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Datum objave: 03.06.2020
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The Metropolitan Opera Cancels All Fall Performances

Many artists have not been paid since March at the company, which hopes to return on New Year’s Eve after its longest interruption in over a century.

The Metropolitan Opera Cancels All Fall Performances


Many artists have not been paid since March at the company, which hopes to return

on New Year’s Eve after its longest interruption in over a century.


The cancellation of the fall season at the Metropolitan Opera, the nation’s largest

performing arts organization, is sure to be closely watched by other presenters trying

to chart a way back to live events.Credit...Kathy Willens/Associated Press


By Michael Cooper

June 1, 2020


The Metropolitan Opera said on Monday that the coronavirus pandemic would force

the company to cancel its fall season, thrusting the Met into one of the gravest crises

in its 137-year history and leaving many of its artists, who have not been paid since

March, in dire financial straits.

The announcement by the Met, the nation’s largest performing arts organization, is

sure to be watched closely by other presenters who are trying to gauge when it might

be safe to invite audiences back for live performances, and how to survive in the

meantime.

The company, which last performed live on March 11, now hopes to return with a

gala on New Year’s Eve after its longest interruption in more than a century. 


It is a gap that is projected to cost the company close to $100 million in lost revenues, a

figure that will be partly offset by lower costs and emergency fund-raising efforts.

“It’s transparently obvious that social distancing and grand opera cannot go

together,” Peter Gelb, the company’s general manager, said in an interview. “It’s not

just the audience; it’s the health of the company. You cannot put a symphony

orchestra inside a pit, and performers and a chorus in intimate proximity on the

stage of the Met.”

And even if all that were possible, he added, it would be impractical to perform for

the 400 or 500 people who could sit at safe distances in the Met’s gilded 3,800-seat

auditorium. “How do you get them in?” he said. “How do you get them out?”

The cancellation poses a major threat to the company. “The Met’s financial position

was somewhat fragile before the pandemic,” Mr. Gelb said. “This has increased the

economic risks significantly. On the other hand, it has become a rallying cry to the

Met, and to its supporters, of the urgent need to address it and come up with

solutions. Because nobody wants the Met to fail.”


Image

Peter Gelb, the company’s general manager, said he was thinking of ways the post-

pandemic Met might change.Credit...Sara Krulwich/The New York Times


Mr. Gelb added that he was already thinking about how a post-pandemic Met might

change.

 “The future of the Met is going to be very different,” he said.

The months of cancellations will be especially hard on the company’s employees,

including the members of its world-renowned orchestra and chorus, who have not

been paid since March, when the company furloughed them but agreed to keep

paying for their health benefits. Most have gone on unemployment, and several

members of the company said that some of their colleagues have had to give up their

homes.

All were hoping to be back at work by the time the additional $600-a-week

unemployment benefit that Congress approved as part of its pandemic relief package

is set to expire, at the end of July.

“The real scare for us now is what happens after that,” said Ned Hanlon, a chorister

who is the chairman of the Met’s American Guild of Musical Artists committee,

which negotiates with the company on behalf of its choristers, stage directors,

dancers and others.

The chorus recently set up an emergency relief fund to help artists struggling to make

ends meet at a time when usual sources of extra income, such as singing in churches

or taking freelance work, have dried up as well. “I don’t know how we get through

those next few months,” Mr. Hanlon said.

And it is not just choristers: Soloists, including some of opera’s biggest names, are

essentially freelancers, and they are struggling without work or pay. Hardship has hit

the Met’s orchestra, too, whose members, unlike their peers at many other major

American symphonic ensembles, have gone unpaid.

“With the latest news of an extended shutdown and the orchestra continuing to be

furloughed without pay, we fear that our members will be prevented from supporting

their families, communities and the local economy with what they do best: make

music,” the committee that represents the players in union negotiations said in a

statement.

The virus has already claimed lives at the Met: Vincent J. Lionti, a violist in the

orchestra, died of it, as did Joel Revzen, an assistant conductor.

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Mr. Gelb said the loss of the beginning of the 2020-21 season — including over three

months of performances, several Live in HD cinema transmissions and its lucrative

opening night fund-raising gala — is projected to cost the company $54 million, on

top of the tens of millions that were lost this spring. He added that people who have

already bought tickets for the canceled performances could exchange them for other

performances, donate the money or get full refunds.

The Met has struggled at the box office in recent years while maintaining an annual

budget of over $300 million. But the pandemic struck at a moment when several big

artistic and box-office hits — including new productions of the Gershwins’ “Porgy

and Bess” and Philip Glass’s “Akhnaten” — had put the company on track for one of

its most successful seasons in years.

The company has an endowment valued at $270 million, down from close to $300

million before the pandemic — a fraction of the size of the funds at institutions like

the Metropolitan Museum of Art. The opera has bonded debt; relies on a letter of

credit that is backed in part by the enormous Chagall murals that hang in its lobby;

and has been chided at times by ratings agencies for not keeping enough cash on

hand. Now it is fighting for its financial life.

The Met still enjoys strong philanthropic support, and it has raised $60 million over

the past two months, as part of an emergency campaign. Marc A. Scorca, the

president of Opera America, an industry organization, noted that one of opera’s

perceived weaknesses — that it does not get enough box-office revenue to come close

to covering expenses, making it reliant on donors — could help it weather the current

waves of cancellations.

“It has always been a disadvantage of opera that so little of its income comes from

box office,” he said.

“But in comparison to sectors like the theater, some of these

opera companies are less fragile — provided that they can hold on to the

philanthropy.”

The Met’s digital outreach — a necessity at a moment when live performances have

been restricted — has been strong. The company has been streaming free operas

from its extensive video catalog each night, an endeavor that has helped it attract

20,000 new donors. And Mr. Gelb said the At-Home Gala it streamed in April, with

live performances filmed on smartphones from the homes of opera stars around the

world, was watched by 750,000 people and raised $1.5 million in small donations

and another $1.5 million from large sponsors.

But Mr. Gelb said that the Met will have to think and act differently in the future if it

is to survive. “It’s really going to ultimately require an economic reset of the Met,” he

said, declining to elaborate.

o How do we start exercising again without hurting ourselves after months

of lockdown?

Exercise researchers and physicians have some blunt advice for those of us

aiming to return to regular exercise now: Start slowly and then rev up your

workouts, also slowly. American adults tended to be about 12 percent less

active after the stay-at-home mandates began in March than they were in

January. But there are steps you can take to ease your way back into regular

exercise safely. First, “start at no more than 50 percent of the exercise you

were doing before Covid,” says Dr. Monica Rho, the chief of musculoskeletal

medicine at the Shirley Ryan AbilityLab in Chicago. Thread in some

preparatory squats, too, she advises. “When you haven’t been exercising, you

lose muscle mass.” Expect some muscle twinges after these preliminary, post-

lockdown sessions, especially a day or two later. But sudden or increasing

pain during exercise is a clarion call to stop and return home.

o My state is reopening. Is it safe to go out?

States are reopening bit by bit. This means that more public spaces are

available for use and more and more businesses are being allowed to open

again. The federal government is largely leaving the decision up to states, and

some state leaders are leaving the decision up to local authorities. Even if you

aren’t being told to stay at home, it’s still a good idea to limit trips outside and

your interaction with other people.

o What’s the risk of catching coronavirus from a surface?

Touching contaminated objects and then infecting ourselves with the germs is

not typically how the virus spreads. But it can happen. A number of studies of

flu, rhinovirus, coronavirus and other microbes have shown that respiratory

illnesses, including the new coronavirus, can spread by touching

contaminated surfaces, particularly in places like day care centers, offices

and hospitals. But a long chain of events has to happen for the disease to

spread that way. The best way to protect yourself from coronavirus — whether

it’s surface transmission or close human contact — is still social distancing,

washing your hands, not touching your face and wearing masks.

o What are the symptoms of coronavirus?

Common symptoms include fever, a dry cough, fatigue and difficulty breathing

or shortness of breath. Some of these symptoms overlap with those of the flu,

making detection difficult, but runny noses and stuffy sinuses are less

common. The C.D.C. has also added chills, muscle pain, sore throat,

headache and a new loss of the sense of taste or smell as symptoms to look

out for. Most people fall ill five to seven days after exposure, but symptoms

may appear in as few as two days or as many as 14 days.

o How can I protect myself while flying?

If air travel is unavoidable, there are some steps you can take to protect

yourself. Most important: Wash your hands often, and stop touching your face.

If possible, choose a window seat. A study from Emory University found that

during flu season, the safest place to sit on a plane is by a window, as people

sitting in window seats had less contact with potentially sick people. Disinfect

hard surfaces. When you get to your seat and your hands are clean, use

disinfecting wipes to clean the hard surfaces at your seat like the head and

arm rest, the seatbelt buckle, the remote, screen, seat back pocket and the

tray table. If the seat is hard and nonporous or leather or pleather, you can

wipe that down, too. (Using wipes on upholstered seats could lead to a wet

seat and spreading of germs rather than killing them.)

o How many people have lost their jobs due to coronavirus in the U.S.?

More than 40 million people — the equivalent of 1 in 4 U.S. workers — have

filed for unemployment benefits since the pandemic took hold. One in five who

were working in February reported losing a job or being furloughed in March

or the beginning of April, data from a Federal Reserve survey released on

May 14 showed, and that pain was highly concentrated among low earners.

Fully 39 percent of former workers living in a household earning $40,000 or

less lost work, compared with 13 percent in those making more than

$100,000, a Fed official said.

o Can I go to the park?

Yes, but make sure you keep six feet of distance between you and people

who don’t live in your home. Even if you just hang out in a park, rather than go

for a jog or a walk, getting some fresh air, and hopefully sunshine, is a good

idea.

o How do I take my temperature?

Taking one’s temperature to look for signs of fever is not as easy as it sounds,

as “normal” temperature numbers can vary, but generally, keep an eye out for

a temperature of 100.5 degrees Fahrenheit or higher. If you don’t have a

thermometer (they can be pricey these days), there are other ways to figure

out if you have a fever, or are at risk of Covid-19 complications.

o Should I wear a mask?

The C.D.C. has recommended that all Americans wear cloth masks if they go

out in public. This is a shift in federal guidance reflecting new concerns that

the coronavirus is being spread by infected people who have no symptoms.

Until now, the C.D.C., like the W.H.O., has advised that ordinary people don’t

need to wear masks unless they are sick and coughing. Part of the reason

was to preserve medical-grade masks for health care workers who

desperately need them at a time when they are in continuously short supply.

Masks don’t replace hand washing and social distancing.

o What should I do if I feel sick?

If you’ve been exposed to the coronavirus or think you have, and have a fever

or symptoms like a cough or difficulty breathing, call a doctor. They should

give you advice on whether you should be tested, how to get tested, and how

to seek medical treatment without potentially infecting or exposing others.

o How do I get tested?

If you’re sick and you think you’ve been exposed to the new coronavirus, the

C.D.C. recommends that you call your healthcare provider and explain your

symptoms and fears. They will decide if you need to be tested. Keep in mind

that there’s a chance — because of a lack of testing kits or because you’re

asymptomatic, for instance — you won’t be able to get tested.

o How can I help?

Charity Navigator, which evaluates charities using a numbers-based system,

has a running list of nonprofits working in communities affected by the

outbreak. You can give blood through the American Red Cross, and World

Central Kitchen has stepped in to distribute meals in major cities.

The pandemic will keep audiences away for longer than the labor unrest that halted

weeks of performances in 1969 and 1980 — two interruptions that the Met took years

to recover from, with some audience members not returning after the gaps. Mr. Gelb

is already thinking about how the company will change.

“We’re going to have to be more nimble and more flexible,” he said, “and if anything

we’re going to hope to have even more new productions, and more new experiences,

to try to stimulate more interest.”

The abbreviated season to come will look very different from what was planned.

Because of the lack of time for mounting technical rehearsals, which are usually held

in the summer, the Met is postponing planned new productions of Mozart’s “Die

Zauberflöte” and “Don Giovanni,” and will stage revivals of their old productions

instead. Two new productions that had been planned for the fall, Verdi’s “Aida” and

Prokofiev’s “The Fiery Angel,” have been postponed until later seasons. In February,

when the house had been scheduled to be dark, the Met plans to stage popular titles,

including Puccini’s “La Bohème,” Bizet’s “Carmen” and Verdi’s “La Traviata.”

To make attendance as appealing as possible, most show times will be moved to 7

p.m., and the company will explore cutting some operas, the way Shakespeare plays

are typically cut in performance. Handel’s “Giulio Cesare” will be trimmed to three-

and-a-half hours, with one intermission, from four-and-a-half hours, with two.

The Met does plan to go ahead with Ivo van Hove’s new production of Jake Heggie’s

“Dead Man Walking,” which is to be conducted by Yannick Nézet-Séguin, the Met’s

music director, who is still scheduled to conduct 26 performances, including a highly

anticipated revival of Strauss’s “Die Frau Ohne Schatten.”

This week Mr. Gelb, who is usually found at the Met at all hours, returned to the

mostly empty opera house for the first time in 10 weeks to film a message to the

company announcing the extended closure.

“It felt quite desolate,” he said. “But the ghosts of the past performances are very

much present. The Met is an amazing house, and because I started out there as an

usher in my teenage years, it’s part of me. And I know I’m not alone in my

commitment to saving the Met for the future.”

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