Met Opera closure leaves ‘devastated’ musicians without pay for over a year

25 September 2020, 11:45 | Updated: 25 September 2020, 15:16

Met Opera musicians ‘devastated’ as house cancels entire 2020/21 season
Met Opera musicians ‘devastated’ as house cancels entire 2020/21 season. Picture: Getty

By Maddy Shaw Roberts

The Met Opera won’t open for another year. This is crisis time for its musicians, the opera’s orchestra says in a statement.

The New York Met’s world-renowned orchestra has released a statement saying it is “devastated that the Met has not found ways to engage the Metropolitan Opera Orchestra during this closure”, following the opera house’s decision to cancel its entire 2020/21 season – announced on Wednesday.

It’s the biggest crisis the 3,800-seat opera house has known in its 137-year history. Since bringing its curtain down in March due to the coronavirus pandemic, the US’s largest performing arts organisation has lost more than $150 million in revenue.

The Lincoln Center, home to the Met Opera House, was once the beating heart of New York’s cultural scene. Now it stands silent, and around 1,000 of its full-time employees – including the house’s world-class orchestra and chorus – have been furloughed without pay since April.

The Met initially planned on reopening on New Year’s Eve, after cancelling its Autumn season. But this week, general manager Peter Gelb announced he wanted to cut back further on the house’s high labour costs.

Read more: The best classical music and opera online streams available >

“The future of the Met relies upon it being artistically as powerful as ever, if not more so,” Gelb told The New York Times. “The artistic experiences have to be better than ever before to attract audiences back. Where we need to cut back is costs.”

Now the orchestra’s musicians, chorus members and any soloists who had contracts coming up will be left without work, and no pay, until September 2021.

The Metropolitan Opera Orchestra Committee released a statement saying: “After being furloughed without pay for six months, we are concerned for our members and their families as they navigate what will now be over a year without economic support from the Met.”

At the beginning of lockdown, The Met started sharing weekly free virtual streams. In July, as it became clear how long the pandemic might go on for, they announced a new pay-per-view series, Met Stars Live in Concert, featuring some of opera’s biggest stars. In October, a $20 ticket will get you access to live performances in locations around the world from Anna Netrebko, live from Liechtenstein Palace in Vienna; and Diana Damrau and Joseph Calleja, who will sing from an unnamed castle in Malta.

The orchestra went on to say: “We are devastated that the Met has not found ways to engage the Metropolitan Opera Orchestra during this closure – especially when the Met Stars series shows that there is a possibility for collaboration.

The Metropolitan Opera House is the US's largest arts organisation
The Metropolitan Opera House is the US's largest arts organisation. Picture: Getty

“Many orchestras across the country are performing in adapted ways, continuing to connect to their valued audience members and communities. Simply stating that labour costs must be cut is not a solution or plan for the future; especially in light of the fact that no labour costs have been paid by the Met over the last six months.”

In Europe, we’ve seen a number of inspired ways to bring orchestral music back. The English National Opera have been charging audiences £35 for an outdoor performance of La bohème, featuring some of its orchestra and chorus. Garsington Opera and Glyndebourne have been bringing live music to their gardens, Milan’s La Scala and Vienna’s State Opera House have reopened for distanced audiences, and Barcelona’s opera house opened for an audience of 2,292 house plants.

“Great artistic institutions cannot cut their way to success,” the orchestra continued. “This leadership approach only further jeopardises the Met’s credibility and artistic integrity with our audiences. With the Met at risk of artistic failure, we will insist on a contract that preserves the world-class status of the Met Orchestra so that when we are able to reopen, our audiences will be able to experience performances at the level that they expect and deserve.”

In its announcement, the Met reassured audiences they will be back with a bang for their 2021/22 season, opening with Terence Blanchard’s Fire Shut Up in My Bones – the first opera by an African American composer to be performed at the Met.

But with the orchestra and chorus left without pay in the meantime, it’s not unthinkable, based on this recent, sobering survey of UK musicians, to assume some will have had to pursue other, more lucrative avenues of work by then.