advantages of European houses , like Vienna, is massive tourism which obviously does not exist in the Metropolitan as it should (everyone who visits New York should attend this opera house, but most don’t). Obviously there is a decline in interest in opera in the USA which no present or future administration in this house could easily reverse. I would not blame Gelb for this situation.

    • Caravaggio says:

      And to keep beating a dead horse, the decline in interest in opera in the USA and abroad too (albeit less so in Europe thus far) is attributable to, in no particular order, lack of musical and cultural education, lack of foreign language education, lack of time and energy to attend performances should any be available around town, lack of financial resources to buy repeated expensive tickets, lack of ability to focus still for the length of an opera, stiff competition from other entertainment options, and last but not least and the boogaboo in the room, the unprecedented collapse of important voices and of singing standards, reminiscent of environmental bee decolonization-decimation worldwide. Kick and scream all you want if you are reading this, especially if you are reading this and your livelihood depends on singing or in hiring or managing singers but sorry to announce that, yes, this is where we are, in this sorry lot.

    • Bogda says:

      Selling 495$ seats for Dialogues des Carmélites certainly won’t help to fill up the house. Maybe lowering the price could.
      Tourism story is a more than overblown. Vienna sells out most of it shows way before any tourist even considers visiting Vienna not to mention the opera. Sure there are some tourists, but it’s not the main reason tickets Vienna sells out. Nor is that the reason Bastille is full or Munich or etc….
      Certainly there are reasons beyond Met’s influence, such as declining art and humanities education in the US. But there is certainly a lot that could be done by management to bring in new audience. Constantly offering same repertoire, with productions that are getting more boring year by year and declining musical standards certainly won’t bring anyone new to the opera

      • Monsoon says:

        Spoken like someone who has never been to the Met [redacted]

        The Met stages ~25 operas a season and ~5 new productions, but apparently, that’s not enough variety to satisfy anyone.

        One of the attendance issues is that the Saturday matinees are far and away the most popular day — fewer people want to see opera on weeknights. In particular, Monday nights, which used to have the best attendance, have collapsed. I don’t see how you can blame that audience shift on management. And management is responding by adding Sunday matinees and going dark on Monday.

      • Don Ciccio says:

        Actually, when I attended Dialogues des Carmélites there weren’t too many empty seats.

        Pretty good show, too.

      • John Kelly says:

        It was full for Dialogues. I was there and it was superb.

      • John Kelly says:

        I might add it’s pretty easy to pony $400 for a ticket to a Broadway play nowadays. No way of getting in to those for a Family Circle special at $35

      • Me! says:

        They have dynamic pricing- subscription best ticket under $300 same show; if not close to sold out not over $400. And they usually have rarer shows each season (carmelites eg not shown yearly – anywhere!)

      • MacroV says:

        I’m not really in a tax bracket for $450 (but thank you to the investment bankers who pony it up), but Carmelites is one show I might have paid that much to see; great opera in one of the MET’s classic productions (Dexter’s masterpiece will surely outlive all else). It’s one of the glories of the MET’s repertoire and one of the times you see the company at its absolute best.

        But I hope you’re not complaining about Carmelites and at the same time about “same repertoire, with productions getting more boring year by year.” Would seem kind of contradictory.

    • John Kelly says:

      Mustafa, you can get in for $30 and sit in the Family Circle with the best sound in the house. You can stand for less.

    • tristan says:

      he is not great but the house itself is even worse. just keep the facade and create a warm space for opera the way it was originally written for. the MET is a monster

  • Cantantelirico says:

    Most theaters in America would be forced to close with such a dismal fiscal performance. The funding for Gelb’s so-called vision does not come from box office revenue. It is provided by very wealthy donors who have been duped for over a decade now. Gelb’s vision has nothing to do with filling seats and it never has. 69% is nothing to be proud of. It would have been wiser on his part to remain silent rather than try to paint an encouraging picture with such shameful percentages. There has to be someone out there with true artistic vision who can raise the prominence of the Metropolitan Opera to the stature it so justly deserves.

  • brian says:

    I’ve lived 3 decades+ in NYC, and my experience has been that New Yorkers tend to have a nose for creativity. And for faux-or-derived creativity. Is the Met doing anything that’s not rehashed, borrowed, or imported? Even their American stuff this year — the Gershwin and the Glass — are productions by others, aren’t they?

    Now, if the Met started making and doing truly original productions, would that significantly upgrade their box office? Fair question, and I don’t have a firm answer for that — my tea leaves are all dried up with age. I’m just saying it’s worth a try. Again: New Yorkers tend to respond to creativity.

    • Me! says:

      They commission and co-commission original productions every year. It’s the commissionees who are either “truly creative “ or not and genius talents are not common

  • Elvira says:

    Too expensive for not so great productions

  • Karl says:

    Maybe they could just take out 500 seats. My calculation says that would make the hall 87% full on average.

  • Daniel Layne says:

    I attend the Met regularly, and from what I see there are many factors which affect the box office numbers. They don’t always make sense to me but they are there nonetheless. There were several performances that were sold out this season. I attended Ring Cycle 1, which was completely sold out for all for operas. They were very mediocre performances overall, yet the audience was indeed packed with tourists and regulars.
    Any Anna Netrebko performance will sell well, as did the Aida and Adriana Lecouvreur.
    The Met can and does sell certain productions well.
    However, they need to cast them well.
    Many top name singers aren’t on the roster for next season. We’ll see how next season sells.

    • Marshall says:

      Your first two sentences don’t make sense to me?

      The next is just a statement without additional substance. I attended the second Ring Cycle and it was totally sold out-but unlike you found it quite wonderful. Perhaps if you explained why it was ” very mediocre performances overall” in your humble opinion, the statement might have more meaning? Was it perfect? did it not have some weak links? was the machine production to everyone’s taste? etc. all that is open to discussion, but what Ring productions don’t have those problems?

      The general problem with the Met is the same as with all classical music-limited interest in this era, and a very aging audience. Voices always made opera, but we live in an era with two global stars, and one cancels all the time. When I started going to opera in the 1960s there were several stars in every vocal category, and that sold out houses.The silly productions, particularly in Europe are not extending the life of the form, merely a sign of its slow, sad, death.

      • David Rohde says:

        Thank you, Marshall. While your statement is substantially more extreme and dire than my own outlook, it gets at something that always concerns me about these discussions. It’s that a lot of the “reasons” given for attendance issues are really personal hobbyhorses and are much more trivial in actual quantitative impact than the commenter supposes them to be. That doesn’t mean I disagree with all of them. But for example, the way I would contextualize the often disturbing or silly ways that productions attempt to “update” operas is that they are failed attempts to attract younger non-opera-goers that make no real difference if opera as a whole is never on those people’s cultural radar screen. And under this measuring stick there are certain items here that I believe are objectively false as reasons for empty seats. Much as I might like going to the opera (along with many other things in America) to be less expensive, the fact is, as others have said, that people of quite moderate means will shell out huge sums to jam Broadway theaters. Cost just isn’t a good enough explanation for what we’re talking about overall, although it obviously factors in to some marginal extent when there’s also a substantial question of a given show’s quality – opera OR musical theater.

        Two things I’d like to see simply dropped from this kind of problem-solving discussion, the first one I’m sure surprising to most people:

        – “Lack of music education in the schools.” Of course!! But that ship has basically sailed. Besides, the overwhelmingly larger variable in anyone’s interest in classical music (or other serious cultural arts) is exposure in the HOME. For Americans, what I’d like people to remember is that we do have a powerful ability as a society to make things go viral. I DO absolutely foresee more of this happening with more (deserving and individually compelling) classical stars sometime in the future, especially as our society diversifies including to some sub-cultures where this is more ingrained, who will then reflect that out to all of their age peers of different backgrounds. Let’s think positive on this front.

        – “Kids today … they can’t sit still … they need constant stimulation” etc. This kills me. Have you ever actually gone to a Broadway (or presumably West End) show that is attracting the high school and young college crowd? (“Dear Evan Hansen” is a good current example.) It’s true, you have to hook people, and kids are people – but once you do, don’t tell me they can’t take it in. Also I do understand this kind of comment for middle schoolers and below. But this is just the kind of school-marmy comment that doesn’t advance the ball, to use an American football expression. It lacks context and I’d like people to get some context. I do expect some thumbs down on what I’m saying, but that’s perfectly fine with me! I hope it helps.

  • John Kelly says:

    It depends what is on. It was full for all three Ring cycles and also for Dialogues of the Carmelites – which was truly outstanding I might add. The Met bashing is kind of getting tedious. What they pull off week in week out during the season is a logistical miracle. Sure every performance isn’t “great” and some warhorses are overplayed but much of the time the performances are superb and the orchestra remains non pareil, and I’ve heard the Vienna State Opera and La Scala in situ.

  • Me! says:

    Which is still more people than the royal opera house and most others bring in and present opera to

  • Ms.Melody says:

    The reasons for low Met attendance are multiple
    The HD transmissions, although terrific in reaching audiences worldwide have made it possible to see an opera cheaply without having to travel to the Met.
    Another important reason is that performances are frequently mediocre and are not worth the price of admission. There are more and more cheap, ugly regie productions at the Met although not as many as in Europe, but the visual splendor of opera is vanishing. I have been coming to the Met for almost forty years and the general decline in quality of staging and singing is painfully obvious. And yes, I believe, Peter Gelb is responsible for engaging directors who have no knowledge and no respect for the art form.
    The most important reason , of course, voiced by several contributors already, is decline in singing. Singers perform when they are ill and the performances suffer. One only needs to recall the disastrous Radames, heard in HD and a poor performance on the opening night of Otello by an indisposed tenor.
    “The show must go on” just does not work in opera. If the singer is not in top form, he or she should not sing It is unfair to the public and dangerous to their careers.
    Many of current stars are vastly overrated and probably would not make it past the chorus thirty years ago.
    As for the ticket prices, Family circle tickets(great sound) is priced almost the same as the HD movie ticket, and most of the time, that is all the performance is worth.

    • MacroV says:

      Not an uncommon view but I wonder how much this is nostalgia. I’ve heard from insiders (several times removed) about how the MET back in the “glory days” was dismal many nights; it’s hard to put on a great show every night. People just tend to remember the glorious nights with Price, Tebaldi, and others, and forget the dreck.

      Today the orchestra is hands-down better than it was decades ago, probably the conducting most nights, and no doubt the acting. Singers? Don’t know enough to say.

      It betrays my repertory preferences, but would also suggest that the best times to go are when the work is something the orchestra finds really compelling: Wagner or Strauss, then Wozzeck, Lulu, Les Troyens, Pelleas, and without doubt, Carmelites. Not that they don’t love Mozart, Verdi and Puccini, but Traviata probably loses its charm after the 25th performance.

  • Ben says:

    Looking at the subscription brochure, there is not a single performance this season (nor next) that worth a red circle (“must see”).

    Ridiculous pricing + Expensive overhead (parking / dining). Why bother going?

    Audience psychology is a curious factor: If the house is consistently 30% empty, there is no incentive to secure a seat ahead of time. And if ticket is not purchased in advance, chances are, people wouldn’t bother to go at the last moment — unless there is a drastic discount (like same-day Broadway tickets). The empty seats just make me feel cold. I cannot help but wonder — Am I attending the wrong thing? May be I should walk across the plaza to hear NYPhil (just avoid JvZ … you would get a good night of music)

    P.S. MET is a depressingly snobbish place. I absolutely hate it. Walking into the Staatsoper is a completely different experience …. the aura is electrifying.

    • Caravaggio says:

      Not just snobbish but extremely arrogant. It is the arrogance of New Yorkers who too often choose to ignore superior performances, as much as that is possible and longer in our days, elsewhere across the pond because if it didn’t happen in their burgh then it effectively didn’t happen at all. They also have the annoying tendency to endlessly conflate the accomplishments, merited or not, of singers who hail from or have/have had a strong connection to their corner of the garden (Callas, Sills, Tucker, Goerke today, et. al.).