Is this the end of opera in America?

Is this the end of opera in America?


norman lebrecht

September 23, 2020

The Metropolitan Opera, it is well known, runs a deficit bigger than the entire budget of the next largest US opera company. The US opera industry depends on the Met functioning at full power, drawing foreign stars and attention to the sector as a whole.

When the Met shuts down for a year, as it did today and has never done before, the rest of American opera falls into a coma. Opera goers and donors and administrator in cities far from New York will say, if the Met can’t stay open nor can we.

It is only hours after the Met’s announcement and we are still assessing the consequences, but there is no doubting the severity of the blow for opera in America. In the best-case scenario, it may take years to recover.



  • John Kelly says:

    This came in the same e-mail stating the season is abandoned. Doesn’t look like “the end of opera in America” to me…………………
    “In the meantime, we are pleased to be able to announce the Met’s 2021–22 season, which will open September 27, 2021, with the Met premiere of Terence Blanchard’s Fire Shut Up in My Bones, conducted by Met Music Director Yannick Nézet-Séguin and starring baritone Will Liverman and sopranos Angel Blue and Latonia Moore. The season will feature six new productions, including Met premieres of Matthew Aucoin’s Eurydice and Brett Dean’s Hamlet, the company’s first-ever performances of the original five-act, French-language version of Verdi’s Don Carlos, and new stagings of two repertory mainstays: Verdi’s Rigoletto and Donizetti’s Lucia di Lammermoor. Highlights also include the anticipated returns of The Gershwins’ Porgy and Bess and Philip Glass’s Akhnaten. As always, there will be a full slate of repertory gems such as Wagner’s Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg, Strauss’s Ariadne auf Naxos, and Puccini’s Tosca, all featuring opera’s greatest singers. The Met’s Live in HD series of cinema transmissions will return for the 2021–22 season with ten presentations, including all six new productions.”

    • James Weiss says:

      Anyone with even an ounce of sense will realize that including the 2021-2022 season announcement – normally made in April of 2021 – in the devastating closure press release was a way to look like it’s not so bad. Apparently that fooled some people. By their own standard of “masks and distancing no longer required, 6 months after most people are vaccinated” it is wildly optimistic to think they’ll open in September 2021. That will end up making today’s announcement look like the hollow stunt that it was.

    • BrianB says:

      2021-22 announcement could be just bravado, whistling past the graveyard. Much remains to be seen.

  • PaulD says:

    Certainly the musicians and chorus members, in need of salaries, will begin scattering across the country looking for other work in other fields.

    But, no worries. De Blasio will take over the opera house, and rename it the Donald DeFreeze Community Action Center and Homeless Shelter.

  • Don Ciccio says:

    “Is this the end of opera in America?”

    The short answer is no. But it’s going to be a bumpy ride. And do I need to add the cliché that things will not look the same – because it is true.

  • Hilly Gross says:

    He should have never put on “The Death of Klinghoffer”

  • Paganono says:

    Norman, you can say the glass is half empty (which is the only way you view things), but you could also say that the glass is half full – why don’t you try that approach for a change?

  • Paul Thomason says:

    You are incorrect that the Met has never before been shut for an entire season. It lost the 1892-93 season because of a fire on August 27, 1892 that gutted the stage and the auditorium. It reopened in November 1893 with the De Reszke brothers and Emma Eames in FAUST.

    • BrianB says:

      Thank you, Paul. I had forgotten that myself, and a needed corrective. IF the Met can reopen it might be able to come back. Though economic conditions were far different then and seasons were in any case much shorter then; the 1891-92 seasons was a mere 25 performances in New York, the rest out of town.
      But it’s not merely the Met at stake but all of live theater in New York and elsewhere.

  • MacroV says:

    It’s true the MET dominates American opera, but opera companies around the world will be going dark in the coming year. The MET’s not alone.

  • Monsoon says:

    I think it’s more like if this is the end of “grand opera” where the Met retreats from its massive productions that involve complex stage craft, hundreds of extras, and livestock. It’s also hard to imagine that they’ll return with to 7 concerts a week.

  • violin accordion says:

    “ Trump Metropolitan”

    • Georgette Kleinberg says:

      Knocking down Lincoln Center in resistance to what was done to San Juan Hill by a great developer like Trump would be a good thing, especially now that there’s nothing on and it’s just WALLED in.

  • Greg Bottini says:

    Yes. It is the beginning of the end.
    As I have previously stated, it is my opinion that the opera is a dying art form and no longer economically sustainable.
    And events seem to be proving me right.

    • BrianB says:

      Well, as to that, its been a dying art form for decades, at least since the 1970s, since the last operas even to enter something like the standard repertory, or fringes of it, were written by Benjamin Britten.

    • Dave says:

      Please take a bow Greg. How prescient you are.

      • Greg Bottini says:

        Thanks, Dave! It’s nice to finally be recognized for my prescience, instead of always being judged by my glamourous appearance.

  • Alex says:

    The Met shut down in 1892-1893 after a devastating fire and in 1897-1898 for administrative restructuring. It survived then and it will survive now, and maybe even play more Wagner.

  • Morgan says:

    Ah, yes, the sky is falling.

  • HFD says:

    A chance of a fresh start for a corrupt and soulless institution which acts a little more than a signifier of wealth for the elite?

  • Sue Sonata Form says:

    Just put it down to another ‘opportunity cost’ of keeping alive the over 70 cohort. You ain’t seen nothin’ yet!!

    Be careful what you wish for.

  • annon says:

    “In the best-case scenario, it may take years to recover.”

    In the best case scenario, it should recede into the background just as whites are receding into the background.

    By 2045, whites will be a minority (just as they were when they first arrived in “America” before they committed genocide on the indigenous people).

    European culture and art forms should accordingly diminish in importance and relevance in proportion of the white population diminishing in importance and relevance.

    • James Weiss says:

      Western Civilization is the greatest achievement in the cultural history of mankind. You seem to take glee in its demise. What great and glorious thing do you think will replace it? Naked Swahili dance? Cannibals banging sticks?

    • BrianB says:

      Nonsense. Asians have embraced Western classical music for a century now, not to mention Hispanics. While some of opera’s greatest artists have been African American and have embraced the art form and consider it vital to their spiritual lives, while enriching ours with their art.

  • Light at the end of the tunnel says:

    “Is this the end of opera in America?” NO. It is an acknowledgement that stumbling and bumbling from moment to moment with one disillusioning short-term cancellation after another (what the rest of the world is doing) does far more harm than developing an overview of realistic expectations and re-opening only once — when that can be sustained. Yoyo-ing back and forth between “we must open” and “we are forced to close” is the most depressing abdication of responsible thought possible, no matter how many governments are presenting that incomprehensible behavior as their model for (dis)-organizations to mirror. Things are bad enough right now without piling on a doom-and-gloom fatalism that celebrates the end of all culture.

  • Terence says:

    It might be the end of huge lavish productions, at least for a few years.

    But opera can survive in more modest formats:

    Minimal costumes and sets

    Chamber groups rather than orchestras, or even just a piano

    Local singers and students rather than big stars

    Smaller halls obviously …

    the list goes on.

    The music will still be great.

    • NotToneDeaf says:

      Other than the very tiny minority of the population who actually has knowledge of the art form (which is mostly others in the same field), the majority attend for the lavish costumes, the big sets, the impressive halls and the big stars. Don’t kid yourself.

    • BrianB says:

      While isolating and distancing, I have found immense pleasure and sustenance exploring the fifteen or so operas of Handel I had never heard. Tremendous variety, ingenuity, and imaginative power within a relatively intimate form, small bands and rarely more than three characters onstage at a time. Even the least of them seems to be more enriching than yet another Boheme or Aida.

      • Marfisa says:

        Yes to everything you say! Handel’s Alcina was the first opera I actually enjoyed, rather than endured. All the emotion is there, without the bombast and sentimentality.

        Even in the eighteenth century running a big city opera company was precarious. When Handel’s finally went under, he was reduced to oratorio – a disaster for the history of music!

  • Seigfried's Crazy Uncle says:

    This is very serious, but there is more opera infrastructure here than is apparent at first glance. The slowly expanding influence of opera in the US over more than a century has put down the roots of perhaps a hundred-odd state-supported opera programs in universities, which have in turn made many opera fans even in small cities on the prairie. My midwestern, corn-encircled small city had, pre-COVID, multiple operas per season, an Opera Enthusiasts group with a newsletter, annual workshops for operas under development, periodic opera scenes showcase recitals, car pools to operas in the regional metropolis, a newsletter, trips to the cinema for Live at the Met broadcasts, occasional privately-staged operas, and summer opera parties. Opera is in the Emergency Room perhaps, but not dead yet.

  • fflambeau says:

    Nothing new, and rather a smart move by the Met. They will continue their free broadcasts, which have brought them more renown and more money. They will return.

  • Bone says:

    Classical music might very well be dead in America. Not that it had much pulse, but at least I could drive to Atlanta and see a good orchestra one in a while.

  • Minnesota says:

    The Met is such a different kind of operation that I am quite sure that the leaders of opera companies elsewhere are NOT looking to them for “guidance”. Why would they? They may make the same decision or not, but for their own reasons.

  • Music lover says:

    This is a ridiculous headline. Slipped Disc is going the way of Facebook, shameless provocation. Be objective.

  • Mark Romatz says:

    Make no mistake, gelb is using the pandemic to gut every union contract of the Metropolitan Opera company, specifically, he wants nothing more than a per service orchestra that he has to pay no benefits to. And Yannick Nezet-Seguin is playing right along.

  • simply disastrous.. hope, American creativity, entrepreneurship and societal support will help them find the way out..

  • John Rook says:

    America has swathes of excellent singers who could keep the art form running for decades. Other companies have no need to follow the Met’s hysterical lead.

  • Barry Guerrero says:

    I think many people see things online or on DVD. Also, people enjoy seeing small, independent opera productions. Most people know that tickets to see a big opera at a big opera house is going to cost them an arm and a leg, and that they’re not going to see/hear the best singers anyway (in most cases). Seldom is a truly top notch cast put together these days. If you dare to buy a ticket to the S.F. Opera, they’ll bug you for donations endlessly. Who needs that!

  • Dalledu Alletre says:

    Surely a nonprofit that stops operating must by definition save money and thus grow stronger.

  • Paul B says:

    It is the death of opera since Gelb started to ruin this house and having only sold an average of 60-70% of the Met in the past 5-10 years… NY has after all 8 million people and millions of visitors every day, so there is no question about the size of the elephant… That being said, who is keeping him in this position and why, if he failed so miserably!?!?!?

  • SVM says:

    Alternatively, this may prove to be an opportunity for other opera companies to obtain performers and audiences who would not have customarily been available to them.

    The Met markets itself as an élite opera house with ‘star’ performers and ambitious productions, and consequently requires a significantly bigger budget than most other opera companies (there is a reason why the audience capacity in the Met is one of the largest); understandably, the management has opted to wait until such a business model becomes feasible again, rather than risk squandering the Met’s reputation as a world leader by enacting radical compromises at this time (and risk the inevitable industrial disputes that such comprises would entail for a large organisation with a highly skilled, specialist, and unionised workforce). Keep in mind, moreover, that, in order to secure the services of ‘star’ soloists, the Met plans its productions several years in advance (as do most of its peers around the world).

    Most other opera companies in the USA operate on much smaller budgets, tend to use more local singers (and thus do not need to plan so many years in advance), and have less to lose in trying to find a way to make opera feasible despite restrictions on auditorium occupancy and such like. No doubt, some of these companies will mount something, somewhere. The question is what, where, and how… and will it succeed?

    The real crisis will be felt by the performers and support personnel, most/all of whom are likely to experience a decline in the pay on offer, and many of whom are likely to experience a decline in the amount of work on offer.

  • NotToneDeaf says:

    Believe me, average Americans, even those who attend cultural events, are mostly unaware of what’s happening in NYC. The NY Times and New Yorkers themselves would have you believe otherwise, but other than knowing about “Hamilton,” most Americans couldn’t tell you at any given time what is playing on Broadway, and certainly not what the Met’s season repertoire is. Yes, many companies will fold and opera is certainly dying – but not because of the Met.