Silenced by virus, Met Opera links for digital global gala

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In a photo provided by the Metropolitan Opera, members of the Metropolitan Opera Orchestra and chorus performing from homes for the companys At-Home gala, which was transmitted Saturday, April 25, 2020. Music director Yannick Nzet-Sguini in Mointreal is in the fourth row from top, sixth from left. (Metropolitan Opera via AP)

NEW YORK – Javier Camarena was at his home in Zurich singing an aria from Bellini’s “Il Pirata” when the screen for the video feed split, and he was joined by Metropolitan Opera music director Yannick Nézet-Séguin in Montreal and general manager Peter Gelb in New York.

“Just a second,” the tenor from Mexico said, raising an index finger.

He had just finished the slow-moving first section. An associate director an ocean away didn’t realize he also planned to perform the cabaletta, the faster-moving second part. Restored to a full screen, Camarena continued.

With the entertainment world shut down by the coronavirus pandemic, the Met staged an At-Home Gala on Saturday that would have been inconceivable to the Vanderbilts and Morgans who helped found the company in 1883. A starry array of classical music’s biggest names sang live on Skype from their living rooms across 13 nations, including Renée Fleming in Virginia, Jonas Kaufmann in Germany, Bryn Terfel in Wales and Roberto Alagna in France.

Thirty-three live and seven prerecorded performances stretched for four hours. The Met said the live stream on its website that started at 1 p.m. EDT Saturday peaked at about 300,000 views in 162 countries and the total with replays was expected to reach 1 million by Sunday night.

Gelb, trying to overcome a budget deficit of up to $60 million, said there were many small donations but it was too early to total.

“It was a temporary kind of panacea and it just lifted people’s spirits in a way that would never have happened. This type of program only works because of the horrible conditions that we’re in right now,” Gelb said Sunday. “I got so many e-mails and text messages from people that said that they were in tears for large portions of this program.”

Joyce DiDonato, in Spain, joined seven violists and Nézet-Séguin in a recorded tribute to Vincent Lionti, a Met violist for 33 years who died on April 4 after contracting the coronavirus. Nézet-Séguin sniffled after watching the playback of Handel's “Ombra mai fu.”