Saturday, February 25, 2012

New Pricing Structure Headlines New Met Season

Peter Gelb has tirelessly stated his intention is to expand the Met to new audiences; to younger audiences; to more diverse audiences. Time and again this is his mantra. All of his actions: new productions, HD productions, etc.  have been geared toward bringing in new Met audiences. But one area in particular does not reflect this desire in the least. 

As part of the press release, the Met announced the following: " There will be an increase in ticket prices for the new season, averaging 4.2% on subscriptions and 7.6% on single tickets. Nearly 500 tickets in certain sections, including the orchestra, dress circle, balcony, and family circle, will decrease in price. The least expensive tickets will be priced at $20, a lower price than in past seasons. More than one-third of the Met’s seats will be available for less than $100." The key here is the $20.00 bit. The lowest prices last season were $25.00 (or $27.50 when that mandatory tax is added). 

However, further inspection reveals that this claim is widely misinforming. Sure there are $20.00 seats, but this is part of a NEW division of each section into tiers: Premium Section, Prime Section, and Balance Section. Orchestra is now divided in to 6 Sections/Tiers to add to the confusion! The$ 20.00 tickets exist but only in Family Circle Balance (if you are familiar with the Met, it is the outer parts of Family Circle where parts of the stage on the extremes are not completely visible. 

BUT... the plot thickens because $20.00 tickets are not guaranteed for every performance. We already know Saturday's are more expensive no matter what, but this year Gelb decided that the Opera and the stars dictate the price as he has divided each performance into another set of tiers A-F, with F as the most expensive performance (Galas) and A as the cheapest. 

So what does this all mean? Well it means that going to the opera on  Monday will vary each week depending on the opera being performed. For example, on Monday October 29th, the Met will present Nozze di Figaro, which is in Tier A (the cheapest). The following Monday, November 5th, Turandot is in performance and it is a category C. Tier A's cheapest seats are $20.00 (plus $2.50 for tax) as are Turandot's, BUT if you want better seats in Family Circle the difference is between 35.00 and 40.00 ona  Monday night. The difference varies even more with Tiers D and E.

But this is only made more confusing when considering that one opera can change tiers depending on the night it is performed and the cast performing. For example Otello will be either Tier A/B or Tier D/E depending on whether Renee Fleming sings or not. If she sings, then the prices are in Tier D/E, if not, then you get to pay A/B prices. Trovatore goes from Tier B or C or D depending on the singer. And the list goes on. The issue here is twofold. I might want to see Trovatore for example, but one night will cost me more than another and I will have no clue when the prices fluctuate unless I am doing extensive research on Met pricing. However, what if I pay for the Tier D cast, and one singer cancels and I get a singer from the C tier or B tier? Does my ticket price fluctuate accordingly? Of course not. And this emphasizes something that contradicts Mr. Gelb's speeches: Elitisim. 

We all know that elitism is a stigma attached to opera. People see it as high culture that is accessible only to snobbish and rich. Or so the stereotype goes. Gelb has constantly argued the opposite, but his actions here only serve to contradict his words. This new pricing based on cast clearly delineates which singers are of greater importance than others. Europe charges more per night when certain singers sing, but the Met never has. We understand certain superstars get paid more than others, but there has NEVER been a system implemented at the Met to show just how much one star is worth than another; to show how much one singer is valued over another. 

But the elitism does not end there. If I am a completely green to opera and want to take a chance for the first time, I am most likely to do it with the repertory staples: Carmen, Aida, Traviata, Rigoletto, Turandot, Elisir D'Amore, etc. All of these operas mentioned are in the C through E tiers. Why? Because they are so popular and usually sell well. So why not jack up the price since good sales are all but assured? The problem is that the uninitiated young student with no money will not be able to dish out $32.50 for a good seat on a D or E night (the cheapest those nights have to offer). Throw in the fact that most people don't go alone and then the issue grows if one person in the group thinks the price is too high and prefers to do something cheaper instead. Wasn't Gelb's main aim precisely to bring in these young new audiences? And what about the new productions: The ones geared specifically toward these younger audiences? You won't convince me that bringing NBC director of "Smash" Michael Mayer whose Rigoletto is set in Vegas was a ploy to attract older conservative opera fans. So why make every NEW PRODUCTION in the C to E range (the least popular of the 7 new productions: Maria Stuarda, The Tempest, Giulio Cesare are of course in C while the more popular are in D/E) practically inaccessible to precisely the group that you want to bring in? Makes no sense to me. More importantly, this business only works if the new audience returns. How can you risk pricing this high and then hope that they return again and again? This is no way to retain said target audience. Remember only some nights are $22.50 per ticket, the rest are $32.50 and up. Seems to tell me that opera is still only for those with money and that the less affluent do not matter. 

Then there is the slap in the face to loyal Met subscribers. After so many years under an easy to comprehend system in which certain nights were more pricey than others based on the days, they must now try to figure out this puzzle to see when or what operas they can afford. I am sure that there are many that will pay whatever it takes to go to the opera, but there are other less affluent subscribers that may now need to hesitate on what shows to see due to the increase in prices. It begs the question: Did Gelb, knowing he has unconditionally loyal patrons, simply decide to raise the prices knowing full well that they would return no matter what? That they would likely not give this confusing contraption much thought and throw away their money freely? 

I know what everyone is going to say: everything is going up in price so why complain? The reason I complain is because Mr. Gelb has been catering to an audience that is not precisely the one paying his bills, but the audience he is attempting to reach is really not the one who can make a commitment to his artistic visions precisely because he won't make it affordable for them. Why could he not simply have kept the prices from Monday through Thursday at one rate and increase for Friday and Saturday as he has done for years? Why a new more confusing system that ultimately veils an increase in prices? Do not tell me the Met is not doing well financially. The HD is doing fine business. And they had $14 million to dish out on a new Ring Cycle that sold out every performance of its run the last two seasons and will do the same next year. I don't think it crippled them that poorly and there is no chance they would have taken the risk on such an expensive investment under financial straights.  So why confuse the system and increase the prices across the board for all involved? Gelb is a financial genius and the only justification for these moves to me is purely financial. His whole speech about reaching out to new and younger audiences? Sounds more like he wants to reach out to newer wealthier audiences. 

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