The Metropolitan Opera simultaneously delivered a blow to audiences and arts workers and a glimpse into what a post-COVID American opera institution might look like September 23. After effectively ending its 2019–2020 season earlier and canceling the first half of the 2020–2021 lineup earlier this year, the New York organization has announced it will not return to the stage until at least fall 2021.
The decision means there will be no 2020–2021 lineup at the country’s largest performing arts organization; the Met had intended to resume this New Year’s Eve with a gala that would usher in a subsequent lineup that included its planned new production of Dead Man Walking and a collection of repertory favorites.
The extended cancellation means continued job loss for furloughed employees, including the Met’s unionized orchestra and chorus. In an interview with The New York Times, General Manager Peter Gelb confirmed that he intends to negotiate with Met labor unions regarding pay cuts and newly considered contracts, which if reached, could include compensation during the hiatus. “In normal times, unions always want to fight hard for their workers,” he said. “These are not normal times. These are pandemic times. There’s going to be a residual fallout from this that is going to go on for several years.”
Still, the Met has its eye on the future, having laid out full plans for a 2021–2022 season in hopes to quell subscribers and patrons. In doing so, the company has also indicated structural changes in new work development and audience engagement in response to contemporary social justice conversations and an anticipated initial hesitation to return from potential opera-goers.
The 2021–2022 season will open September 27 with Terence Blanchard’s Fire Shut Up in My Bones, marking the first opera by a Black composer to be presented by the Met. The contemporary piece, based on writer Charles M. Blow’s memoir and featuring a libretto by Kasi Lemmons, will be directed by James Robinson and Camille A. Brown, who previously collaborated on the Met’s production of Porgy and Bess (the Gershwin opera also returns as a revival in the new lineup), making Brown the Met’s first Black director. The cast will feature Will Liverman, Angel Blue, and Latonia Moore.
The Met has also added three Black composers to its New Works commission program with Lincoln Center Theater: Valerie Coleman, Jessie Montgomery, and Joel Thompson. When the opera house reopens, it will feature new visual art pieces by Rashid Johnson exploring the Black experience.
“We’re trying to send a signal that the Met wants to meet the times in which we live head on,” Gelb says. “Given all the calls for greater social justice and diversity, we think it’s appropriate after being off for a year to come back in a way that demonstrates the Met’s social responsibility.”
Addressing audiences’ previous concerns about the opera-going experience, the Met also hopes to entice patrons once again with earlier curtains and shortening run times of some titles through abridged scores and cut intermissions. Its repertory is also expanding to attract new audiences, with a 90-minute, English-language version of Massenet’s Cinderella tale Cendrillon (adapted by Kelley Rourke) joining Julie Taymor’s colorful The Magic Flute as a holiday season family presentation.
The organization is also doubling down on its contemporary offerings, with Matthew Aucoin and librettist Sarah Ruhl’s Eurydice (helmed by Tony winner Mary Zimmerman) and Brett Dean’s Hamlet making their Met premieres in the new season (the repertory lineup also includes the return of Phillip Glass’ Akhnaten). Experimental director Simon Stone (Yerma, Medea at BAM) will make his Met debut with a new production of Lucia di Lammermoor starring Nadine Sierra, opening in April 2022.
Two additional new productions of Verdi operas are on deck: the Met premiere of the five-act French version of Don Carlos (with a cast including Sonya Yoncheva, Elīna Garnača, and Matthew Polenzani) directed by David McVicar and a staging of Rigoletto from Tony winner Bartlett Sher.
Five female conductors will take the podium in the new lineup, the most in a single season: Jane Glover with The Magic Flute, Karen Kamensek with Akhnaten, Susanna Mälkki with The Rake’s Progress, Eun Sun Kim with La Bohème, and Nathalie Stutzmann with Iphigénie en Tauride (the latter two making their Met debuts). Met Music Director Yannick Nézet-Séguin will conduct five productions: Fire Shut Up in My Bones, Eurydice, Don Carlos, and revivals of Le Nozze di Figaro and Tosca.
Additoinal repertory highlights include Lise Davidsen in Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg, Ariadne auf Naxos, and Elektra; Handel’s Rodelinda; and Ailyn Pérez, Piotr Beczała, and Igor Golovatenko in Eugene Onegin.
For the full lineup, visit MetOpera.org.