Friday, June 29, 2012

Met Envy

Thank goodness for caller ID. A few months ago, the marketing department of Seattle Opera called here repeatedly requesting to speak with my husband. Reason being, at one point in time we had donated thousands of dollars to Seattle Opera. But lo and behold, an unfortunate and untimely incident resulted in this family's disaffection (to put it mildly) with the local arts organization. The telemarketing calls were persistent nevertheless.
"Why do you need to speak with my husband?" I asked finally.
The calls had begun before 8 A.M.  
"Well, Seattle Opera wants to help you purchase the best available seats for 2013 Ring Cycle!"
"Really? It's a year and a half away."
"True," said The Voice. "Tickets are going fast and, certainly, you don't want to be stuck waiting in a long line for only a few remaining seats."
You don't have to worry, I thought
"We can help you—"
 "Thank you very much," I said, and hung up the phone. Days later, Seattle Opera had succeeded in making it to our personal blocked numbers list.

The recent news of Seattle Opera's budget shortfall and cuts to future seasons might hardly be surprising given the punishing economy, particularly for arts organizations. Opera companies nationwide are enduring similar travails. Opera Boston has been declared dead; New York City Opera teeters on the brink; Los Angeles Philharmonic cannibalizes its neighbor, LA Opera; and sadly, applause has died for San Antonio Opera which filed for liquidation bankruptcy last month.

Which might partially help to explain why the winning streak of Metropolitan Opera's General Manager, Peter Gelb, proves so irksome to many. While other opera organizations currently flail on life support, the Metropolitan Opera, according to the Met's 2010-11 tax returns, ended with a $41 million surplus in 2011. Online debates are rife with vicious comments directed at Gelb, with everything from his initial censoring of the spiteful, mealy-mouthed reviews from Opera News, his monopolizing of movie theaters, to his unflagging support of the ailing and absent Maestro James Levine. Meantime, Gelb snapped up Italian conductor, Fabio Luisi, from European engagements. Recently, Luisi was named the Met's Principal Conductor.

The problem with Gelb is not a question of whether or not he has succeeded in regaining momentum for an aging art form, and helped to turn around and revitalize the artistic purpose of the Metropolitan Opera. The prickly issue is, as I see it, that Peter Gelb, a self-proclaimed risk taker, out-performed the rest; other opera companies are left kicking themselves while, yes, Gelb discovered the gelt. The Met's live transmissions to everywhere in the world are his brain child. He got there first.

I find myself unable to leave my seat at the movie theater even during intermission, for I wouldn't want to miss a moment of back stage camera work and up close interviews with cast and crew. For those wagging their fingers and letting loose their tongues about the sad state of arts education,  Met Opera on the big screen provides one of the most enriching experiences to be had, yet inexpensively priced with the best seats in the house for everyone. At the recent Encore presentation of Michael Grandage's production of Mozart's "Don Giovanni" which I attended with delight, I couldn't help but overhear a man whisper to his wife: "Question is, should we come here next time or maybe purchase the Met's DVD and watch at home?"

And the local opera company didn't seem to be missed at all.