The Met Opera Is Struggling. How Can It Fill Those Empty Seats?
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    Default The Met Opera Is Struggling. How Can It Fill Those Empty Seats?

    http://nyti.ms/23q5IsS

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    MAY 4, 2016

    While there was plenty to celebrate artistically this season at the Metropolitan Opera — with several acclaimed new productions and memorable star turns — the company’s worrying box-office slump continued.

    The Met was on track to take in only 66 percent of its potential box-office revenue through the end of the season on Saturday, company officials said, down slightly from the previous season. (Since some seats are discounted, attendance is projected to be 72 percent.)

    Some weakness stemmed from factors beyond the Met’s control: Jonas Kaufmann, one of the last bankable stars in opera, withdrew from all his appearances this season, citing illness, and other opera companies are facing struggles of their own. But it is becoming a pattern.

    It is a daunting house to fill. With 3,800 seats and 200 standing-room places, the Met is far bigger than most European houses, and it gave 225 opera performances this season, more than almost all of its peers. It sold an average of 2,869 seats per performance — more than enough to fill the 2,256 seats of the Royal Opera House in London or the Vienna State Opera, which can hold 2,284.

    What to do? Channeling their inner impresarios, critics and reporters for The New York Times engaged in a little operatic spitballing, throwing out ideas — including some that the Met is experimenting with and others it might find off the wall — that could help fill the house again. MICHAEL COOPER

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    Lower their prices would be a good start.
    Last edited by Pugg; May-05-2016 at 04:37.

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    I don't know the answer, but I do know that opera is and always was about the human voice, and that the Met has always had the reputation of presenting the greatest singers in the world. I've been listening to the Saturday broadcasts for the last couple of seasons, and I've heard very little of the kind of singing that would persuade me to cough up the money for such an expensive night out. No doubt they're hoping that a trend toward updated productions will win opera new audiences, and they may be right. But Trovatore will always need, in Caruso's words, "the four greatest singers in the world." Arguably, the shoes of Caruso, Ponselle, Schumann-Heink and Ruffo have not been nearly filled for a couple of generations.

    If they can't raise the standard of singing, Pugg's suggestion that they lower their prices, however they need to accomplish it, may be a necessary course.

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    Senior Member DavidA's Avatar
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    I'm not sure how much the broadcasts effect sales in the Met itself. I would say that whenever I have been to a broadcast the Met itself appears to be pretty full. It was certainly full for the last performance of Electra. Interestingly the broadcast in which the cinema I attended was almost full was of the Pearl Fishers.

    Obviously to attend opera is a very expensive night out and with the downturn in the world economy people probably haven't got the ready cash to spend it as many times on opera. It somewhat annoys and amuses me when you have the Met appealing for funds and sponsors as if they are a charity.
    Last edited by DavidA; May-05-2016 at 07:25.

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    Quote Originally Posted by DavidA View Post
    I'm not sure how much the broadcasts effect sales in the Met itself.
    The LA Phil offered simulcasts of some concerts in local theaters for a couple of years. These were technically and artistically very successful, and uniformly $20 per ticket. But they dropped that program, evidently based on a board judgment that attendance at Disney Hall was being cannibalized. I'm sure they had some kind of measurement to judge that, because the costs of setting up the simulcasts must have been quite high to begin with.


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    Quote Originally Posted by DavidA View Post
    I'm not sure how much the broadcasts effect sales in the Met itself. I would say that whenever I have been to a broadcast the Met itself appears to be pretty full.
    Appearances can be deceiving. I once went to a televised sports event at the Albert Hall. All the sold tickets were packed into one Quarter so the wide angle Camera always had a backdrop. We were in a box with no one around us.

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    What the Met lost in filling up the seats in-house they made up for big time with their HD performances all over the world.
    It's probably a wash.
    The Met never actually functioned in the black. It always struggled.
    Maybe it's time to cajole and encourage Volpi to think twice and return back to the fold. His tenure was quite positive in a lot more ways (and HD sprung from his brain, not Gelbs'.)

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    Quote Originally Posted by Woodduck View Post
    I don't know the answer, but I do know that opera is and always was about the human voice, and that the Met has always had the reputation of presenting the greatest singers in the world. I've been listening to the Saturday broadcasts for the last couple of seasons, and I've heard very little of the kind of singing that would persuade me to cough up the money for such an expensive night out. No doubt they're hoping that a trend toward updated productions will win opera new audiences, and they may be right. But Trovatore will always need, in Caruso's words, "the four greatest singers in the world." Arguably, the shoes of Caruso, Ponselle, Schumann-Heink and Ruffo have not been nearly filled for a couple of generations.

    If they can't raise the standard of singing, Pugg's suggestion that they lower their prices, however they need to accomplish it, may be a necessary course.
    I normally defer to your opinions which I regard and respect highly but this particular time I must humbly disagree.
    Perhaps you were not there in-house (which makes one HUGE difference in assessing a production) to see the magic of a foursome that rivaled anything of the past golden age but there it was : Il trovatore with Netrebko/Hvorostovsky/Zajick and (go ahead and scoff) even a fine performance was wrought from Yonghoon Lee.
    But the icing on the Met cake was the outstanding cast, every one, in the latest Roberto Devereux. History was made as Callas passed the scepter to Sondra Radvanovsky whose voice may not be a Tebaldi sound in beauty but then neither was Callas', but they had something much more exciting and electric in their portrayals. To add to the superior casting, Garanca was magnificent as Sara, Polanzani gave the best performance of his career so far, and though Kwiecien may have had some down moments, all four together crafted a piece of tapestry that was hard to beat anywhere.
    There ARE singers today who rival some of the best of the past. Do not overlook Joseph Calleja, who even has a certain sound reminiscent of those of past tenors.
    Radvanovsky and Netrebko are astonishingly fine singers and have grown through the years.
    And as for sheer beauty of sound, where else could you find another velvet flowing sound like Renee Flemings'?
    Watch for newcomers Michael Fabiano who will astound you, he's that good.
    No! In my humble opinion, for that's all it is, we have some stellar voices yet today who match many of those of the past.

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    First thing they need to do some serious research. To understand what has changed, in opera and wider society. Have they asked those who used to go and now don't? Has the age range demographic changed?

    I don't see many empty seats at the European opera houses I've been to in the last couple of years, (perhaps with the exception being provincial British opera companies.)

    Maybe they should consider fewer performances, but I guess that affects all their labor contracts.
    Last edited by Don Fatale; May-05-2016 at 17:16.

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    Quote Originally Posted by nina foresti View Post
    I normally defer to your opinions which I regard and respect highly but this particular time I must humbly disagree.
    Perhaps you were not there in-house (which makes one HUGE difference in assessing a production) to see the magic of a foursome that rivaled anything of the past golden age but there it was : Il trovatore with Netrebko/Hvorostovsky/Zajick and (go ahead and scoff) even a fine performance was wrought from Yonghoon Lee.
    But the icing on the Met cake was the outstanding cast, every one, in the latest Roberto Devereux. History was made as Callas passed the scepter to Sondra Radvanovsky whose voice may not be a Tebaldi sound in beauty but then neither was Callas', but they had something much more exciting and electric in their portrayals. To add to the superior casting, Garanca was magnificent as Sara, Polanzani gave the best performance of his career so far, and though Kwiecien may have had some down moments, all four together crafted a piece of tapestry that was hard to beat anywhere.
    There ARE singers today who rival some of the best of the past. Do not overlook Joseph Calleja, who even has a certain sound reminiscent of those of past tenors.
    Radvanovsky and Netrebko are astonishingly fine singers and have grown through the years.
    And as for sheer beauty of sound, where else could you find another velvet flowing sound like Renee Flemings'?
    Watch for newcomers Michael Fabiano who will astound you, he's that good.
    No! In my humble opinion, for that's all it is, we have some stellar voices yet today who match many of those of the past.
    Agree wholeheartedly about Roberto. Great singing AND acting. Yes, we have singers who can match anyone from the mythical 'golden age' whenever that was! I also have to disagree with Woodduck that opera on stage is all about the human voice. On CD yes, but when you are watchng a staged production it is also about the drama. It is about singers looking the part as well. So the Met scores fairly highly in my book, especially as it avoids the excesses of Eurotrash nonsense productions.
    Last edited by DavidA; May-05-2016 at 20:26.

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    Highlights, with repeats as demanded. Appropriate lightings. No stage settings. No costumes (casual dress). Concessions sold during performances, with occasional arias from vendors.


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    Quote Originally Posted by Vaneyes View Post
    Highlights, with repeats as demanded. Appropriate lightings. No stage settings. No costumes (casual dress). Concessions sold during performances, with occasional arias from vendors.
    "Thank you for that..........no you can just just leave your report.......Yes we'll get back to you....NO, no need to call .....
    Please close the door firmly after you. Goodbye."
    Last edited by Belowpar; May-05-2016 at 20:48.

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    Quote Originally Posted by nina foresti View Post
    I normally defer to your opinions which I regard and respect highly but this particular time I must humbly disagree.
    Perhaps you were not there in-house (which makes one HUGE difference in assessing a production) to see the magic of a foursome that rivaled anything of the past golden age but there it was : Il trovatore with Netrebko/Hvorostovsky/Zajick and (go ahead and scoff) even a fine performance was wrought from Yonghoon Lee.
    But the icing on the Met cake was the outstanding cast, every one, in the latest Roberto Devereux. History was made as Callas passed the scepter to Sondra Radvanovsky whose voice may not be a Tebaldi sound in beauty but then neither was Callas', but they had something much more exciting and electric in their portrayals. To add to the superior casting, Garanca was magnificent as Sara, Polanzani gave the best performance of his career so far, and though Kwiecien may have had some down moments, all four together crafted a piece of tapestry that was hard to beat anywhere.
    There ARE singers today who rival some of the best of the past. Do not overlook Joseph Calleja, who even has a certain sound reminiscent of those of past tenors.
    Radvanovsky and Netrebko are astonishingly fine singers and have grown through the years.
    And as for sheer beauty of sound, where else could you find another velvet flowing sound like Renee Flemings'?
    Watch for newcomers Michael Fabiano who will astound you, he's that good.
    No! In my humble opinion, for that's all it is, we have some stellar voices yet today who match many of those of the past.
    I don't want anyone deferring to my opinions.

    Of course we have a few first-rate voices. All I've noted is that I haven't heard many of them coming out of my radio; most of the singing from the Met this season has been just about competent and some of it not even that. Nor do I find many opera recordings made after the 1960s and '70s worthy to set beside those of earlier generations. If we want to enjoy opera now (aurally, at any rate) we're safer not making comparisons with classic recordings.

    Radvanovsky stands almost alone among sopranos in the bel canto repertoire today (and she is not the equal of her finest predecessors in terms of coloratura technique). Fleming is a great singer, but she's 57, and her bel canto efforts have been controversial. In the '50s and '60s we had Callas, Sutherland, Zeani, Cerquetti, Scotto, Moffo, Caballe, and Sills, to name only extraordinary singers who come readily to mind. Netrebko and Hvorostovsky would certainly be considered worthy singers in any era (I'm not that well acquainted with Zajick and Lee, but what I've heard of them hasn't made me especially eager for more), and I'm sure their Trovatore was well-sung. But they are considered among the best we have - the superstars of today. Once we've heard Gadski, Destinn, Ponselle, Rethberg, Leider, Battistini, Amato, Ruffo, Stracciari - well, don't get me started (again)! And we don't have to go back that far to hear singing the like of which doesn't exist now - or, if it does, is no longer being heard in New York, or is no longer reaching my living room.

    I can't help but think of how often I've heard people say that they hate the sound of operatic singing. A pushed, wobbly sound, rigid, uninflected phrasing, and dynamic monotony have become "normal" operatic singing today, and such inexpressive noises are not likely to appeal to those who listen to popular music. I know that when I turn on the radio and hear live opera, I often think "Why would anyone want to listen to this?" Generally I listen for a while to determine just how near to unbearable it will be, and then turn the radio off and find something more rewarding to do.

    We'll see whether "modernized" stagings of old operas can make up for the decline of true bel canto singing. My suspicion is that opera will have to change to accommodate new styles of music and new ways of singing, and that opera as we know it - an art not of theatrical effects but of dramma per musica, based on the most refined capacity of the human voice for freedom, flexibility, and beauty of tone - will become even more of an elite entertainment than it is now. Where that will leave the Met is anybody's guess.
    Last edited by Woodduck; May-06-2016 at 07:25.

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    I've been to the Met exactly one time, so I can only speak of that experience -- but, though it was just a "regular," mid-March Saturday matinee of L'ELISIR D'AMORE, every Family Circle seat but one or two was filled and by no means just with the proverbial "graying heads," either. At intermission, the upstairs lobby was so packed I literally could not move more than a couple of steps. And the opera's cast of Vittorio Grigolo, the veteran Alessandro Corbelli, and a lesser known but excellent soprano and baritone did not disappoint, vocally or physically: plenty of tonal beauty, subtlety, and power in their singing. As for why the Met is supposedly having problems, I feel it's probably a combination of high ticket prices and the ready availability of opera on Youtube, in movie theaters, and on recordings. Hotels in Manhattan are expensive, so why should out-of-towners pay high accommodation and ticket prices when they could visit their local cinema for an HD broadcast, or listen on the radio or watch online for free? So I don't think the situation is "If everyone sang like Gigli and Ponselle, the Met would be packed to the rafters each night." I think it's much more to do with the economy and with the fact that "opera" isn't just "the Met" anymore.
    Last edited by Bellinilover; May-05-2016 at 22:23.

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    Woodduck: I was born in 1978. Personally, I don't much like recordings of Mozart, Rossini, or Handel made before the 1970s, and my favorite recordings of those composers' works were made in the 1990's. Recordings of individual arias from much earlier might be to my taste (John McCormack's "Il mio tesoro" or Joan Sutherland's "Bel raggio lusinghier" are examples), but the operas as a whole tend to sound, to my ear, strange and inauthentic (not to mention abridged). I'm aware that in the 1940's a cast that included Ezio Pinza performed a concert version of LA CENERENTOLA -- but I would have no interest in hearing a recording of it.

    But that's just a matter of personal taste. What I find a little unconvincing is the suggestion that people don't go to live opera today because they know that the singers they hear probably won't measure up to singers from the past. While I'm sure that's true of some people, I have a hard time believing it applies to a large percentage of the public or that it's a big reason for lack of attendance. No, I think it's more likely rising ticket, hotel, and transportation prices as well as the cultural change -- the fact that opera is now so readily available digitally, and the fact that the number of opera companies from which Americans have to choose is far, far greater today than it was in Ponselle's time. Here's what would be interesting: to see Met attendance numbers from the 1920's, the 1930's, the 1940's, etc. Was the whole house (the smaller "old Met" up until 1966) usually filled in those decades? Did attendance fall off during the war years? Was it significantly smaller on the nights that relative unknowns were singing than it was on the nights the biggest stars were singing?
    Last edited by Bellinilover; May-06-2016 at 00:30.

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