Did the Met really need to close?

Did the Met really need to close?


norman lebrecht

September 24, 2020

On the day that Peter Gelb shut the Metropolitan Opera for the next year, the penny-pinched English National Opera were on Sky Arts television, performing La Boheme in a north London car park for £100 per vehicle, or £35 a bike.

The rain lashed down and Mimi could barely see beyond her lashes but the audience honked their horns with approval at every set-piece and we at home cheered at this triumph of art over multiple adversity – Covid, underfunding, poor governance and more. Natalya Romaniw’s Mimi showed the blazing fortitude and faith in opera that so many companies have lost in this pandemic.

Nor is ENO alone in its ingenuity. Zurich Opera has devised a way of presenting a Boris Godunov safely by beaming in the orchestra and chorus from another venue. La Scala, Barecelona, Vienna and Berlin have managed to reopen. Glyndebourne and Garsington used their gardens creatively. Wherever opera used to be performed, people are rethnking the dimensions of the artform – how it can survive the next 2-3 testing years, and how it reconfigures all available space for a future renaissance.

No such imagination has gone into, or come out, of the Met. Faced with a major obstacle, it took the easy option and shut down. With the whole of Central Park on its doorstep, it refused to step outdoors. The Met has failed the artists, failed the public, failed the art itself.

This might, however, be the start of a new era. Opera will find another way to flourish outside sclerotic establishments. It will take to the open spaces, to the parking lots, the brownfield sites, the new horizons. There will be a way. There must be.


  • James Weiss says:

    Bravo to your comments. I’ve been wondering the same thing myself. Houses all over Europe are finding ways but all the US opera houses are closed, even outdoor festivals. Why?

    • John says:

      1. The Epicenter of the Corona Virus was in New York City where there were almost 33,000 deaths. New Yorkers (myself included) still are suffering from post-traumatic stress and it will take a vaccine before you get me into any sort of theater.

      2. You mention “La Scala, Barcelona, Vienna and Berlin” all of which are federally subsidized opera houses. They don’t need to worry about their bottom line the same way the Met does.
      They can all play to reduced capacity, and have tax payers make up the rest. This is not a luxury that the Met cannot afford.

      • An Opinionated Woman says:

        Also no tourists in NYC right now. Residents of over 30 states and most international travelers are subject to mandatory quarantine if they travel to the NY area. Places like the Met, Carnegie, Lincoln Center, and Broadway rely heavily on tourists for ticket sales.

        • JoAnne L. Baker says:

          Cuomo is a dictator and proud of it! Except his nursing home murders which he pawned off on the nurses..

          He’s too fixated on Trump to manage NY and needs psychiatric intervention.

          Besides both locals and tourists are too afraid of those violent BLM ANTIFA nuts to go out. Everything keeps getting blocked off and ends up looted or burned anyway.

      • Walter Hazelton IV says:

        Governor Cuomo (D) still has all of the theaters locked up in the state of New York.


        Just get over it and move if you don’t like it!

      • James Weiss says:

        Suffering from “post traumatic” stress when you didn’t have the virus? We’re living in an age of snowflakes.

      • Truth over facts -Biden says:

        Actually John, the epicenter is Wuhan CHINA.

        Remember watching CNN dear??

      • Jack_Ewing says:

        La Scala, Barcelona, Vienna and Berlin being subsidized is irrelevant. The Met does not survive on ticket sales alone, it depends mostly on donations from patrons, so your argument fails there too. American theaters are being *forbidden* to operate by order of governors and health officials. That’s unconstitutional. Cuomo was sued by restaurants and buckled. Theaters should do the same. Cuomo’s also being sued by the families of the 11,000 people who died in nursing homes. He sent them there on purpose knowing they would die, just so administrators could cash in. That’s premeditated murder. Cuomo gave full immunity to nursing home & hospital executives after a big campaign donation in 2018. That’s who’s running your state, Democrats. I have friends in NYC who tell me they have to negotiate through the homeless, feces and needles just to get to their front door. Not to mention the spike in murders, frequent riots and looting. You’re getting what you voted for, I hope you enjoy.

    • Alexa says:

      Because in US it is possible to accuse any person in any crime without any proof. If Met employee will have a headache after the performance, he will go to court and say that he is sick because there is no health security in Met.
      Gelb just doesnt want it.

    • Mike says:

      Opera houses in Europe are (mostly) state subsidized. In the US they are not and the ticket sales are a significant financial contribution towards the economic engine that keeps things going.

    • Emil says:

      Because the US has refused to take measures to get the virus in check. And because the US houses must pay health insurance costs for their employees, which are huge. And because the US does not fund the arts.

      • Tiredofitall says:

        All too true (from a card-carrying citizen). Americans fear the bogeyman of socialism (or any state that provides equitable health and other services to the entire population) and a good majority don’t know the difference between socialism and communism–most often equating the two–a sad testament to the US education system.

        We have a looooong way to go.

        A good article from Gallup: https://news.gallup.com/opinion/polling-matters/243362/meaning-socialism-americans-today.aspx

        • Just MOVE then! says:

          It’s too bad the people who want socialism simply don’t move or become refugees in countries that they think are better than the US.

          They’re always quite intellectually stunted and poor on the whole while remaining here unhappy and violent.

          What’s keeping them here?

      • College-Educated Black Woman in NY says:

        This clearly Governor Andrew Cuomo’s call that involves “NYC Stage 4”

        This WEALTHY, WHITE MAN is in charge and you must be obedient to his will or else!

        It’s time for a “peaceful protest” at the Met!!!!!

    • Doug says:

      Because “Orange Man Bad!” aka TDS.

      • Westfan says:

        And he IS bad. He doesn’t care if a few million or more die. As long as he remains president, preferably for life. It will keep him out of jail, that’s all he cares about.

    • William Safford says:

      Because the United States government has completely mishandled the pandemic, to the point that the U.S. is in far worse shape than most of Europe.

      We recently topped 7 million confirmed infections and 200,000 deaths.

  • John says:

    There is a serious lack of imagination going on at the Met. If you don’t want opera to end, start by paying your employees and putting them to work like every other arts institution in the world.

  • annon says:

    If the Met could make money from giving concerts in Central Park, don’t you think they would’ve done that 100 years ago?

    If labor costs are already prohibitive to stage an opera in their own house, do you expect it to be less to move the entire production outdoors? (The way from the backstage of the Met into Central Park isn’t a direct 4-lane highway, it’s down winding footpaths! Do you expect the Met to helicopter in the set?)

    What do you think Gelb in his team are doing? Do you think they don’t read the newspaper like you and are not aware of what anyone else in the world is doing?

    Get real!

    • Maria says:

      Exactly. Who the hell wants another Boheme in a car park in London, or Traviata in a warehouse with piano, and mediocre singers because they’ll sing for hardly anything if not for free, hoping that will bring stardom. Rosa Ponselle and a whole host of those people on – CD here we go.

    • Bill says:

      The Met stopped its free concerts in the park years ago because it was too expensive and there were no willing sponsors. Oh, and New York is rainy in the fall and pretty cold in the winter.

  • Monsoon says:

    How many times does this have to be said: COVID infection rates and deaths in the United States are among the highest in the world, and at one point, New York City was the global epicenter of the pandemic. That’s why all businesses in NYC are being so cautious about any kind of public gathering, even if outside. Making comparisons to Germany, for example, is just ridiculous. Berlin has only had 226 deaths; New York City more than 29,000.

  • sam says:

    Anyone remember the New York City Opera, home of Beverly Sills? “High Cs at low prices” was their commercial jingo on radio!

    New York used to have 2 great opera companies, both in Lincoln Center. But the NYCO decided to close down for 2 years to renovate their house, the New York State Theater. New Yorkers found other things to do, and forgot about them, and by the time the NYCO reopened, they never did recover their audience.

    The NYCO filed for bankruptcy in 2013.

    Don’t take your audience for granted.

  • Greg Bottini says:

    “Opera will find another way to flourish outside sclerotic establishments. It will take to the open spaces, to the parking lots, the brownfield sites, the new horizons.”
    Oh, brother.
    I love opera, as I have stated many times, but despite your high-blown sentiments, Norman, the cold hard fact is that ANY opera production, whether big or small, on the beaches or in the streets, needs MONEY to operate. That money can come only four sources: ticket sales, donations, endowment funds, or government grants.
    In the US, anyway, nobody is buying tickets. Donations are at a standstill. Endowment funds are drying up, either from honest mismanagement, fraud, or bad investment markets. Government grants? Hahahahahahaha.
    Nobody is going to work for free just to “put on a show”, Judy Garland and Mickey Rooney style.
    Its the economy. That’s the fact, Jack.

  • Couperin says:

    The Local 802 health plan is about to die, mark my words. With no union work providing health care contributions, and a pension that’s already dead, what good is the musicians union? However, Lincoln Center stagehands make like $400,000+ a year. It’s good to be the king.

    • NotToneDeaf says:

      Never mind the AGMA mess.

      • THANK YOU!!!!! says:

        For those of us who are AGMA members we’re entitled to be communicated with at the very least.

        Haven’t received a newsletter or email since COVID-19 began in March to provide any information!!!

        We are REQUIRED to become members in order to perform in certain houses unless AGMA is getting ready to fold!

        You’re NOT getting those precious DUES at the end of 2020 from performers who can’t work if you’re not providing value for your services!

        Plus, we may demand our $1K memberships back for BREECH OF CONTRACTUAL OBLIGATIONS!

        Speak out AGMA!

    • Tiredofitall says:

      Perhaps a BIT overstated, but correct in spirit.

  • Bill says:

    Yes, it did need to close.

    The Met gets virtually no funding from the government, has to pay for health insurance for its employees, and is far more open to liability lawsuits that could easily bankrupt the organization. I’m sure the liability insurance alone would be enough to bankrupt them if they tried to reopen.

    The Met isn’t the Federal reserve, it can’t print money. None of these European Opera houses have to contend with any of that.

    I am really tired of smug critics in other countries with adequate funding for the arts and healthcare and protections from tort abuse blaming the victim here. The Met certainly has its problems, but the Met’s closure is simply symptom of the larger problems in the US: Effectively no government funding for the arts, an inadequate healthcare system, a tort system run amok (Are there huge billboards with ambulance chaser/shyster lawyers promising the victim their payday in London, Paris, or Berlin the way every American city has? I don’t think so) and a federal government that has ceded all responsibility to the States all while taking action and non-action to bankrupt them.

    It’s really that simple.

  • David Howell says:

    I would like to add a comment – ‘bravo ENO’

  • Siegfried says:

    You may or may not have appreciated the production but no praise is too high for ENO’s performances, showcasing some outstanding British talent under Martyn Brabbins. It is important that others follow in their own way.

    • NotToneDeaf says:

      One has to be amused at these ENO accolades coming from a site that hasn’t had a single good word to say about the company for years.

  • Anthony Princiotti says:

    I’m sorry, but this post reveals a lack of awareness of just how tough things are here in the US. We’re seeing an average of 1000 deaths and 40,000 new cases a day, which puts us in a terrible position as we enter the Fall and Winter season, which will inevitably bring a marked increase in deaths and cases as people spend more time indoors.

    There’s every reason to expect that we’ll be in approximately the same spot this coming March as we were in March of this year, the only possible exception being that the death toll might be lessened by the therapeutics and treatment protocols that have been developed.

    And you may be underestimating the degree to which the presence of you-know-who in the White House has thrown America into chaos, not only politically and culturally, but in terms of public health policy and financial planning.

    On the other hand, I agree wholeheartedly with the sentiment that the current situation presents us with opportunities for reinvention that could serve classical music organizations well moving forward. And here in the States, I don’t see us doing nearly enough in this regard.

    • Crim Chanders says:

      750 deaths per day and declining.

      • John Kelly says:

        Declining per day but still adding to a total over 200,000 including six people I know…….a disgrace and an embarrassment. Where is American Exceptionalism? Nowhere. And certainly not in evidence from our soon to be fired President…

        • Democrats let you down! says:

          The Met DICTATORSHIP just behaved infinitely worse than our President Donald Trump Mr. Kelly.

          The “greatest singers on the greatest stage” have been thrown away along with the whole lot given no financial, job or housing assistance.

          Which Democrats are RUSHING to their aide??? WHO?!?!

        • James Weiss says:

          The president is a problem but the deaths are almost entirely to be laid at the feet of state and local officials in the largest US cities all run by Democrats. That’s a simple fact. No government official has covered themselves in glory during this pandemic but the complete lack of leadership in NY especially Cuomo and de Blasio is responsible for the most deaths not the Orange Man. New York is their responsibility not his.

      • Peter San Diego says:

        Yes, it’s under 1000 and yes, it had been declining, but no, it isn’t declining now (meaning over the past 10 days).

        • Crim Chanders says:

          According to Worldometers, the 7 day rolling average on Sept 15 was 882, and is presently 751. (10 days ago it was 753). Deaths are in decline. Every death is a tragedy, but covid deaths aren’t the only problem we have to worry about now – mass unemployment, economic disaster, missed cancer diagnosis are all serious problems moving forward. Oh, and the complete and utter destruction of the performing arts.

          It is a disgrace that many large arts organizations are resigned to let bureaucrats decide when it is safe to do concerts without any pushback. Meanwhile, the pro sports industry successfully made their case that they could operate safely and have done so with no linked fatalities that I’m aware of.

      • True North says:

        Well, that’s all right then, isn’t it.

      • Tiredofitall says:

        Today 942, yesterday 1091, 942 on Tuesday…where are your numbers coming from?????????

    • Robert says:

      Your numbers are entirely false and your analysis is absurd. Deaths in the USA now are minimal. Any State could fully open tomorrow safely if the authorities had not gotten drunk on power.

      • Larry D says:

        You obviously get your facts from Donald Trump. He recently said Covid affects nobody! (Speaking of “drunk on power”—and high on Adderall.)

    • Nick2 says:

      And why is the USA in this situation Mr Princiotti? Because this is who Americans decided they wanted to run their country. Because Americans as a whole did not do their due diligence into the type of man they were electing. Sure, Clinton was a poor candidate and actually won the popular vote. But Trump’s background and the type of individual he is did not just happen. Just a little research would have thrown up the malignant influence of Roy Cohn, the bankruptcies, the Trump University lying and shenanigans, and so much more – vastly more. But the American system elected this beauty show pageant organizer and television personality whose objective is to be the Attila the Hun and the Putin of the western word. Perhaps he forgot that the arts flourish quite well in Russia! That so many have died in New York and the USA is due to the electorate who gave this supreme liar and dissembler his power.

      • Bill says:

        It should be noted that he didn’t even get a plurality of the vote. The American voters might have elected him, but the larger part of us voted to elect someone else.

  • dd says:

    ‘this open letter encapsulates all the many arguments that can be made against the madness that has been generated by the coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic. It is a long letter – but worth the time to read it in full, in order to understand why we have got ourselves in this ludicrous, and social and economically damaging situation.’
    –Steven Scrutton
    Coronavirus COVID-19. Open letter from medical doctors and health professionals to all Belgian authorities and all Belgian media
    We, Belgian doctors and health professionals, wish to express our serious concern about the evolution of the situation in the recent months surrounding the outbreak of the SARS-CoV-2 virus. We call on politicians to be independently and critically informed in the decision-making process and in the compulsory implementation of corona-measures. We ask for an open debate, where all experts are represented without any form of censorship. After the initial panic surrounding covid-19, the objective facts now show a completely different picture – there is no medical justification for any emergency policy anymore.
    The current crisis management has become totally disproportionate and causes more damage than it does any good.
    We call for an end to all measures and ask for an immediate restoration of our normal democratic governance and legal structures and of all our civil liberties.

    ‘A cure must not be worse than the problem’ is a thesis that is more relevant than ever in the current situation. We note, however, that the collateral damage now being caused to the population will have a greater impact in the short and long term on all sections of the population than the number of people now being safeguarded from corona.
    In our opinion, the current corona measures and the strict penalties for non-compliance with them are contrary to the values formulated by the Belgian Supreme Health Council, which, until recently, as the health authority, has always ensured quality medicine in our country: “Science – Expertise – Quality – Impartiality – Independence – Transparency”. 1
    We believe that the policy has introduced mandatory measures that are not sufficiently scientifically based, unilaterally directed, and that there is not enough space in the media for an open debate in which different views and opinions are heard. In addition, each municipality and province now has the authorisation to add its own measures, whether well-founded or not.[…]

  • Inaustria says:

    That some European houses have “managed to reoopen” doesn’t mean they are doing well. With Covid restrictions they are lucky if they even break even: that cant work in the long run. And I greatly doubt that ENO’s Mimi trained for years, just to sing “Donde lieta” in the pouring rain. We’ve all done it, but it’s no fun and cant become the norm. I pity any young person starting out in this industry: one had better have a “plan B” in mind.

  • Maria says:

    Do I really want to sit in car park in a car masked up with no social distancing in the car, pay £100 and watch another Boheme, or attend a Rhinegold with a string quartet. I really don’t and there are many more like me. But good luck to those who like that sort of thing. Rather go to my cinerma and watch a good film be it ooer, dance or anything than do drive-in Boheme.

  • CA says:

    At the very least get some donors on board to fund subsistence wages for the musicians and staff. Hint: there may be enthusiastic and well-to-so arts patrons riding out the storm in the Hamptons. It’s my guess that a cadre of opera fans would be sympathetic and would give money expressly for this purpose. The wealthy, by and large, have, and are, are getting wealthier. Patrons who would support base salary & health care continuance are definitely out there, now more than ever. (My opinion).

  • Brian says:

    New York state also has a limit on gatherings to 50 people. The audience would have to be very limited, even with distancing.

  • BonBon says:

    Too many passionless bean counters…

  • Bob says:

    Fantastic for ENO!!!

  • Musician says:

    Gelb will just use the pandemic as an excuse to try and break the back of all of unions at the MET. Did he take a pay cut? LOL

  • Jack_Ewing says:

    Restaurants filed a $2 billion class-action lawsuit against city and state. The result? In-door dining resumes now, Sept 30, around the same time the Met has its opening night. No scientific reason to keep theaters closed if we are allowed to fly in & out of New York, breathing the same air for hours in packed airplanes with no social distancing. New Yorkers are being betrayed and hoodwinked by Cuomo and de Blasio. Remember, it’s a 99,4% survival rate for those who do catch this virus.

    • William Safford says:

      Your figure is incorrect. In the U.S., over 7 million have tested positive, and over 200,000 have died.

      That is about 3 percent.

      On a personal level, five people I know were infected. Three died. That is five too many infections and three too many deaths.

      Based on what you wrote, perhaps people should not be flying in and out of New York City.

  • Terri says:

    Not to mention the outdoor ampitheater IN LINCOLN CENTER.

  • CANADAL says:

    Thank you Mr. Lebrecht !