For the Met Opera, the Pandemic Could Be a Necessary Reset

The company seems to be using a long break as a reboot, with more vital, representative programming coming soon.

By Anthony Tommasini

This spring, after the coronavirus pandemic forced the closure of performing arts institutions around the world, Peter Gelb, the general manager of the Metropolitan Opera, faced the truth.

“It’s transparently obvious that social distancing and grand opera cannot go together,” Mr. Gelb said in a New York Times interview back then, as he announced the cancellation of the Met’s fall season. In short order, other New York institutions followed that lead.

On Sept. 23, in the latest blow from the crisis, the Met announced that the cancellation would extend to its entire 2020-21 season. It’s hard to see how the New York Philharmonic, Carnegie Hall and other musical organizations — not to mention Broadway theaters — can open their doors safely any time sooner.

To his credit, Mr. Gelb is looking at this period as not just a pause but a reboot. He has realized that if the Met is going to rise again after the virus subsides, it must do things differently, to prove itself more essential than ever. The work it presents must matter — and how the company presents itself must matter, too.

Relieved from the demands of daily performances, the Met — like the nation’s other arts institutions — must take time to think about its place within larger societal currents, especially the roiling issues of racial injustice and police brutality that have inspired nationwide demonstrations. Black classical artists and administrators have spoken out powerfully about systemic discrimination within the field.

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