In an announcement that is sure to reverberate throughout the theater and performing arts worlds, the Metropolitan Opera said today that it will extend its COVID-inflicted closure and cancel its entire 2020-2021 season, not reopening until September of next year. As the New York Times, who first reported the news, said, the decision “sends a chilling signal that American cultural life is still far from resuming.”
The Met Opera is the country’s largest performing arts organization. They last performed on March 11, and since April, their 1,000 full-time employees, which includes members of the orchestra and chorus, have been furloughed without pay.
In June, the Met announced that it was cancelling its fall season and would resume with a New Year’s Eve performance. However, since then, the opera’s revenue losses have grown from $100 million to $150 million. Peter Gelb, the institution’s general manager, told the Times in an interview that the decision to cancel the 2020-2021 season was based on reducing the high labor costs associated with the productions. “The future of the Met relies upon it being artistically as powerful as ever, if not more so. The artistic experiences have to be better than ever before to attract audiences back. Where we need to cut back is costs.”
Gelb hopes to begin paying employees again, provided he can reach deals with the company’s unions to implement less robust, multiyear contracts. “In normal times, unions always want to fight hard for their workers, and that’s right,” he told the Times. “These are not normal times. These are pandemic times. There’s going to be a residual fallout from this that is going to go on for several years.”
In terms of bringing audiences back, the Met Opera will begin offering earlier curtain times (previously they said they’d move it from 8pm to 7pm), shortening some productions, offering more family-friendly performances, and looking toward diversity. They’ve already released details of their 2021-2022 season, which is planned to kick off with Terence Blanchard’s “Fire Shut Up in My Bones,” which will be the Met’s first opera by a black composer.
In terms of what this means for the rest of the performing arts world, it’s not yet clear. As it stands, Broadway is only shut down through the rest of the year. But earlier this month, Dr. Anthony Fauci said that even with a vaccine, he doesn’t expect a world where Americans can comfortably walk into a crowded theater without a mask until mid- to late 2021 .
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