The New York Metropolitan Opera announced a new box office record for opening day ticket sales this week. The total sales exceeded $2.6 million worth of single tickets for the upcoming season.
The Met's General Manager, Peter Gelb, says the strength of the 2010-2011 schedule and its High Definition (HD) transmissions have increased opera-going interest, making the Met seemingly recession-proof.
Even though the Met raised ticket prices this season for the first time in his four-year tenure (individual ticket prices went up an average of 11 percent), over 24,000 tickets were sold on Sunday.
"There's a great deal of excitement of our new Ring cycle," Gelb says. "The Met always prides itself of having the greatest stars of opera on our stage. And we've been trying the last few seasons to demonstrate with our new productions and the directors who are working here from around the world that it's possible to not only keep our existing, older audience, but also attract a new one."
Gelb wants to increase the Met's audience by any means possible. Over the past four seasons, the Met has broadcast live opera performances into theatres around the world via HD transmission. Last year, the Met reports to have sold 2.4 million tickets for these HD screenings. Tickets will go on sale on September 27 for the HD season, and this year's HD sales are expected to surpass the big number of regular tickets sold. Gelb believes the HD broadcasts have contributed to the growing number of opera-goers outside of Manhattan.
"When tour groups come to the Met, more often now than not," Gelb says, "the guides report that the tourists are asking to see locations backstage that they were already familiar with from having watched the live HD transmissions from their hometowns. So, certainly, the transmissions are increasing the awareness of the Met and making people want to come to the Met. It's been a huge boom to our profile and, in itself, it's extended our audience by the millions."
The transmissions will reach 1,500 movie theatres in fifty countries for the 2010-11 season. Gelb thinks that opera-lovers will tolerate increased ticket prices to make this expanded number of HD outlets possible, and says the public will get a better look behind the scenes at the Met. Final dress rehearsals will be open to the public, opening night will be transmitted live into Times Square this year, and beginning on August 28, a live outdoor festival will feature 10 free encore presentations at Lincoln Center Plaza.
"Even in a time of recession, it's necessary to be moving forward artistically," Gelb says, adding that he's found a means to produce new and interesting opera content with the revenue generated by the HD transmissions. "The live transmissions into movie theatres more than pay for themselves. They are so successful now with the audience we're attracting around the world, and the revenue we receive from that actually provides a positive cash flow to our bottom line."
Still, the Metropolitan Opera has plenty of work to do financially—and that's something that even Gelb admits readily. "Throughout its entire 126 year history, the Met has been challenged financially." Grand opera, he adds, is something that never makes sense financially.