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Who Will Buy?

Opera companies hit hard by economic times include the Baltimore Opera, which has just filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection, and New York City Opera, which has been publicly struggling as well.

Things are much better at the Metropolitan Opera, but the board of directors there—faced with declining ticket sales in its upper price categories, as the economy continues in freefall mode—has opted to make a contribution that will allow the company to sell a chunk of Orchestra and Grand Tier seats for $25. To which I say hoorah!—readers of this blog know my bias that cheap, affordable tickets in the GOOD seats are critically important, even in a house with excellent acoustics like the Met. A few years ago when he was writing for Newsday, Justin Davidson (now classical-music and architecture critic at New York magazine) voiced a similar concern when he described the Met’s Family Circle seats (the cheapest seats at the topmost tier) as the spot “from which the tenor’s head looks like a deer tick but where the sound remains impeccable.” I agree that the sound in the Family Circle is just fine, but from a physical standpoint the distance to the stage is hugely problematic: it’s like sitting across the street from the action. If I had $150 to spend, I would rather go to the opera by myself and sit downstairs than buy two tickets for half that much, in the nosebleeds. So, at $25 this is a great deal.

The darker side to the Met’s new offer, of course, is that it’s a survival tactic: $25 tickets are better than unsold tickets and empty seats. Still, it also works as a marketing move and did get the company some instant press.

Here’s how it goes: weekend tickets remaining unsold in the Orchestra and Grand Tier sections will go into an online lottery that begins the Monday just prior to the performances. Prices for these seats normally range from about $110 to $295. If you win the lottery, you are notified by e-mail and must purchase your $25 tickets (maximum two per person) by Wednesday at 5 p.m., at which point they go back on sale at the normal price. According the winners posted at the Met’s website, 260 names were drawn for the Friday, December 12 performance of Tristan und Isolde, 50 names for Saturday’s Don Giovanni performance, and 106 names for Sunday’s Barenboim recital. So, if each lottery winner buys two tickets, then 520 seats are available for Friday’s Tristan at the $25 ticket price, 100 for Saturday’s Don Giovanni, and 212 for Sunday’s Daniel Barenboim piano recital. So apparently Mozart is selling better than the piano recital, which is selling better than the Wagner. How many people have responded to the offer? A Met press representative said that 1,010 people requested Tristan tickets, 1,348 requested Giovanni tickets, and 766 people requested tickets to the Barenboim recital.

Speaking of Barenboim, I’d be going to his piano recital—an all-Liszt program—this Sunday, if I didn’t have another concert booked already. This is billed as “the first piano recital on the stage of the Met since Vladimir Horowitz’s historic appearances in the 1980s.” You can read Michael Kimmelman’s wonderful November 23 New York Times article on Barenboim’s whirlwind of appearances in New York here.

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SundayArts is made possible in part by First Republic Bank and by the Rubin Museum of Art. Funding for SundayArts is also made possible by Rosalind P. Walter, The Paul and Irma Milstein Foundation, The Philip & Janice Levin Foundation, Elise Jaffe and Jeffrey Brown, Jody and John Arnhold, and The Lemberg Foundation. This program is supported, in part, by public funds from the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs in partnership with the City Council. Additional funding provided by members of THIRTEEN.
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