Met Opera cuts ticket prices following box office slump

The New York Times News ServiceMarch 1, 2013 

— Attendance is down this season at the Metropolitan Opera, and officials there acknowledge that the fault is their own. They made going to the opera too expensive.

So in a rarity in the rarefied world of the performing arts, the Met said it would reduce ticket prices next season. The average cost of admission will drop by 10 percent, or to $156 from $174, Peter Gelb, the general manager, said in a recent interview.

The lower ticket prices will come in a 2013-14 season that includes the return of the music director James Levine to the pit after a two-year absence; an unusual appearance by a female conductor, Jane Glover; and, surprisingly, the first time Anna Netrebko, the Russian diva, will tackle one of the most famous Russian roles at the Met.

Experiencing those moments will still not be cheap, but the new ticket pricing will ease sticker shock. For example, an orchestra aisle seat that is $360 this season will be $330, and a grand tier box seat will go to $180 from $195.

In all, more than 2,000 seats for each performance will cost less, the Met said. One exception will be the $20 seats in the rear of the family circle, which will rise by $5. The Met will continue its rush-ticket and free open-rehearsal programs.

“We think that is going to increase attendance,” Gelb said of the price cuts, noting that more ticket sales would compensate for any lost revenue because of lower prices.

“At least it better,” he added.

Gelb said prices this year were “raised dramatically,” by about 10 percent. “We did not feel it was as successful as it might have been,” he said of the increase.

He also blamed falling attendance on a “cannibalization” of the audience by the Met’s high-definition movie theater broadcasts.

Attendance this season is projected to be, on average, 81 percent of capacity, compared with 84 percent last season. Ticket revenue is projected to be $4 million less than last season’s $94.4 million; canceled performances caused by Hurricane Sandy are responsible for half that shortfall, with the rest attributed to a donor’s reduced support for rush tickets.

Next year’s lineup announced

The Met also released details of next year’s program. It includes six productions new to the house, among them Borodin’s “Prince Igor,” which was last heard at the Met in 1917 and is famous for its Polovtsian Dances; Tchaikovsky’s “Eugene Onegin,” starring Netrebko as Tatiana, her first Russian role at the house since her debut there in Prokofiev’s “War and Peace” in 2002; an English-language “Die Fledermaus,” with freshly written lyrics by Jeremy Sams; and Massenet’s “Werther,” with Jonas Kaufmann in the title role.

Deborah Warner will direct “Onegin” in her Met debut. The cast includes Mariusz Kwiecien and Piotr Beczala, Met regulars. Marina Poplavskaya will take over for Netrebko later in the run. Valery Gergiev, who used to hold the title of principal guest conductor at the Met, will conduct. He last appeared there in the 2010-11 season. The first performance will be the opening-night gala on Sept. 23.

Dmitri Tcherniakov will also direct his first opera at the Met with “Prince Igor.” The production, Gelb said, would strip away the usual medieval pageantry and send Igor on a “psychological journey.”

“Die Fledermaus” will open on New Year’s Eve, a return to an opera world tradition. Sams, who also wrote the text for the Met’s Baroque pastiche opera “The Enchanted Island,” will direct “Die Fledermaus.” His lyrics will follow the story but will be written from scratch; Douglas Carter Beane, a Broadway playwright, has written the dialogue.

“It’s an operetta,” Gelb said. “You can take liberties. You wouldn’t do it with Wagner.”

The Met’s abbreviated English-language holiday production of “The Magic Flute” has been entrusted to Glover, who a Met spokesman said would be only the third woman to conduct a Met opera, and the first since 1998, when Simone Young led Offenbach’s “Contes d’Hoffmann.” The first female conductor at the Met, Sarah Caldwell, made her debut with Verdi’s “Traviata” in 1976.

As previously announced, next season’s premieres will include Nico Muhly’s opera “Two Boys,” a Met commission about duplicity and identity on the Internet. The opera has been “fleshed out,” Gelb said, since its run at the English National Opera in 2011.

The other new production is the first of Verdi’s “Falstaff” since Franco Zeffirelli’s oft-revived 1964 version. Directed by Robert Carsen, it will be the first of the three operas led next season by Levine, who has not conducted at the Met since May 2011 because of health problems. His first foray before an orchestra comes on May 19, when he leads the Met musicians in a concert at Carnegie Hall.

Levine is also conducting revivals of Mozart’s “Cosi Fan Tutte” and Berg’s “Wozzeck,” with two veteran stars taking on the main roles in “Wozzeck” for the first time: Deborah Voigt and Thomas Hampson.

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