On Tuesday, the Metropolitan Opera Guild announced plans to lay off twenty of its employees and stop publication of Opera News, which will be incorporated into a section of the British Opera magazine and print its final stand-alone issue in November. Guild Chairman Winthrop Rutherfurd Jr. stated that the continuation of the Guild is no longer economically viable due to losses in revenue in recent years.
Peter Gelb, the Metropolitan Opera’s General Director, explained the losses as a situation felt by many non-profit organizations in which revenues can’t keep up with expenses.
The Guild relies on $85 membership fees as well as donations and contributions from members. In 2021, these contributions totalled $8.1 million — down from $9.1 million in 2011.
What’s behind the decline?
Members of the opera community cite numerous reasons for opera’s decline in the US. These include lack of governmental support for the arts, economic difficulties following the pandemic and public hesitancy to return to theatres, and a Eurocentric, antiquated view of opera in which many Americans don’t see themselves.
A matter of history
The American actress and philanthropist Eleanor Robson Belmont (George Bernard Shaw’s original “Major Barbara”) founded the Met Opera Guild in 1935 as a response to financial hardships at the Met during the Great Depression.
Since its founding, the Guild has supported educational programs at the Metropolitan Opera. It has brought thousands of schoolchildren to dress rehearsals, provided backstage tours, school residencies, community outreach groups and e-learning materials, including podcasts. The Guild has also published Opera News since 1936, a leading monthly classical music magazine in the United States with a 43,000 circulation.
This week was a particular weekus horribilis for the US opera industry. The Chautauqua Institution announced a slashing of its prestigious opera training program while Chicago Opera Theatre, Opera Philadelphia and Tulsa Opera all announced production cancellations and budget tightenings due to financial shortages.