The Metropolitan Opera is in Trouble

When you think about the side effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Metropolitan Opera is probably not one of the things that come to your mind.

 

The Metropolitan Opera, known fondly as the Met, is a 137-year-old artistic monolith based out of New York City. Until recently the Met has been the largest performing arts organization in the United States and one of the most prestigious opera companies in the world.

 

In fact, securing a position with the Met has long been considered one of the most coveted and secure careers in the music industry to date. Unfortunately, the COVID-19 pandemic and its subsequent lockdowns have proven that the once unwavering presence that was the Met is anything but disaster proof.

So, What Happened?

In March 2020, the Met announced an abrupt end to their 2020 concert series as a result of the first waves of the COVID-19 pandemic. Unlike many other salaried positions in other industries, performers don’t get paid if they aren’t performing. 

 

Simply put, the musicians of the Metropolitan Orchestra have not been paid in nearly a year. Since then approximately 1,000 Metropolitan Opera employees and musicians have been furloughed, and approximately 30% of the Metropolitan Orchestra Musicians are unable to continue living in New York without sufficient support or employment. 

I haven’t trained for any other career.. I thought I had a job at the most stable orchestra in the world.

Enter the ‘Met Stars’ Concert Series. If things weren’t already bad enough for the musicians who have invested their careers into performing with the Metropolitan Orchestra, in late 2020 the Met unveiled a new vocalist focused concert series which features outsourced nonunion and non-Met talent performing under the Met name. (Met Concertmaster Benjamin Bowman discusses his account of the Met Stars series in his personal Facebook post here.)

 

The Met Stars series has also accumulated an outcry of criticism from their Orchestral players who claim they “are deeply disturbed to see that they have outsourced a string ensemble of non-Met musicians…There is no reason why these gala events need to take place in Europe. There are star singers on American soil too”.

This does not need to be so financially devastating to the orchestra, nor so contentious and heartless — that is the choice of Met management.

The Met Orchestra Musicians are far from alone. The New Year has brought support to the most prestigious opera house in America from all corners of the world. The most well known statement of support came from an open letter written by Daniel Froschauer, the head of the Vienna Philharmonic.

What is Being Done to Fix This?

In an effort to begin building a sufficient Met musician’s relief fund, the Met Orchestra has started their very own Orchestra Spotlight Series. The proceeds from which will go completely towards a fund for musicians in need of support.

 

The Met Orchestra has also had the support of some of their patrons such as the Spring Point Partners who recently donated $150,000 to Met Employee support grants, and they continue to maintain a line of connection to their patrons and fans who may be able to make a donation during such a difficult time for the classical arts.

It’s easy to lose sight of why institutions like the Met are critical to the American artistic community; especially in artistic niches where the classical arts aren’t often discussed or considered to be relevant anymore. These historically established opera houses and concert halls are integral to the preservation of western culture and growth.

 

Without the security of large, well-endowed, performing arts organizations like the Met many hundreds of thousands of careers in the music industry will be disrupted. Not just the careers of orchestral musicians, but also the building staff, managers, event planners, recording artists, producers, musical directors, distributors, and the hundreds of other musical careers which come into contact with the classical arts every day.

 

In essence, the musicians of the Metropolitan Opera are in need of support from the greater American artistic community, and it is our responsibility to honor all the work they do for our national musical presence.

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