Metropolitan Opera faces questions as it marks big anniversary

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The Metropolitan Opera is pulling out the finery this weekend to mark its golden anniversary at New York’s Lincoln Center, but the celebration comes at a tough moment for opera in the United States.

A black-tie concert and gala dinner will feature performances from many of opera’s biggest stars, including legendary Spanish singer Placido Domingo and the popular American soprano Renee Fleming, as well as archived footage from Met performances of yore and a recent video testimonial from the iconic Leontyne Price.

The event comes near the end of another season of spectacle concerning tales of love, loss, fate and the fantastic, with booming soloists, museum-worthy sets and sure-handed performing by the Met’s respected chorus and orchestra.

While the Met’s musical prowess is not open to question, there is uncertainty hovering over the company as it struggles to find new subscribers to make up for older attendees who are dying off.

Met ticket sales covered 88 percent of capacity in 2008, but only 69 percent in 2015, according to financial reports. As ticket revenues have stagnated, donations from wealthy benefactors have assumed a greater share of expenses.

“It has some serious problems,” said Charles Affron, co-author of “Grand Opera: The Story of the Met,” who said the house is facing one of the toughest periods in its 134-year history.

“The audience has been dwindling and keeps dwindling,” he said.

Met General Manager Peter Gelb said overall audience in the 2016-2017 season that celebrates the opera’s 50 years “slightly” improved compared with last year, its first gain after several years of decline.

Gelb said ticket sales to first-time buyers have been strong, but acknowledged that attracting new audience remains a work in progress. He said a priority was greater outreach to schools, in part through use of content from the Met’s “Live in HD” program, which streams opera from the Met stage to cinemas worldwide.

“Opera is going through a transition — replacing an older audience with a younger one,” he told AFP. “The question is can we replace the old audience with the new one quickly enough?”

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