Product, Pricing, Promotion, Pompousness

The New York Times reports today that the Metropolitan Opera, realizing that it’s almost the 1980’s, for gosh sakes, has unveiled an advertising campaign. Images promoting their upcoming production of “Madama Butterfly” are gracing subway stations, buses, and the like as we speak.

It’s a tectonic shift for the Met, who have historically disdained such self-promotion, correctly reasoning that their subscriber base hasn’t left the house since the Cuban Missile Crisis. Peter Gelb wants to change all that, though, taking square marketing aim at, in the Times’ words, “younger people who may find opera remote and intimidating.” (Actually, the ads are still a little too square. Can’t they borrow a cup of shameless sensationalism from the Post? HARA-KIRI FOR SORDID SAILOR’S GORGEOUS GEISHA. You know, something like that.)

I suppose it’s good that the Met is finally emerging, blinking and squinting, from their gilded cage. (Although I love the fact that even their advertising campaign has a wealthy patron.) But that’s just me.

“Opera will never again be a popular taste, and coaxing masses of young people into highbrow pleasures isn’t easy. The young are not necessarily the hip, and the hip is not necessarily what will sell out a pharaonically large venue.”

The twenty-five-cent words of Leon Wieseltier, pontificating at the end of the Times article (hey, for once they buried the trash, and not the lede). Putting aside from his annoying use of hip as a noun (he’s probably one of those people who refers to “the gay”), this sentence is still a mess.

  • Fallacy #1: “Highbrow” can’t be “popular.” Wrong, wrong, wrong.

  • Fallacy #2: “The young are not necessarily the hip.” You’re the one segregating by hipness, Leon—the Met is going after young people period. A good move, too: the nerd demographic has both greater numbers and earning potential.

  • Fallacy #3: (Ignoring Fallacy #2 for a minute.) “The hip” is not going to sell out the Met? The Met has 4,000 seats. Assume they actually did put on something “hip.” You don’t think there’s 4,000 hip people in New York? There’s probably at least 4,000 opera singers in New York. (Heck, for Turandot, I think the Met crams 4,000 people on the stage.) I would question the fundamental issue of how hip the Met can make itself, but the demographics have got to be working against Wieseltier here.

    Gawker says it best: “Yeah, we want to drop three hundred bucks to sit next to that guy.” Worry not, friend—if Leon goes to the Met at all, he sits up in the boxes and leaves in a snit after the first act because he can’t stop orating and everyone keeps shushing him. Take my advice: get a walk-up ticket and sneak in a flask of cheap port and some Raisinets. And if you end up next to me, I promise that, if I do use the phrase “pharaonically large”, I’ll at least try to make it sound like a double entendre.
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