Met cuts season to 18 operas, matching fewest in 4 decades

This image released by the Metropolitan Opera shows Joyce DiDonato as Sister Helen Prejean, left, and Ryan McKinny as Joseph De Rocher in Jake Heggie's "Dead Man Walking." (Paola Kudacki/Metropolitan Opera via AP) (Paola Kudacki)

NEW YORK – The financially challenged Metropolitan Opera is cutting its schedule to 18 productions next season, matching the pandemic-curtailed 2019-20 season for the fewest since 14 in strike-shortened 1980-81.

The Met said Wednesday it will have six new productions and 12 revivals, down from seven new stagings and 16 revivals this season and from a recent high of 28 productions in 2007-08. In an effort to spark ticket sales that have lagged since the company reopened in September 2021, 47 of 191 staged performances — just under one-quarter — will be works composed since 1986.

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“The main point behind it is to feature more new and accessible works that have proven to attract a broader, younger and more diverse audience,” Met general manager Peter Gelb said. “Opera sat on its hind legs for many decades and now it’s paying the price. For so many decades new music both in classical music and in opera typically drove audiences away, not to concert halls and opera houses, because it was so inaccessible and atonal and being written for an elite group.

“It was the equivalent of singing in the shower, and basically composers were composing for themselves and for academics and critics and not for the public,” he added. "And that has attached a stigma to new music in classical music and opera that really harmed the art form.”

The season opens Sept. 26 with a new production of Jake Heggie’s 2000 opera “Dead Man Walking” with Joyce DiDonato. It includes a new-to-the-Met staging of “Anthony Davis’s “X, The Life and Times of Malcolm X,” composed in 1986. “X” starts Nov. 3 and features Will Liverman.

There are new productions of Daniel Catán’s “Florencia en el Amazonas,” a 1996 work in a Mary Zimmerman staging that starts Nov. 16, and John Adams’ oratorio “El Niño” from 2000 starting on April 23, 2024, with conductor Marin Alsop making her Met debut.

In addition, the Met has revivals of Terence Blanchard’s “Fire Shut Up in My Bones,” which premiered in 2019, and Kevin Puts’ “The Hours,” which debuted last year and stars Renée Fleming, Kelli O’Hara and DiDonato.

“The reason why we have pruned our season to the degree we have is to concentrate our efforts on operas both new and old that we think are going to sell well,” Gelb said. “We haven’t settled on what the perfect number is. Maybe we never will, but I can’t imagine it being less than 18.”

The season includes a new Carrie Cracknell production of Bizet’s “Carmen” opening on New Year’s Eve and starring Aigul Akhmetshina, and a new-to-the-Met Mariusz Treliński staging of Verdi’s “La Forza del Destino” opening on Feb. 26 next year.

The “X” production was first seen last May at the Detroit Opera and the “Forza” staging last month at the Teatr Wielki-Polish National Opera.

Paid attendance at the Met this season is 63%, up from 60% at this point last season in the return from a 1 1/2-season shutdown caused by the pandemic.

“Single ticket buyers represent 75% of our sales and the average age of a single ticket buyer is now 45 years old, which is remarkably younger than it was,” Gelb said. “My fear, though, is, of course, that some older members of the core audience may never come back. Hopefully some of them will.”

The Met is reducing its high-definition simulcasts to movie theaters to nine by not including “El Niño.” The Met dropped a scheduled 2014 telecast of Adams’ “The Death of Klinghoffer” due to what the company said then was concern over rising anti-Semitism, Gelb said the “El Niño” decision was not related.

Rolando Villazón’s staging of Bellini’s “Sonnambula" was cut and will be presented in the future, according to Gelb.

Michael Mayer’s production of Verdi’s “Aida,” pushed back from the canceled 2020-21 season, will be presented in 2024-25.