Met musicians regret total 2020 shutdown

Soon after Peter Gelb announced yesterday that the Metropolitan Opera will not reopen before the end of the year, the musicians responded with dignified restraint:

While we understand that the cancellation of such a large part of our season is necessary for the safety of our community, we long for the day when we will go back to live performance. In the meantime, we continue to play, teach, and reach out to our amazing audiences in New York City, across the country and throughout the world with the power of great music. In these times of uncertainty, despair and turmoil, we come back again and again to music, to the transformative power of this great art form and its unique power to transcend barriers and boundaries.

The Met previously said:

Based on current information regarding the ongoing health crisis, we have made the difficult decision to cancel the first few months of the 2020–21 season. We now expect to re-open our doors and welcome audiences back to the Met on December 31, 2020, with a special gala performance, the details of which will be shared at a later date. 

Because of the lack of time available for technical preparations, Mozart’s Die Zauberflöte and Don Giovanni will be performed in revivals of the Julie Taymor and Michael Grandage productions, respectively, rather than the previously announced new stagings by Simon McBurney and Ivo van Hove. These new productions, as well as the previously scheduled fall new stagings of Verdi’s Aida and Prokofiev’s The Fiery Angel, will be rescheduled for later seasons. Van Hove’s Met-premiere production of Jake Heggie’s Dead Man Walking, conducted by Met Music Director Yannick Nézet-Séguin, remains on the schedule as planned. Maestro Nézet-Séguin will conduct a total of 26 performances over the course of the revamped season, including performances of Mozart’s Don Giovanni, Strauss’s Die Frau ohne Schatten, and Gounod’s Roméo et Juliette….

In anticipation of changing audience expectations, the Met has moved up its evening curtain times to 7 p.m. whenever possible and shortened the running time of Handel’s Giulio Cesare from four-and-a-half hours with two intermissions to three-and-a-half hours with one intermission.

 

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  • Giulio Cesare has 3 hours and 40 minutes of music and it does not fall to Peter Gelb to shorten its “running time”! Truly he belongs in Hollywood!

    • “has 3 hours and 40 minutes of music”

      Ehhhhhh, a New Yorker can easily clock in at 2 hrs 10 minutes and still have time enough for a slice of pizza.

    • I’m not an expect on baroque music, but it isn’t it relatively common practice to shorten baroque operas in performance? I checked on Spotify and it appears the classic recording of the ENO production of Giulio Cesare from the late 70s with Janet Baker is just over 3 hours, and I also noticed online that the recent revival by Opera North only lasted 3 hours 15 minutes including an interval. Obviously Handel’s operas are wonderful pieces of music, but they do tend to be much longer and filled with material that may seem superfluous to the overall plot and drama. Say what you like about Gelb and The Met, but this isn’t something they’re completely “guilty” of doing.

      • It can depend on the scholarship of the day — new manuscripts can be found and incorporated into the current understanding of the “best” version of the work. Physical opera productions may be based in previous versions, and multiple versions might be mixed and matched at a director or conductor’s taste. It really depends.

        I would say mainly that shortening any opera in performance is relatively common. Ballet sequences are cut from Donizetti all the time, Rossini’s sometimes unbearable recits, and sometimes just sections of music or text which simply need refining. You can perform a masterwork and still see a few cobwebs here and there — who wouldn’t want to spruce it up a bit if you had the chance? The world can always judge your decisions and, hopefully, the good ones become a part of performance practice and the bad ones, discarded.

        • Generally speaking, the composer’s best effort is the final printed and published edition accomplished by the composer himself/herself. In some cases there may be a few versions, but composers in some cases revise and revise and revise. Discovered versions later on were not offered to the public for a reason. There are some rare examples, for instance several works by Chopin (ops. 66-74)were published posthumously that have made it to the regular piano repertoire, several may have not been intended for publication. To a lesser extent all of Mendelssohn’s works after op. 72 were published posthumously, but by and large they were intended for publication and not discovered. When little pieces by composers, or revisions which are unknown to published works are discovered, generally speaking the composer had no intent to publish. They are useful to scholars, some get a performance here or there, but none become standard repertory. As far as ballet is concerned, they were added grudgingly by most composers due to Napoleons edict of 1802 requiring ballet. Donizetti and Verdi both premiered operas there and in order to get the premiere had to write a ballet to be inserted in the work. The Venusberg scene in Tannhauser was not in Wagner’s original score, but added for the Paris premiere at the Opera. The composers in their day could not have cared less whether they were used anywhere else as with the exception of Tannhauser stopped the action of the work. The one exception I can think of is “The Dance of the Hours” in Ponchielli’s “La Gioconda” which was not premiered at the Paris Opera, but at La Scala where it was in the score from the start. The piece has become a stand alone ballet and pops work and as most of you will know, the tune was used in Alan Sherman’s “Hello Muddah”.

      • There are many opears that, in contemporary performance practice, do not have a single, definitive version. But, the information quoted in the article does not explain adequately the decision to make the cuts.

        I would want to see a detailed explanation as to *why* the “anticipation of changing audience expectations” entails making significant cuts to an opera at an élite house such as the Met (incidentally, there is also no explanation about the changed start time). No evidence is cited; no rationale is given. And who was consulted about this and involved in the decision-making (no names are mentioned)?

        In summary, the cuts do not appear to be a considered artistic decision. If shortening the length is a money-saving measure (which is what I suspect), why not be honest about it?

      • Many of these Baroque works are in point of fact interminable – full of repetition, dramatically inert etc. Far less worthy of their length than the works of Wagner, Strauss etc. And in most – but not all – cases they do not really work in a vast auditorium like the Met. It’s a shame that we live in a time emphasizing small voices and that these works are now so frequently staged at the expense of pieces that demand larger forces – whether Wagner, verismo, and “grand opera” in general.

    • Yes, because cuts in classical music do not exist outside of Hollywood and no one would dare sully a masterpiece with even a single cut, even it it improves a libretto or makes more physical sense for a production. More of Peter’s Hollywood bullocks, clearly.

    • 3 hours 40 minutes? My god. Sounds like purgatory (defined by somebody as “Hell, with hope).

      To look on the bright side, I suppose that, as with Wagner, you could easily fall asleep for a bit and not miss anything.

    • Before Levine, under Max Rudolf and his predecessors, the MET made cuts all the time. Levine was the one who was insistent there be no cuts.

  • Rudderless leadership in New York. Peter Gelb is the DeBlasio of Opera managers. No leadership. No vision. No challenge to politicians to open up the City. Cowardly and destructive.

      • To the woefully uneducated Monsoon…

        Everybody is going to die one day.

        Depriving people of the dignity of work and an income is cruel and un-American.

        Remain in your hovel collecting unemployment and Trump’s stimulus while the rest of us work like adults.

  • Doesn’t he just want to keep everyone away so he can eventually negotiate a terrible contract and turn the Met into something like a pick-up gig? Who is he kidding? Musicians have been leaving that orchestra for years, seeing the writing on the wall. Gelb is the worst.

  • It really isn’t a conversation until there is a vaccine and the real steady patrons decide they can come back.
    1. Singers excrete spittle when they sing.
    2. Orchestra members sit close together in a pit.
    3. Chorus members need to be together to create a singularity of sound.
    4. Patrons sit close together in the audience.
    5. It takes far more than 400 people to pay fore the MET to turn on the lights.
    Opera doesn’t work in a pandemic. As bad as Gelb has been to the MET’s fortunes, the pandemic trumps Gelb’s feckless stewardship as far more destructive to the coffers of the company.

  • “…the musicians responded with dignified restraint.”

    As opposed to what? Responding with undignified restraint? What would that incompass?

    Way to stir the pot – any pot, in a negative way.

    It’s always so easy to sit on one’s perch and preach when the preachers have zero experience running anything other than their criticisms.

    It’s a miracle the entire season hasn’t been cancelled.

    We’re ALL in this – all of us in the arts.

  • Did they say how many patrons will be admitted to a single performance or how they are planning to observe distancing between singers and orchestra musicians?
    Anyone who thinks Covid-19 will be but a memory by the end of December, is dreaming in technicolor.

  • The weird thing is…. with the singers, musicians, stage crew, and much of the staff laid off, IF contributions and endowment income keep rolling in, the MET’s 2020 financial loss may be surprisingly small.

    I’m not sure how closing thru the end of the year is a Huge Gelb Failing. He’s calling it early, but one suspects more musical institutions will be calling it quits for 2020 as the summer progresses. I’m not happy about it, but I understand they just can’t wing it right up to the last minute.

  • I noted the “moved up running time”. This makes sense and should be done earlier, particularly on weekdays. In yesteryear perhaps the middle or upper middle class husband would have to return from work to the suburbs, eat dinner, and return with his wife back to Manhattan (or London). Hence, the 8:30 pm run times in the fifties and sixties.

    Nowadays with both spouses or partners working in the city it makes sense to grab dinner and then go directly to the theater before returning home. A 7 p.m or even 6:30 pm run time makes a lot more sense, even on weekends. I hope that more theater or concert venues move to an earlier time. I believe it will increase ticket sales

  • While I dearly hope the planned gala comes true, my friend a virologist is skeptical. Without solid evidence of herd immunity, it is hard to see how they can hold the gala and few are predicting herd immunity by year’s end. Even with social distancing, the opera audience attracts a lot of seniors, including many 80+, and they will be at relatively high risk. Unless they expect the high-risk to stay home…

  • Interesting that most of the comments so far are about the cuts in Cesare. Yeah, they are a bad idea – some cuts are possible, but big ones turn a coherent piece incoherent, and it’s really better to leave the opera off the schedule entirely until the occasion is right for spending the time it takes. If your orchestra is offered a 12 minute slot on a TV gala, you don’t schedule the Beethoven Fifth — even though you could definitely trim it down to that length by leaving out the less important stuff.

    However, under the circumstances, the Met has bigger problems than whether it does justice to Handel or not.

  • I realize that he is not the most popular person on this site but the reality is that Peter Gelb had no other choice. He is being exceptionally responsible in safeguarding both performers and audiences until the time that it is safe to reopen.

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