Rearranging Deck Chairs on the Titanic
The Metropolitan Opera has just announced that starting next year for the first time in its history it will be performing Sunday matinees.
“It’s a real game changer,” Peter Gelb, the Met’s general manager, said in an interview. “It will allow us to attract a new audience.”
But the Met’s radical scheduling change has the feel of re-arranging the deck chairs on the Titanic.
There’s little to be gained if the Sunday matinees simply divert the existing Met audience from Saturday matinees and evening performances.
Moreover, Gelb is flirting with destroying a part of the Monday evening audience since Monday is slated to be dark under the new arrangement.
Some Monday-nighters simply may drop the opera habit altogether rather than switch to another evening or afternoon.
We will have to wait and compare Monday nighters who drop out with the Sunday afternooners who are not switchovers from the other days of the week to find out whether adding the Sunday matinees was a boom or bust for the Met box office.
One sure and good thing, though, is that Sunday matinees do add choice to the menu.
Gelb has made this type of move before. He cannibalized the old Met audience with Opera HD in the movie houses, touting the new revenue stream from HD but neglecting to mention the box office cost of the program.
HD was expected to add to the Met audience over the longer run, but so far the Met box office keeps declining.
The super-star tenor Jonas Kaufmann was quoted in the UK website slippeddisk.com that, “The Met can’t even sell out Tosca. Why go to the opera house when you can see the same show at movie houses for much less money? Those people never come back.”
Another radical scheduling change planned by the Met is to let the hall go dark during February when ticket sales tend to be low and add performances in the late spring moving the end of the opera season from May to early June.
This is a truly dangerous gimmick.
If the Met audience is forced to find alternative forms of entertainment during those long cold February evenings, they may discover something more to their liking--and cheaper--than opera.
What the Met gets in return for risking its winter audience are more tourists, since New York City tourism is higher in late spring than February. It seems a risky bet.
Met critics point out that instead of scheduling gimmicks and schemes to boost the flagging box office—the Met took in only 67 percent of its potential box office revenue this season, a near record low-- the general manager should be focusing his energies on delivering a better product to Met audiences.
Better productions, better singers and conductors and certainly better utilization of the Met’s artistic resources is the only sure way to stem the relentless drift away from the Met during the Gelb regime.
The fear gnawing at Met fans is that Gelb may be “rearranging deck chairs on the Titanic” precisely because gimmicks are the only thing he’s good at.