Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

The Met Averts Shutdown: Does Opera Have to Be Grand to Survive?

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

The Met Averts Shutdown: Does Opera Have to Be Grand to Survive?

Article excerpt

The live spectacle and resounding, unamplified human voices of opera, its dwindling number of aficionados say, is something the digital age, even with its many wonders, can never top.

But the centuries-old European art form, best heard in hoary acoustic houses designed for an era before electronic sound, is confronting dramatic 21st century themes: fiscal viability, efficient product distribution, and the generation of Snapchat and YouTube.

Even New York's famed Metropolitan Opera, the art's grand dame with the largest production budget on the planet, may be beginning to hear the proverbial portly person sing.

Last year, the Met's former Lincoln Center neighbor, the New York City Opera, founded in 1943, went silent - as have numerous regional opera houses around the country the past decade. And dwindling attendance and a series of big-budget blunders threatened the world famous venue's 2014 season, as the Met's management threatened to lock out musicians and other workers if they didn't agree to a 16 percent pay cut.

On Monday, however, after months of often vituperative wrangling, the musicians' union and Met's management finally agreed to terms, sharing cost-cutting and avoiding a lockout. The 2014-15 season is set to open in September with a new production of Mozart's "Le Nozze di Figaro."

Still, daunting challenges remain for the kind of grand, world- class operas the Met puts on. "With ticket prices as high as they now are, the Met is no longer for the average person," says Wheeler Winston Dixon, a film studies expert at the University of Nebraska, who attended the Met regularly in the 1950s and '60s, and comes back to his home city to catch an opera on occasion.

"The Met used to be open to all; now it is open only to those who can afford to pay anywhere from $250 to $500 a ticket," he says via e-mail.

But while opera's grand spectacles may be suffering, a new, more bohemian opera scene has been emerging in New York, where artists and musicians have long come to create and perform.

In Brooklyn, the Vertical Player Repertory, founded in 1998 and under the slogan, "We take opera to another place," puts on alternative and experimental operas. …

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