The Met Opera will remain dark until September of 2021, announcing Wednesday that it would cancel its entire 2020-21 season due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Originally, the arts organization had planned on a cancellation of its fall season with tentative plans to reopen on December 31, but this week’s announcement scuttled that plan.
The need for social distancing and restrictions on audience attendance precipitated the decision, as the organization decided it would not be able to mount productions safely within reasonable financial boundaries. Under New York’s Phase 4 reopening guidelines, indoor arts and entertainment and cultural institutions can allow no more than 25 percent of its maximum capacity for either visitors or employees. Social distancing is also required, which is all but impossible for the production side of the house without an enormous revision to operations.
“Social distancing and the grand opera do not work,” Met general manager Peter Gelb told the Associated Press earlier this year when the organization announced its shortened season plans for 2020-21. “It is impossible to follow these social distancing guidelines that are in effect and presumably will be in effect certainly through the summer and into the early fall to have an orchestra situated in the pit, to have a chorus and dancers and singers in close contact with each other on the stage, to have costume, wardrobe, makeup people working intensely,” Gelb said.
Should it be able to return as planned in September of 2021, the organization will have been dark for over 550 days.
Performers spoke out against the cancellation, lamenting the fact that the organization cancelled its entire season rather than finding some way to produce and share performances despite the restrictions. “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,” a statement issued by the Metropolitan Opera Orchestra Committee said. “Furthermore, 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.”
“Many orchestras across the country are performing in adapted ways, continuing to connect to their valued audience members and communities. Simply stating that labor costs must be cut is not a solution or plan for the future; especially in light of the fact that no labor costs have been paid by the Met over the last six months.”
New York, once the epicenter of the coronavirus epidemic, has dramatically slowed the spread of the virus since the spring. It took just three months to reach 400,000 cases in the state, but the new daily case average has been below 1,000 since mid-June, during which point Florida, Texas and California have all surpassed the Empire State’s total case count.
Photo: The facade of the Metropolitan Opera House at Lincoln Center in New York, Via Wikimedia Commons.