As cultural organisations reopen their doors this autumn after a lengthy period of inactivity due to the epidemic, several are attempting to entice spectators back by offering shorter performances that are typically devoid of intermissions.
At the Metropolitan Opera, they’ve taken a different approach.
A bold piece of counterprogramming, the Metropolitan Opera is now producing Wagner’s almost six-hour “Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg,” the opera with the longest running time in its repertoire. Still, even in pre-pandemic times, the production was a monumental task that required the participation of more than 400 artists and stagehands as well as lightning-fast set changes, fierce battle sequences, and two 40-minute intermissions.
According to Peter Gelb, the general manager of the New York Mets, “epics will always have a place in our organisation.” “There is always an attraction to large-scale events.”
As crowds have slowly started to reappear, several institutions have adopted a more cautious approach, limiting the length of their performances to shorter than typical durations. Intermissions were eliminated by the New York Philharmonic, Carnegie Hall, and the New York City Ballet when they began performances this autumn, however all three organisations want to reinstate them in the near future.
A succession of ambitious performances, including the Met’s epic “Meistersinger,” which is lavishly cast with some of the most recognised Wagner singers in the world and led by Antonio Pappano, will help the company recover from the influenza epidemic, which lost it $150 million in income. It began its season with Terence Blanchard’s “Fire Shut Up in My Bones,” the first opera by a Black composer in the company’s 138-year existence, which was a smash success, selling out four of its eight performances in its first season. In addition to Puccini’s intricate “Turandot,” the Met has performed the original version of Mussorgsky’s “Boris Godunov” for the first time this month.
Spectators for “Meistersinger” and other operas, which tend to be long, are unknown at this moment due to persistent worries about the Delta variety, which has resulted in the need for audiences to present confirmation of vaccination upon entry and to wear masks throughout performances.
On the opening night of “Meistersinger,” which took place on Tuesday, only roughly 56 percent of the 3,700 available seats were taken up. Stormy weather was cited as a contributing factor to the poor attendance; nevertheless, during a midday performance on Saturday, after the storm had passed and some positive reviews had surfaced, 67 percent of the seats were filled. As a result of a travel restriction imposed on visitors from 33 countries, foreign tourists have also been noticeably missing from New York, which is expected to be removed in early November.
To address public worries about the epidemic, the company has made changes to several offerings, like as deleting an intermission in a new production of “Rigoletto,” which will premiere on New Year’s Eve. Gelb, on the other hand, believes that by performing the gigantic “Meistersinger,” which will run until November 14, the Met is demonstrating that even the most monumental of works can be presented safely.
The pandemic brought additional degrees of difficulty to the production, as vocalists, orchestra musicians, dancers, and stagehands worked long hours preparing to bring it back to the stage after being out of commission for months. It took seven hours and forty minutes for the last dress rehearsal to conclude. They are all forced to wear masks at the Met, with the exception of while performing onstage. Once onstage, however, forget about maintaining social distance: “Meistersinger” necessitates passionate embraces, close-quarter brawls, and fervent singing, all of which must take place within spitting distance of dozens of people.