Audiences Are Returning to the Met Opera, but Not for Everything

Because of discounts offered on some tickets, the Met’s box office has further to go to recover: It took in about 64 percent of its potential income this year, up from 57 percent last year but still below the 69 percent it took in for last full season before the pandemic.

When Moody’s downgraded the Met’s credit rating in February to Ba3, from Ba2, and revised its outlook to negative from stable, it noted that while the company was working to save money, “the Met’s programs remain relatively high cost stemming from a commitment to programmatic excellence that remains expensive to deliver.”

Gelb said that the pivot to more contemporary operas had helped bring in new audience members. There were 84,934 new ticket buyers this year, a record, and 9,000 more than last season. About 21,000 purchased tickets for a contemporary opera, and about 10 percent of those then bought tickets for another production. (The Met said ticket buyers purchase an average of two seats.) The audience is also younger: The average age of single-ticket buyers has fallen to 44, from 50 before the pandemic.

Ahead of its production of “X,” the Met hosted a starry, 18-hour reading of Malcolm X’s autobiography. But publicity did not always translate into ticket sales. Daniel Catán’s “Florencia en el Amazonas” drew attention as the company’s first work by a Mexican composer; it had 68 percent attendance. Jake Heggie’s “Dead Man Walking,” which was given the coveted spot of opening the season, had 62 percent attendance. And John Adams’s opera-oratorio “El Niño,” which received positive reviews from critics, ended at 58 percent attendance.

Gelb said he could not explain why some new operas, including the revival of “The Hours,” did not fare better this season.

“If we knew what would result in a sold-out house,” he said, “everything would be sold out.”

Even some classics struggled to find big audiences. A production of Wagner’s “Tannhäuser,” with a world-class cast, including the company debut of the baritone Christian Gerhaher, had 64 percent attendance. Verdi’s “Un Ballo in Maschera” was at the bottom of the list, with 56 percent attendance.

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