Metropolitan Opera, facing sharp losses, furloughs dozens

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Metropolitan Opera, facing sharp losses, furloughs dozens
A dress rehearsal of Puccini's "Turandot" at the Metropolitan Opera House in Manhattan, Sept. 30, 2019. With the prospects of live audiences in serious question, the Metropolitan Opera company said on May 5, 2020, that it would furlough 41 members of its administrative staff. Hiroyuki Ito/The New York Times.

by Zachary Woolfe

NEW YORK (NYT NEWS SERVICE).- The Metropolitan Opera’s nightly streams of archival performances have attracted robust audiences since the company closed its doors in March because of the coronavirus pandemic. The Met has 15,000 new paid subscribers to its on-demand video service.

And its four-hour At-Home Gala on April 25 was a technically impeccable, warmly received endeavor by the struggling company, which has already lost around $60 million because of the virus and stopped paying its orchestra, chorus and stagehands at the end of March.

Yet despite some positive news — emergency fundraising in the tens of millions; 10,000 new donors; its sizable virtual audience — its financial outlook remains grim. The prospect of large gatherings in New York is still far off and the planned opening of the Met’s season in September is in serious question. On Tuesday, the company — the nation’s largest performing arts organization, with a $308 million annual budget — said it would furlough 41 members of its administrative staff, a step it had previously said would not be necessary.

“We have enjoyed greater success than I would have imagined in terms of keeping the Met connected through these various activities, and raising money through the emergency campaign,” Peter Gelb, the company’s general manager, said in an interview. “On the other hand, the magnitude of the long-term damage — the immediate and long-term effects of the health crisis on the performing arts — seem graver and more challenging than they appeared a month ago.”

In addition to the 41 furloughed staff members, 11 others will be cut to part-time hours, out of an administration of 237 people. Those furloughed will receive two weeks of pay and, like the unionized orchestra, chorus and stagehands, will retain their health benefits. The affected employees are spread across the company’s departments, including artistic affairs, production and marketing.

Gelb said he had told the staff that he did not envision further cuts, at least through the summer. But in the interview he added that the Met’s financial picture was complicated by not knowing when operations might resume, and by the likelihood that recovery would be slow, even after reopening.

“It’s very difficult to budget when you have so many uncertainties of timetable,” he said. “The performing arts are going to be the last business to return. We’re still selling tickets for next season, but obviously the fall is in jeopardy at this point. Hard decisions will need to be made in the coming weeks about the opening. Perhaps by some miraculous situation we can return in the fall.”

When the Met announced in March that it would cancel the remaining eight weeks of its season, Gelb said that he would forgo his salary until operations returned to normal, and that senior management and some staff would see pay cuts. But he added that there were no planned salary cuts for those making less than $125,000 a year, and no plans for layoffs of administrative staff members.

“We need an administrative staff to keep the institution running without performances,” Gelb said then. “The business of the Met has to go on.”

© 2020 The New York Times Company

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