“Social distancing and grand opera do not mix,” Met general manager Peter Gelb said. “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.”
The company plans to start its shortest season in four decades with a gala on New Year’s Eve and is considering cuts that get the audience in and out faster. “This is a good wake-up call for all of us to once again revisit running lengths,” Gelb said. “Certain operas seem to be just right in terms of their running time and others seem to be significantly too long."
Four new stagings will be reset for later seasons, most likely 2022-23 and later: Michael Mayer’s production of Verdi’s “Aida,” Barrie Kosky’s version of Prokofiev’s “The Fiery Angel,” Simon McBurney’s vision of Mozart’s “Die Zauberflöte” and Ivo Van Hove’s rendering of Mozart’s “Don Giovanni.”
“Aida” was to have opened the season Sept. 21 starring Anna Netrebko. “I believe that we have a much greater chance of starting on Dec. 31,” Gelb said. “Based upon the discussions I’ve had with various health authorities here locally in New York, some of them believe that there will be a medical solution by then. If there isn’t, we won’t open. But if we didn’t open on Dec. 31, it would not be mean that we wouldn’t open at all next season.”
Netrebko also has withdrawn from a new staging of Strauss’ “Salome” scheduled for 2021-22, deciding the role was not right for her. “There will be changes to all future seasons,” Gelb said. “If ever there was a time for grand opera to become more flexible in terms on scheduling and more nimble in terms of reaction, now is the time.”
Jake Heggie’s “Dead Man Walking” is the only survivor among the new productions, opening April 8. Julie Taymor's staging of “Magic Flute” from 2004 and the poorly received Michael Grandage production of “Don Giovanni” from 2011 both will be brought back from storage containers in Newark, New Jersey.
The pandemic caused the Met to stop its season on March 12, forcing cancellation of the final 58 of 217 originally scheduled performances. The Met has now cut 146 performances in its 4,000-capacity house, leading to initial projections of huge losses in its $308 million budget.
Opening night had been latest in 1969 after a labor lockout delayed the start from Sept. 15 to Dec. 29. There are 130 staged performances of 15 operas in the new schedule, down from the 218 performances of 23 operas that had been announced. This will be the fewest Met staged productions since a low of 14 in the lockout-delayed 1980-81 season, when there were 112 staged performances. This will be just the Met’s second season with one new production after 1945-46 with Puccini’s “Il Tabarro.” There were no new productions in 1943-44, 1944-45 and 1948-49.
Many curtains will be moved up to 7 p.m., and Handel’s “Giulio Cesare” will be cut from 4 1/2 hours to 3 1/2 hours with one fewer intermission. Strauss’ “Die Frau Ohne Schatten” also may be shortened.
The Met had announced its first February break and an extension of the season into June, but the pandemic caused the company to fill the month with Puccini’s “La Bohème,” Bizet’s “Carmen” and Verdi’s “La Traviata.”
A revival of Berg’s “Lulu” scheduled for March 2021 was replaced by additional performances of Rossini’s “Il Barbiere di Siviglia (The Barber of Seville).” Revivals dropped include Wagner’s “Tristan und Isolde,” Beethoven’s “Fidelio,” Offenbach’s “Les Contes d’Hoffmann (The Tales of Hoffmann),” Donizetti’s “Roberto Devereux” and Humperdinck’s “Hansel and Gretel.” This will be just the Met’s second season without Wagner since anti-German sentiment in 1917-18 and ’18-‘19 caused by World War I; the other was 2013-14.
What’s left of the season includes 16 performances of “Bohème” along with 13 each of “Flute” and “Traviata,” and 10 apiece of “Don Giovanni” and “Carmen.” Yannick Nézet-Séguin’s first full season as music director has been curtailed to 26 performance of four operas.