Thursday, September 28, 2006

Doubling down

Wellsung J is back, with his mind strongly on the social strand of opera experience. So, following his cue, let's put aesthetics to the side for a minute.

One of the more important facts of Gelb's first term is this:
Seventy-seven per cent of the Met's available tickets were sold last season, down from 93 per cent in 1999-2000.
Most of that decline occurred in one season -- because of 9/11 -- but it's troubling that the trend has not yet reversed itself despite our current boom economy. Volpe's general reaction was to bunker down, cut expenses and get more from the current operagoing base. Gelb seems to be pursuing the reverse course: to spend some money, do more things, and make a splash.

Will it work? Well, the price cuts Gelb has instituted at the low end (upper Family Circle seats are now $15 on weekdays -- as cheap or cheaper than standing) should up ticket sale percentages by themselves, without necessarily improving revenue. So any numbers that come out should be taken with salt... Still, his other moves seem to indicate that he has a good grasp of the marginal (potential) operagoer.

His choice of Broadway and middlebrow movie directors to do new productions, for example, seems perfectly to target the particular segment of the Times-reading population here that should be going to (more) opera but isn't. The actual Hollywood star power at opening night surely helped considerably; raising that event's profile via advertising, the open dress rehearsal stunt, and the simulcast venues was a smart move.

But the latter, I suspect, was about more than just local press. It seems to me that Gelb is not only aiming at local operagoers but visitors as well -- particularly foreign ones, whose numbers at the Met have (again) dropped considerably since 9/11. Times Square is a sort of joke to locals, but its visibilty around the country and abroad is substantial... And I saw a lot of foreign press there.

Finally, the singers Gelb has by all accounts chosen to push through the first part of his term -- Anna Netrebko, Angela Gheorghiu, and Diana Damrau (have I missed any?) -- are all known and very popular quantities in Europe; Netrebko seems even to have hit quasi-pop-star status there (and it, unfortunately, shows). Whether or not this is an intentional bid for foreign tourism, it certainly can't hurt.

*     *     *

What's to complain of, then? (Besides how Gelb's strategy could adapt to lean-growth years.) Aesthetically, these changes are, as I long-ago noted, quite mild. And yet, I do wonder how total this commitment to marketing may be. Will talent -- particularly singing talent -- not yet celebrated or Euro-approved be given lead chances? One thing I've missed from Gelb is any sort of discussion of or commitment to American singers.

The Lindemann program continues, of course, and tonight is Lisette Oropesa's debut. I'm off to that.

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Absolutely no axe-grinding, please.