Metropolitan Opera - Still Failing to Draw an Audience

Metropolitan Opera at Lincoln Center, New York City (Maria Eklind)

The Associated Press reported that the Metropolitan Opera ended its 2018/2019 season on Saturday with only 69 percent of its box office revenue capacity sold. This is up 3 percent from the opera company's all time low of 66 percent during the 2015/2016 season.

Despite the slight rebound from a company that used to fill its seats by casting such greats as Joan Sutherland, Luciano Pavarotti, and Richard Tucker, the General Manager of the Metropolitan Opera, Peter Gelb, seemed to be quite optimistic. "To me that is encouraging news," Gelb explains. "If we haven't turned the corner, we're at least moving in the right direction."

It is perhaps difficult to swallow such optimism when the Metropolitan Opera has been and is supposed to be the pinnacle of opera in the United States. However, there is 'hope' on the horizon, and it comes in the form of the 🎉 Sunday matinee 🎉 (Yes, that is a sarcas-emojiTM). Next season, the Met will produce 16 Sunday matinees which will replace Monday night performances. For comparison, the company's Saturday afternoon performances are averaging around 20 percent better sales than evening performances. Having spent plenty of time in the retirement havens in South Florida, it is easy to infer what this strategy really means. Reasonably, it is the company's effort to acknowledge the aging of its audience, and, much like the Live in HD initiative, this kind of strategy does not seem to resolve the underlying issues. 

The Metropolitan Opera at Lincoln Center, New York (Christopher Swift)

How then does the Metropolitan Opera attract audiences that are more vibrant? Well, it seems Wagner's Ring Cycle did so well this year that it will likely return in five or six years. When discussing the production from the composer that had died 136 years earlier, Gelb commented, "I can't tell you how many people came up to me during intermissions when I was in the space of the house telling me how much they love this production." 

Opera lovers at large would like to see statistics from the audience survey on that one, Mr. Gelb. But, that is just it, Gelb "can't tell you" how many people actually have this opinion. It perhaps makes the opera enthusiast feel like he or she is listening to the great Hall and Oates song "Out of Touch" when hearing that the Ring Cycle is the answer to waning audience numbers. The irony is not lost that the Hall and Oates song is also stuck in 1984.

© Roger Schmidt

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