Standing on the stage of the Metropolitan Opera House, Gelb declared his intention to "build on the Met's great strengths" while reconnecting the company "to a broader public."
Among the plans outlined by Gelb today were an increased number of new productions at the company; more performances by star singers; a collaboration with Lincoln Center Theater on new works; lower ticket prices for some seats; the delivery of live, high-definition video of Met performances to homes and movie theaters; and high-profile productions for the future, including an opera by Osvaldo Golijov and a new Ring cycle.
Many of Gelb's remarks seemed designed to allay the fears of those who believed that Gelb, most recently the president of Sony Classical, would turn the Met into a haven for crossover or otherwise dilute its historic mission in an effort to attract new audiences.
"I respect the great history of the Met," he said, "and the faithful zeal with which its fans embrace it."
The 2006-07 season was largely the creation of Gelb's predecessor, Joseph Volpe, who retires at the end of the current season, but it still bears Gelb's fingerprints. At his behest, the season will open with film director Anthony Minghella's production of Puccini's Madama Butterfly, a hit at English National Opera last year, instead of the Met's standard season-opening gala featuring excerpts from various operas.
"I believe that new seasons should open with new productions," Gelb said.
Butterfly stars Christina Gallardo-Domê¢s, Marcello Giordani, and Dwayne Croft; Levine will conduct the opening-night performance before yielding to Asher Fisch.
The Met will stage a spring gala, however, with performances by soprano Anna Netrebko and tenor Rolando Villaz‹n.
Also scheduled for 2006-07 are the long-planned world premiere of Tan Dun's The First Emperor, directed by film director Zhang Yimou and starring Plšcido Domingo and Elizabeth Futral, and new productions of Strauss's Die êÊgyptische Helena, directed by David Fielding, with Deborah Voigt in the title role; Rossini's Il barbiere di Siviglia, directed by theater veteran Bartlett Sher (The Light in the Piazza), with Juan Diego Fl‹rez and Diana Damrau; Gluck's Orfeo ed Euridice, directed by Mark Morris and starring Lorraine Hunt Lieberson; and Puccini's Il trittico, directed by Jack O'Brien (Hairspray).
Other singers scheduled to appear next season include David Daniels, Ren_e Fleming, Angela Gheorghiu, Thomas Hampson, Ben Heppner, Salvatore Licitra, Karita Mattila, and Ren_ Pape.
The 2006-07 season will also see the premiere of an abridged, English-language version of Mozart's The Magic Flute, running December 29-January 4 and intended to draw families to the Met. The staging, said director Julie Taymor, who adapted her hit production with poet and librettist J.D. McClatchy, will run 90 minutes or slightly more—about half the length of the full opera. She said, "Once we made the decision to really make it that much shorter we had to be radical with it" and decide "what is the music you could not live without."
The abridged Magic Flute is the first of a series of annual family productions, Gelb said. A production of Humperdinck's Hansel and Gretel adapted by Richard Jones is planned for the 2007-08 season.
Plans for subsequent seasons include a revised version of John Adams' Doctor Atomic, which debuted at San Francisco Opera last fall, in 2008-09; a revival of John Corigliano's The Ghosts of Versailles, in 2009-10; the world premiere of a new opera by Golijov, described as his first "large-scale" stage work, in 2010-11; and a new Ring, directed by theater director Robert Lepage, beginning in 2010-11 and culminating with a full cycle in 2011-12.
In 2009-10, the first season created entirely by Gelb, the Met will present seven new productions, or approximately one per month—a rate that Gelb said would become the company's target (the Met currently averages four new productions per season). These will include stagings of Janac_k's From the House of the Dead conducted by Esa-Pekka Salonen and directed by Patrice Ch_reau; Verdi's Attila, conducted by Riccardo Muti; Ambrose Thomas's Hamlet with Natalie Dessay and Simon Keenlyside and conducted by Louis Langr_e; and Rossini's Armida with Fleming, directed by theater director Mary Zimmerman.
The season will also include Karita Mattila's first Tosca, a production of Les Contes d'Hoffmann with Netrebko and Villaz‹n, and a Carmen with Gheorghiu and Roberto Alagna, directed by choreographer Matthew Bourne and Richard Eyre.
Seeming to anticipate the charge that he intended to empty the Met's beloved, if dusty, stable of classic productions, Gelb said, "There are wonderful productions on this stage. My intention is simply to have more of them."
Perhaps the most radical initiative introduced today was a plan to commission new works from a wide-ranging group of composers and playwrights in collaboration with Lincoln Center Theater. The resulting works, after a workshop process familiar to theater but new to opera, may eventually be staged at LCT or at the Met (or not at all); the Met is "holding a slot" for one of the works in a future season, Gelb said.
Participating artists include musical-theater veterans Adam Guettel, Michael John LaChiusa, and the team of Tony Kushner and Jeanine Tesori; Scott Wheeler and the team of Rachel Portman and Nicholas Wight from the opera world; jazz composer and trumpeter Wynton Marsalis; pop singer Rufus Waignwright; and the team of contemporary classical composer Michael Torke and playwright Craig Lucas, who recently created a music-theater work for the Juilliard School's centennial celebrations.
Andr_ Bishop, the artistic director of LCT, suggested that opera could learn something from the more fluid world of theater when it comes to developing new works. "We believe that a musical piece, no matter how complex, can improve" through workshops and revisions, he said.
In another attempt to connect with a larger audience, the Met will begin delivering high-definition video of its productions next season, taking advantage of new technologies and higher network speeds. The performances will be seen live in movie theaters across the country, and may also be available though the iTunes Music Store, the Met's own web site, and other Internet outlets. "Technically none of this would have been possible a year or two ago; it is possible now," Gelb said, adding that fans of the Met's weekly radio broadcasts should be "thrilled and excited at the prospect" of watching the company from a local movie theater.
The Met is currently in discussions with its unions about the terms of the new video broadcasts, Gelb said.
The company will also adjust its ticket prices in an attempt to broaden its audiences. The cheapest tickets, accounting for about 11 percent of the season total, will cost $15 rather than $26; prices for the most expensive seats will rise from $320 to $375. (Ticket prices for the remaining 82 percent of tickets will be unchanged.) Under the plan, Gelb said, "our wealthier patrons subsidize our poorer ones."
Also new to the Met in 2006-07 will be a new gallery space in the company's lobby, featuring works by contemporary artists linked to the current repertoire.