Is Nico Muhly's Two Boys the biggest flop in Metropolitan Opera history?
The reviews haven't been great. The ticket sales have been worse. So bad in fact that the Met is now offering Orchestra Stalls seats for the bargain price of $30 (use the code "RUthere").
They should have seen it coming. When ENO debuted the opera back in 2011, they (literally) couldn't even give the seats away. Where ENO goes.....
TYPICAL IDIOT GELB CHOICE
Patrick Byrne |
25 October 2013 at 12:36 AM
I don't know about "biggest flop." When the Met offered "Antony and Cleopatra" its opening season, the opera was apparently scheduled for about a dozen performances total, including a brief return during in spring 1967. Instead, the run finished after the eighth performance and the production was never revived. (The "Antony" dates later in the season were supposedly filled in with extra performances of "Traviata.")
There are acres of empty seats when the Met does "Lulu," and the house was certainly not lacking in elbow room the last time "Mahagonny" was revived. Does that make "Lulu" and "Mahagonny" flops?
La Cieca |
25 October 2013 at 05:43 AM
The crucial difference is that Mr Bernheimer has never to my knowledge referred to either Lulu or Mahagonny as "morbid, sordid and foolish", "a mishmash of pretentious technobabble and melodramatic piffle."
A flop worthy of the name requires widespread critical loathing as well as empty seats. .
inter mezzo |
25 October 2013 at 10:01 AM
Unless things have changed radically - i.e. a proper composer actually re-wrote all the music - this witless farrago was the nadir of the ENO season. I don't think that in 30 years of opera going, I've ever seen such mindless drivel as 'Two Boys'. You'd have to pay me $30 to see it.
Intermezzo replies - Did you miss '1984' then?
Justin Chapman |
25 October 2013 at 10:02 AM
I did. The thought of Lorin Maazel conducting music by the likes of Bruckner or Mahler makes me break out in a cold sweat - the prospect of him conducting his own music is something I simply don't want to think about!
Justin Chapman |
25 October 2013 at 10:19 AM
The first poster has no value, as his vicious, hysterical recent posts on Opera-L attest. He is a pirate of Maria Callas performances, the sort of fetishist that does opera as a living form no good.
Many operas sell unevenly at the Met; there are acres of empty seats at La Traviata, Idomineo, La Clemenza di Tito, Ariadne auf Naxos, Die Frau ohne Schatten, Peter Grimes and Fanciulla del West too, on the wrong nights. It is an enormous place, and the indications are that subscriptions and the sale of single tickets are falling. I have seen Peter Grimes quite full, and half empty, likewise Wozzeck. The Rake's Progress does not "pull" an audience of size, though an individual performance might be well attended. The first run of the completed Lulu was well attended but Mahagonny is a tough sell in America, period.
Antony and Cleopatra was given in the first weeks of the first season at Lincoln Center and was a huge stress on the Met's then untested stage equipment as it was widely and disgracefully overproduced by Zeffirelli. It had a huge cast and was an expensive show. It was (in my mind) unfairly received by a bunch of reviewers, many of them uneducated idiots, who had decided its composer, Sam Barber, had run his course.
There is ample evidence that the Muhly opera is not selling at typical Met prices, and they are going to considerable lengths to entice a younger audience with discounted tickets. Its reviews have been "mixed" as they say, but that is not disastrous, and the first night audience was very enthusiastic. It is an effort, and I believe a sensible one, to open the Met to people uninterested in the dated dramaturgy and silly and remote plots of many familiar operas, which in too many cases are hard to cast in a world short of super stars. Also it stems, I believe, from a sincere belief that an art form that cannot reinvent itself, will die. Two Boys is one work. It has strengths and weaknesses and can not alone solve the problems of finding opera wise composers (I believe Muhly is one) nor can it deal with the increasingly dire funding crisis in American Arts, which very few Europeans and even English people understand in any depth.
Whatever problems there are with subsidies, there is infinitely more going on in Europe, including fascinating new operas. The charities the arts are in America (competing in a bad economy with every other charity including those that do medical research, feed, clothe, house, treat and educate populations neglected by government funding) are doomed to gradual extinction.
A new repertory will help, and there is no reason to believe that Muhly cannot or will not contribute to it. But a cultural shift away from the dominant idiocy of America's dominant media, and a better solution to funding will help as much. Is it possible, though?
Albert Innaurato |
25 October 2013 at 10:28 AM
For the life of me I don't understand the reverence for Bernheimer, who I have the misfortune of knowing. He was for years a provincial reviewer in LosAngeles, demonstrating little insight and a decided conservative streak. At 77 (at least) he is far out of touch with the given of Two Boys. He is smart enough to know that damning Lulu and to a lesser degree Mahagonny would remove any credibility he has, whatever his real feelings are. I thought his review harsh and beside the point. This is not to declare the revision a masterwork or to embrace every decision the creators made, but I am far from thinking there is nothing of interest musically, or a lack of a specifically operatic talent in Muhly, rare today, and not to be dismissed. He might well have found a libretto more inviting of musical expansion and dramatization. But there are young composers who merit some patience and even a bit of indulgence. Based on some of his other work I would put Muhly in that category and at least give him a few years to see if what is real but modest now grows.
Albert Innaurato |
25 October 2013 at 10:38 AM
The Met would do well to adopt the ROH system of two-tier pricing, with works like Midsummer Night's Dream, The Nose, Lulu, Wozzeck, The Tempest, and yes, Two Boys offered at drastically lower prices than the ridiculous $300-400 level for the most expensive seats. (and let me say that $30 seats for orchestra level are an insult to those of us who paid more in advance for much worse locations -- this is one of the mistakes City Opera made). AND they should target their marketing more precisely for newer/more "advanced" work.
25 October 2013 at 11:15 AM
One more example: Zurich's new Bieito production of Die Soldaten showed plenty of top price seats (260 CHF) throughout the run. The "People's Performance", with top ticket price of 75 CHF, sold out within minutes. This stuff will sell but it has to be priced right.
(it's tomorrow night and I can't wait!)
25 October 2013 at 11:26 AM
And what about ENO's ludicrous new pricing system? Actually - don't start me on that one!
Justin Chapman |
25 October 2013 at 11:42 AM
The Royal Opera's forthcoming revival of Wozzeck has sold remarkably well, but with a top-price ticket of £65 you can see why - helped of course by a top-flight cast. And to think a top-price ticket to see Wozzeck at ENO was over 30 quid more expensive...makes you think, doesn't it.
Justin Chapman |
25 October 2013 at 11:45 AM
I can't comment intelligently because I've never been to ENO and don't know what the prices used to be. I'll just say that seats were expensive enough last week to discourage me from attending Die Fledermaus (along with the disparaging comments I'd read about the production).
25 October 2013 at 11:52 AM
My point exactly. Surely the houses don't clear a larger gross by selling a few expensive seats and then unloading the rest at a discount or giving them away, which happens a lot at the Met. A fire sale does no good in the long run.
25 October 2013 at 03:57 PM
The Met-centric Opera-L is indeed an out-of-control opera forum and it is impossible to have or read any sensible discussion about opera there without the inevitable vitriolic abuse.
(At least IM doesn't allow such inappropriate behaviour here. Although, it appears, lots of Opera-lers are now reading IM).
Solution: stop subscribing / reading Opera-l. I have done so, and life is much more pleasant and almost (!) insult-free.
25 October 2013 at 04:03 PM
Several people have pointed out the sheer daftness of that, Justin, but you are right about ENO prices. If they could only sell between 60% and 70% of seats at the old prices, how do they think - during a recession when their middle-class audience is feeling the pinch - that raising the prices will do better for the box-office. Suicidal, if you ask me. They are already discounting The Magic Flute. I think all opera houses need to realise that if you are asking the public to take a risk on whether they might or might not enjoy an unfamiliar or new work, then they need to lure them with prices that will make that risk worth taking. That's clearly the RO strategy and it seems to have worked. Apparently it started after they got less than 40% houses for Lehnhof's brilliant staging of Boulevard Solitude at normal prices. If they had revived it in the Henze 80th birthday year at the new "modern opera" prices, I am convinced it would have sold out. I went four times. It was one of the best RO shows in decades.
Nikolaus Vogel |
25 October 2013 at 05:22 PM
Bernheimer's put-downs are very witty and succinct, but I fair enough that Muhly ought to be cut some slack. That begs the question whether his talent should be tested in such high-profile forums as the Met and the Coliseum. His instrumental and choral works are certainly invigorating, but it doesn't follow that he has the experience to hit the operatic jackpot with his first full-length work. Maybe he should have tried Two Boys out in St Louis or Santa Fe, first. It was well staged at ENO, but the music made very little lasting impression. It will be interesting to see/hear what he produces next.
Nikolaus Vogel |
25 October 2013 at 05:28 PM
If the revenue at the box office goes down either as a result of empty seats and/or heavy discounting and the subsidy remains the same then who do ENO think will cover the deficit? Based on recent seasons there is an assumption that they will not be allowed to fail and that the Arts Council will continue to ride to their rescue.
It amazes me that season after season they have umpteen new productions, most of which appear to fail, never to be seen again. If this were a smaller house then such adventurous programming might be justified but filling the Coliseum with a repertoire that seems so unappealing to the audience needed to fill the space without expecting any consequences strikes me as hubristic in the extreme.
Maybe now is the time to re-assess the role of ENO, to move it to a smaller venue and accept that it is now more like ON and WNO than in competition with it's rival around the corner.
I, for one, would rather see the subsidy I pay through my taxes spent to support companies that produce work that is accessible by me due to their touring remit with the odd treat in Floral Street, than one that believes that it has some sort of divine right to put on Opera for an audience that appears not to be there at heavily discounted prices in quite clearly a venue no longer suited to it's reduced circumstances.
jurgen Werther |
25 October 2013 at 07:36 PM
I heartily agree with all you say, Nikolaus. And nowadays you can't hide how many seats remain unsold - just take a look at the first night of The Magic Flute on the ENO website. The Stalls are papered with ENO staff, ROH staff, critics, friends of Staff, any singer who has a night off - the usual, but elsewhere there are loads of tickets left to sell. And this, the first night of a new production by McBurney (Complicite) which was hailed at its premiere in Amsterdam. I mean, if they can't sell this, how the hell are they going to sell Thebans?
Justin Chapman |
25 October 2013 at 08:15 PM
Is it me, or do the reactions to "Two Boys" seem to be not so much generated by the work itself but rather as a function of a more overarching hatred of the ENO?
As Mr. Innaurato points out, there are plenty of perfectly good operas that sell poorly at the Met for reasons that are at least at times arcane. As such, I don't think it's useful to use box office appeal as measure of an opera's artistic worth. (IF that were true, "anything produced by Zeffirellli" would be generally considered the highest achievement of Western music.)
Intermezzo replies - The reviewers in 2011 had similar reactions to the NY critics. Maybe one or two liked it but most were disappointed. Not just the papers either - bloggers as well.
La Cieca |
26 October 2013 at 07:22 AM
Would ENO have considered 'Two Boys' if there had been no tie in with the MET. Equally, the MET knew what they were getting and reading the reports changes have been made, which despite a reasonable review from your own JJ have still drawn a largely sceptical reception.
Give the parlous state of opera financing at the present, pace NYCO is it wise to produce not the just the odd risk production, either the work or its production but a whole series of challenges to the paying audience. Ultimately, bums on seats priced to give some guarantee of viability do matter, even in a system which subsidises those seats using the money of a largely non opera going public
Mr Zeffirelli's extravaganzas are not to everyone's taste but it could be argued that they and a galaxy of 'star' casts lay the foundation for a limited number of experiments in both repertory and production style.
If you turn your back on your patrons and your subscription audience you run the risk of having no opera at all. In the case of ENO, they appear to believe that novelty at the expense of a core audience if one exists and the tax payer will continue to avoid what in the context of the American model would have meant extinction many seasons ago.
jurgen Werther7 |
26 October 2013 at 03:57 PM
No - the work sucks. You, honey, are one of the few bloggers/critics who like it. As for 'hatred' of ENO, you couldn't be more wrong. I can only speak for myself of course, but my criticisms of the organisation are aimed at the management in general and John Berry in particular, whose tenure with the company has been disastrous. I love ENO - it's the company I grew up with and I used to go at least once a week when it cost less than a West End cinema ticket to sit in the Gods. That same ticket now costs 2 and a half/three times what it costs to go to the cinema, and the calibre of singers has gradually declined since the roster of company soloists was disbanded. There are still some evenings that rekindle the old ENO-flame. most notably the recent revivals of 'Parsifal' and 'Der Rosenkavalier' and Alden's 'Peter Grimes'. The new Bieito Carmen was an audacious and brilliant staging, let down by a cast that contained a Romanian Carmen and an American Don Jose - roles which the company could have cast from home-grown talent. Word on the street is that ENO cast late, and - well, if you do that you get what's left. ENO is a fine organisation with a superb orchestra, conductor and chorus but its language-policy, casting decisions and pricing structure, and ensuing discounts, all need to be examined. Only then can the company survive - my worry is that given the 'head in the sand' approach to finances and the above will result in the company's demise. I can't imagine anyone wants that to happen.
Justin Chapman |
26 October 2013 at 06:52 PM
Okay, I'm not going to hang around here to be patronized and talked down to. Good luck with your sewing circle.
La Cieca |
26 October 2013 at 07:10 PM
Don't know why you should think that you are being patronised and talked down to. But the success or otherwise of any work of art is a subjective thing. The consensus on both sides of the atlantic seems to be that Two Boys is a bit of a turkey. Whether it remains in the repertory only time will tell. For what it's worth I think Anna Nicole will follow Mr Muhly's opus into obscurity but, as I have said, only time will tell.
It is important though to put this within the whole context of Opera in a subsidised environment, where the political class is at best largely ambivalent and certain sections are openly hostile. From your perspective this may appear parochial but ENO is giving a great deal of ammunition to those that believe that your model is the way forward, not just in the Lyric Arts but in the provision of a great deal of our social society. Did NYCO see its future as secure, because it seems to me that ENO sees nothing other than a future underwritten by a compliant Arts Council.
I for one am sorry that NYCO has failed, because any reduction in access to Opera by the widest possible audience must be a bad thing. But, ultimately, Opera Companies have to deliver a balanced repertoire that audiences want to see and equally importantly are prepared to pay a realistic price for.
The isolated $30 seat may get some to watch a new work. But discounted tickets at ENO for 'Magic Flute' b3gs more questions than it answers.
jurgen Werther7 |
26 October 2013 at 08:50 PM
The ROH handled the pricing for Birtwistle's "The Minotaur" properly: they made it in the £65 range, which brought in people who were interested but would have been put off by £300 tickets. It sold well enough to get a revival. Now if they'd only do a complete, staged The Mask of Orpheus......
I find I'm being priced out of opera going. I really wanted to go the touring Einstein on the Beach done here in Los Angeles, but the cheapest ticket was $95 (about £60), I just couldn't afford it.
Henry Holland |
27 October 2013 at 05:29 AM
After a pair of visits to ENO last month, where I witnessed the tantrums of 3 opera goers at two different performances of two productions, one pair who snipped at somebody they decided was "noisy" because they wore a pearl bracelet that rattled occasionally, before almost stamping their feet and storming out in faux rage at the Beito Fidelio, to another guy who started giving out to the two ladies in front at Fledermaus, blissfully ignoring the fact that he made far more noise than the two put together, I think you may be right.
The audience is a large part of ENOs problem, but not it's only problem. The end of marketing opera at ENO as a luxury brand might be causing a knee jerk among some patrons who like to think of themselves as more rarified. That said, it's very unwise to keep pushing ticket prices up when an ever growing segment of the under 40s are finding themselves with lower and declining disposable incomes.
29 October 2013 at 09:07 PM
The comments to this entry are closed.
daddy I want a harpsichord