Story and link: The Good, The Bad and the Intriguing at The Met

By Robert D. Thomas

Music Critic

Pasadena Star-News/San Gabriel Valley Tribune/Whittier Daily


In an article published today in the New York Times (HERE), Daniel J. Wakin offers some wide-ranging and
interesting (to me, at any rate) information about the Metropolitan Opera,
based on figures released by the opera company.

The good:

The Met took in $182 million in donations last season, 50
percent higher than the year before; both numbers are astounding given how the
economy has affect arts contributions throughout the nation.

Thanks in part to $11 million in profits from last year’s
high-definition telecasts to movie theaters, the company balanced its budget
for the fiscal year (more on the HD program below).


The bad:

The Met continues to carry about $41 million in debt, its
endowment has dropped 25 percent since 2007 because of the stock-market
debacle, and the company is taking aggressively high draws from the endowment.

According to Wakin’s article, box-office revenue has been “largely
flat” since 2008 (whether this is bad is, of course, debatable; most companies
have seen their ticket sales affected negatively because of the recession). “In
fact,” writes Wakin about the Met, “ticket sales as a percentage of total
dollar capacity — the measure used by the Met — dropped to 79.2 percent from
83.2 percent the year before, itself a decline from 2009’s 88 percent. The 2011
box office proceeds include a $4.9 million donation to subsidize inexpensive
seats.” Again, I’m not sure that last line counts in the “bad” category — kudos
to the Met for reaching out to people who cannot afford its ticket prices.

The Met’s operating budget has increased to $325 million,
up 38 percent from 2005. Wakin has much to say in his article about reasons for
this increase.


The intriguing:

To me, the most intriguing aspect of the article is
something many of us have wondered since the Met began beaming performances
into theaters around the world six seasons ago: would they cut into ticket
sales at the Met itself? Met telecasts are now shown in 1,600 theaters in 54
countries. The theater audience is nearly 3 million a season, compared with
800,000 at the opera house (according to Wakin’s article).


Apparently the answer to the “ticket sales effect” question
is “yes”, but there’s a major caveat. Of the HD telecasts Wakin writes, “[Peter
Gelb, the Met’s general manager) acknowledged for the first time that
competition from the HD transmissions may have cannibalized box office sales,
particularly from people in nearby cities like Boston, who might have traveled
to New York before. But the financial loss was offset, he argued, by donor
contributions from across the country that were generated by the excitement
surrounding the broadcasts.”


The 2011-2012 Met “Live in HD” season begins Saturday at 9:55
a.m. (PDT) with a telecast of a new production of Donizetti’s Anna Bolena, with Anna Netrebko in the
title role. Two weeks later comes another new production — Mozart’s Don Giovanni — and Wagner’s Siegfried — the third segment in the
Met’s new, controversial staging of Wagner’s Ring Cycle — will be telecast on Nov. 5 beginning at 9 a.m. PDT.



(c) Copyright 2011, Robert D. Thomas. All rights reserved.
Portions may be quoted with attribution.

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