Metropolitan Opera will livestream its biggest stars
By Zachary Woolfe
For months, the Metropolitan Opera has been streaming operas from its extensive video archive each night, a program that has helped it attract tens of thousands of new donors. The At-Home Gala the company broadcast in April, with live performances filmed on smartphones by singers around the world, was watched by 750,000 people.
All that has been free. But for its next major initiative during a lockdown of its theater that will last at least until the end of the year, the Met will test whether a broad audience will pay for digital content.
On Saturday, the company announced that over the coming months it will present some of its biggest stars in a series of recitals from idyllic locations, streamed live — but professionally, not with homespun production values. Tickets will cost $20 a concert, roughly the same price as the Met’s popular Live in HD movie-theater broadcasts.
The company hopes the series will be a moneymaker in its own right, as well as a stimulus for donations.
“We had a lot of momentum, a big surge, which has slowed down at this point,” Peter Gelb, the Met’s general manager, said of fundraising to mitigate what is projected to be close to $100 million in revenue lost because of the coronavirus pandemic.
“But fundraising ebbs and flows according to activities and events,” he added in an interview. “That’s why the Met has to keep pushing the envelope and continue to set new trends.”
The recitals will begin July 18, with the tenor Jonas Kaufmann performing from the Baroque library hall of Polling Abbey, near Munich, accompanied by the pianist Helmut Deutsch. Others scheduled for the 12-concert series include Renée Fleming, Anna Netrebko, Joyce DiDonato, Bryn Terfel, Angel Blue and Lise Davidsen.
Gelb emphasized that the material would be popular; Kaufmann’s program, for example, includes selections from “Turandot,” “Tosca,” “Roméo et Juliette,” “Carmen” and other beloved works.
“These are not lieder programs,” Gelb said. “These are full-throated operatic arias.”
The soprano Christine Goerke will host the series and introduce brief documentary segments that will fill pauses in programs of roughly 75 minutes.
Participating singers will receive a fee, Gelb said, as well as a percentage of revenue from ticket sales. Asked about paying star performers while the Met’s orchestra and chorus, among other employees, have been furloughed, Gelb said the recital series was part of his plan to keep the company producing work during its lockdown.
“If there’s no Met to come back to, the jobs of our furloughed artists will be lost,” he said. “I have to ensure that the Met can earn revenue. We have to be entrepreneurial.”
He added that Rolex, one of the sponsors of the series, would be making a six-figure donation to the emergency relief fund set up by the company’s chorus to help its furloughed members.
The final recital is scheduled for Dec. 19, soon before the Met is supposed to reopen with a gala on New Year’s Eve. But while the outbreak in New York has eased substantially, Gelb said that he has been watching with concern as the pandemic has intensified over large swaths of the country.
“Instead of getting better, things are getting worse,” he said, “which obviously has a sobering effect on those of us who run performing arts organizations.”