The Met rules out distanced performances

The Met rules out distanced performances


norman lebrecht

May 24, 2020

From the NY Times:

The Metropolitan Opera, which ordinarily can hold nearly 4,000 people, says it would be able to seat an audience of 400 if it introduces social distancing, making its already delicate financial model untenable. ‘I can’t imagine any scenario in which performances can take place at the Met when social distancing is still a factor,’ said Peter Gelb, the opera’s general manager.

That’s fairly definitive.



  • Sir David Geffen-Hall says:

    Good for him. Calling it like it is.

    No dodging this bullet that will eliminate many small, medium and large institutions.

    If consumers get used to a new normal with digital music, then the present has competition with the past in terms of YouTube, streaming services like NAXOS, Pandora and SPOTIFY.

    The next 6 months are going to be a real test for the arts and how we consume the arts moving forward.

    Let the Hunger Games begin….

    • Una says:

      I couldn’t agree more with yourself and Peter Gelb. There is more to putting on an opera after you’ve got the social distancing in place – there is the finance, employment, theatre staff, normal health & safety and medical matters you get in a theatre as a matter of course, and providing all the PPE for even St John Ambulance in Britain should someone have a heart attack – and it happens. That’s all before the opera even starts, and then the social distancing of the singers on stage and the orchestra. You can’t financially run a 4,000-seater with 400 in there social distancing, whether it’s full every night or not. Same for the smaller London Coliseum and English National Opera, or Covent Garden.

    • Bob says:

      How about we all go back to work. And take your new normal and stick it, Stop being afraid to live.

      • e r says:

        Hear Hear!!!

      • Petros Linardos says:

        How many should die to let the fearless live?

        • Jeff says:

          How many musicians should lose their entire livelihoods and decades worth of work and dedication?

          • Tiredofitall says:

            This would include many other specialised professions. We live in a world, not a tunnel.

          • blue wave says:

            People need to PROTEST Lincoln Center the way folks in Minneapolis are doing.

          • Juan Sanchez says:

            THANK YOU JEFF!

            The MET already cut both contracted and employed individuals off leaving them with NO INCOME and NO FINANCIAL ASSISTANCE!!!!!

            Which specific organizations or political leaders in NY have stepped up to carry them in their time of need?

            PS Cuomo’s own list of non-essential businesses set to phase in re-opening puts the Arts DEAD LAST.

            Norman needs to assemble all the resources available to those fighting to merely pay rent or eat and build a comprehensive article that empowers the industry he so thoughtfully covers.

            They can’t live on passive authoritarianism and media fear.

          • Hmus says:

            you seem to prefer that the musicians should lose their lives entirely? Why do you assume that the musicians wish to be forced to take the risk, and want their audiences to do so?

          • Charlotte Dunn says:

            A paycheck for rent, food, bills…

      • Tiredofitall says:

        We’ll see you around, then. Maybe not.

      • Enrique Sanchez says:

        Bob: Apparently, you have forgotten how to think and reason. See you in the graveyard.

        • Herb Cohen says:

          Some of us want to WORK for a living as opposed to being a government dependent leech no matter the circumstances.

          That’s if the government actually comes through since blue states have FAILED and used excuses to justify their poor decisions as usual. So sad to see all these formerly employed people languishing with no one to take responsibility and simply get things done without blaming anyone else.

          PS Our financial firm donates and volunteers to deliver food in NYC to pantries. It’s sad to see people left hanging by Cuomo’s administration.

  • A.L. says:

    The 4,000 seat house very rarely sells out any longer. This is a direct consequence of an aging and fast disappearing subscriber base and of badly trained singers complete with mosquito or mediocre voices at best, uninteresting vocal personalities and want of artistry. But then, Ponselle and Flagstad, say, could resuscitate tonight and the younger generation would neither notice nor care. Peter Gelb and his board keep buying time while kicking the proverbial can. But the inevitable is writ large. The house needs demolishing and rebuilding to a quarter of its size. Barring that, breaking up the space into about 3 or 4 separate spaces for different performance disciplines may do the trick. Good luck.

    • Enquiring Mind says:

      Two corrections to your insightful analysis about the classical music/opera base. Its been reliant on older people for quite some time and every generation there is a new older generation. The life expectancy, and more importantly, the number of “good years” is increasing. The customers are there.

      • Nancy says:

        The New York Times reported the demise of classical music due to aging audiences (and they actually used the term ‘blue-heads’) back in the early 1950s.

      • A Pianist says:

        Citations please? That is not what the ASOL statistics I have seen suggest. The fantasy does persist. That was the fantasy back in the 80s and 90s, when I was coming up, that as people aged they would learn to love classical music and rebuild the audience. But it turned out people who grew up with rock stayed with rock right through. They didn’t much gravitate to classical. And the classical footprint diminished and continues to diminish at a rapid rate.

        • Petros Linardos says:

          My personal observation is that people’s taste for classical music develops by the early 20s at the latest, and evolves during the later years.

    • Carlo Bergonzi says:


      • Carl Rogers says:

        Pleased to see you are alive and well. Could you come to New York and do a fund raiser for the Met? Best wishes.

      • A.L. says:

        Hey Bergonzi, a silver lining. With the house reduced to a quarter of its size, the mosquitoes would have a field day being heard without strain. They may still be unable to sing Wagner or Strauss but at least they could stick to period-practice Handel, Mozart,

        • Matthias says:

          Proof that modern university education is absolutely NOT worth the hyper-inflated cost.

          Comments constantly bemoan the modern “Mosquito Voices” lacking solid technique.

          Sub-par professors paired with drowning in student loan debt clearly isn’t working for these snowflake singers. Ugh!

  • Larry says:

    They could certainly fit more than 400 since many of their patrons buy tickets in pairs, ie., spouse, partner, significant other, etc. If they are living side by side at home then they can sit side by side at the Met.

    But, of course it’s not just about the audience but also about the cast, orchestra, ushers, backstage people and stage crew. And it’s also about these people perhaps using public transportation to get to the Met.

    It’s a mess no matter how you figure it.

  • Ben G. says:

    Totally ridiculous.

    And what about the musicians in the pit? Will they be expected to perform with fewer players and be distanced from each other as well?

    Hard to imagine any opera production being presented with a cut-down orchestra…..

  • Cubs Fan says:

    Go streaming so I can watch – and subscribe – and pay – at home! You can’t socially distance in the local movie theater to watch either. Start a Roku channel.

  • Bill says:

    The audience logistics are the least of this. A lot of this decision is most assuredly being driven by their legal counsel and their insurance carrier.

    Also, if you’ve ever been backstage or in the orchestra pit during a Met production, there are hundreds of musicians, stage crew and performers in close proximity.

    It would be virtually impossible for the cast, crew and orchestra to socially distance in any meaningful way.

  • V.Lind says:

    Perhaps. But if other major houses go along with social distancing for a time, it is also suicidal.

    I loathe houses that big. I doubt there are 400 good seats in it.

    • Tiredofitall says:

      So, you’ve not been?

      • V.Lind says:

        No, but I have been countless times to Covent Garden, in great seat or in the press box (which is not). And to ENO. As well as countless other opera houses around the world.

        I dislike being too far away to see, and I oppose with every fibre of my being the notion that it is all right to sell tickets with “restricted view.”

        A rear seat in a sold-out show at the Hummingbird Centre in Toronto was enough to convince me that the Met was too big for my taste. And don’t talk about acoustics. I do not dress up, pay up, go out to opera for a strictly audio experience that I can have by flicking a switch at home. Indeed, I appreciate the importance of the live experience — I have been attending theatres steadily since I was 4. But that involves being able to see as well as hear.

        As audiences are shrinking, perhaps it is time to think about theatre sizes shrinking too. It would cost the Met a lot less to heat and staff a smaller house. Gut it and convert it for varied uses. And cut the size of the opera house by at least — at least — half.

        All this in an ideal world when demand for anything at all resurfaces…

        • Tiredofitall says:

          So, then, you’ve NOT been. Pity. But couldn’t you have been a little less wordy? A simple yes or no would suffice.

        • A Pianist says:

          Strangely, the best acoustics I ever got in Avery Fisher were seats that were actually ” no view” seats. I was tottering directly over the NY Phil for Britten’s War Requiem and the acoustics were spectacular. Opera is a different story though.

  • I says:

    I agree. This whole mess is shit

  • Bruce says:

    400? Okaaay…

  • fflambeau says:

    Gelb is right. This is a huge problem for the Met. Let’s hope that all works out in the end and that a solution that balances safety first with performances happens.

  • IntBaritone says:

    Seems about right.

    Shouldn’t surprise anyone that doesn’t have his or her head buried in the sand.

    Gonna have to come up with new stuff, folks, because grand opera ain’t gonna be around any time soon…

  • It’s the power which seduces. says:

    The theater itself only functions as an HD movie studio for Peter.

  • Mike Gibb says:

    Most photos of socially-distanced theatre audiences that I have seen have had a few couples but a majority of people sitting on their own.
    Presumably family-friendly performances would raise the numbers quite substantially as groups of three or four would become more common.
    Just a thought.

  • Luke says:

    It’s not only definitive, it also is honest. The venues that say they are trying to figure out if they can find a way to abide by social distancing are likely kidding themselves. At least the Met is facing facts and dealing with reality.

  • nomen nescio says:

    “Social distancing” would work perfectly, as long as no one in the audience coughs. Or breathes. What about singing “in the mask”? Face it, it`s gone.

  • mary says:

    -400 patrons only from corporate sponsors making the biggest annual donations or from the most generous board members

    – auction off any remaining seats to the highest bidders

    – reduce the scenery to bare minimum, if any at all, like during the anniversary gala performances

    And you have a working, albeit elitist, financial model.

    – My only concern is, there is no way to fit an orchestra in the pit with the requisite distancing, especially for the winds.

  • Cynical Bystander says:

    A rough calculation of occupying 1 seat in 3, 1 row in 3 with 2 people per box would probably give a capacity of about 1000. The difficulty is how to maintain social distancing in and out of the auditorium when the public areas are very cramped. Maintaining a slow moving crocodile with 2 metres seperating the audience across the different levels adds a whole new dimension to waiting in line. And given the rush to the exits at many performances a perfect example of taking your life in your own hands in more ways than one.

    Not forgetting that a socially distanced park and bark, sans chorus, performance on stage might be possible but how to distance the orchestra is more than just a matter of orchestral balance.

    Gelb, as I suspect all GM’s in most auditoriums know , is right to say it is impractical and the longer it goes on the balance of staying economically viable becomes more than how to mount live performances on anything like the scale of what these houses were designed to mount, but how to survive.

    The challenge is massive and I suspect insurmountable in houses that are geared to performing large scale works to large audiences. Scaled down audiences in many arenas will show the truth of this.

    Maybe, the cinema multiplexes will show not just whether it can be done but also whether they can make it pay. But it is worth remembering there is a huge difference in the latest Disney Blockbuster playing in an empty cinema and an old Zefferelli Warhorse, where a diva performs to a house with less in the auditorium than there would be on the stage in more normal times.

  • With the technology and expertise at hand, the Metropolitan Opera surely could do something imaginative. It might even telecast its performance (absent a live audience) to the world. The world of opera might attract those who are bored, bored, bored with old movies.

  • Mustafa Kandan says:

    I am hopeful by late 2021 things will go back to normal, but not until then.

  • Francesca says:

    I’m looking forward to the MET going broke. Treachery should not be forgiven.

    • Jeff says:

      Why not ble the people of said institution instead of the institution itself?

    • Tiredofitall says:

      Well, that’s rather harsh…Quarantine has been especially hard for you?

    • Bill says:

      So, all of the employees, singers, musicians, stage crew should have their careers and livelihoods destroyed because you want to get even with Gelb and the board?

      • Isabel Leonard says:

        The MET already showed their appreciation and loyalty by not doing the DECENT THING and paying ALL INVOLVED through the end of the season.

        Gelb’s lightning fast “fundraiser” is NOT going to plebeian singers, orchestra or staff no matter which stars are used in its “sad ads” to elicit donations.

        The opera chorus began their own begging recently since they have no one. They, the orchestra and crew deserve better yet are left without…

        That’s why so many of us thought better of giving out of emotion.

    • Jersey Housewife says:

      But then you are looking forward to TWO THOUSAND people losing their jobs. I am certainly a disgruntled former employee there but even I don’t wish such a monstrous thing! This is the greatest arts institution in the Western Hemisphere, for God’s sake!! Get over yourself!

  • Cassandra says:

    It’s not just about audiences. If you actually work there, there is no way that a bunch of people are going into a subterranean, tightly packed basement rehearsal room to scream and spit in each other faces for eight hours, followed by performances, six days a week. The Met is a small space when it comes to backstage, downstairs, in the offices, in the cafeteria, in the rehearsal rooms, costume fitting rooms, and dressing rooms that hold hundreds of tightly packed sweaty choristers and musicians.

    It is 100% IMPOSSIBLE to physical distance at the Met or at any theater that runs opera in America. It’s simply not going to happen.

    • Kolb Slaw says:

      Not so, but it means changing staging, everything.

    • A Pianist says:

      I guess Bing is somewhat to blame for that. That cramped bunker-style backstage and rehearsal rooms just sucks.

      • Tiredofitall says:

        They call it a theater. Sir Rudolf did not invent the concept. Just as buses (in the US) have adjusted to the ever-expanding girth of (many) Americans, theaters and all public facilities will need to adapt to the vagaries of this—and future—epidemics.

        Humans, like all other species, have no choice but to learn to adapt to the environment. We are part of nature, not in charge of it. Natural history museums are littered with remnants of species that could not deal with nature.

  • Falco says:

    Local governments and unions for musicians and technicians will determine the fate of companies in the US. Companies can’t create contingency plans until they here from these groups.

  • Alexander van Assendelft/chest physician says:

    Operahouses-and theatres are unfortunately
    really facing great problems because of the SARS CoV-2. The until now not officially accepted fact, that the virus except by coughing and sneezing is spread by aerosol, which is produced by talking, singing and screaming doesn’t make it much better, even if it easier to deal with the problem if you know why social distancing has an impact on diminishing the infections. People as such are not infectious, but what comes out of them by speaking, screaming and singing through their mouths is it, if they are infected by the virus. That is unfortunately possible even if they don’t have any symptoms up to about three days before symptoms develop. This makes the SARS CoV-2 virus especially dangerous. By speaking the velocity of the air we breathe out is five times faster than by normal breathing, and 15 times faster by screaming and singing. If there is a CORVID-19 sick person among the performers the danger is great that he/she can infect the fellow performers/singers. On the other hand an audience, which is silent without speaking with eachother also during the intermissions would be quite safe even without greater (a)social distancing. The air from normal breathing reaches about 0,5 meter from the person and so little aerosol is produced, that the danger of infection is very low even sitting in a full theatre. How to deal with the chorus is a difficult problem, and for the stage the movements of the performers would have to be changed by the directors, so that enough distance between them can be achieved. The easiest way is to have concertant opera performances. Musically a high level is even easier to achieve, as everybody just has to concentrate on the music. On the other hand much else of an opera is lost.

  • David Rohde says:

    This will only be of interest to certain readers here, but there was a widely remarked article by rock musician Dave Grohl at The Atlantic on May 11 which stated a similar no-compromise view of trying to stage arena and stadium concerts under the strictures of social distancing. It was followed up with a webinar with the editor of The Atlantic at which Grohl did basically say he had no answers as to timing and wound up mostly telling stories. Given the discussion here and what seems to have been Norman’s position from the beginning that these concerts and operas with a fraction of the seats taken is a bad look, I thought I’d throw it in.

  • Alexander van Assendelft/chest physician/Finland says:

    An even much more important fact about the aerosol way of SARS CoV-2 infection is, that it would be possible to eradicate the virus if people during one month practically would’nt speak with eachother, and mainly would communicate with eachother with all the nowadays used mobile and other devises inside all buildings, which should be well ventilated. Outside it is safe to talk with eachother at 3-4 meters distance depending on the wind. The impact of keeping the virus “in quarantaine” inside us, would be the same as if we all would separately be kept “in jail” during a month, which is the average time of the life cycle of the virus taking in account the 14 days of incubation. It is a tragedy that no government in the whole world has realized this.

  • Kolb Slaw says:

    You can’t sell $1,000 tickets? Just think of the cachet they’ll have.

  • almaviva says:

    I’m really shocked at what I am going to say, but – I agree with Gelb! It is lunacy to expect running such a large opera house for an audience of 400 (at most).

  • Save the MET says:

    Gelb has two problems: First, his leading clientele is 65 and over and by and large, they will not sit in a theater today. Second, he does not have enough benefactor support to underwrite 400 audience member performances, as it costs more to turn on the lights for a performance than the ticket revenue would bring in. It was never a serious consideration. The explanation is window dressing.