Met Opera Slashing Budget

NEW YORK (AP) -- The latest tune at the Metropolitan Opera is the box-office blues.

Because of a slump in ticket sales, Met general manager Joseph Volpe wants to cut operating expenses for the company's current fiscal year by 5 percent.

"We are currently projecting the box office to achieve 76 percent of capacity versus a budget of 80 percent, resulting in a shortfall of $4,303,000," Volpe wrote in Dec. 12-dated memorandum to Met department heads, a copy of which was obtained Thursday by The Associated Press.

"To offset this shortfall, we need to identify savings in all areas of our operating expenses," he wrote. "Our targeted savings goal is 5 percent of the expenses budgeted for the fiscal year, which can come from payroll or non-payroll sources, or both."

In the late 1990s, the Met often sold more than 90 percent of tickets for each season, but the box office slowed after the 2001 terror attacks.

Asked about the memorandum, spokesman Peter Clark said: "Mr. Volpe does not wish to discuss it."

In recent weeks, the Met -- the largest classical music company in the United States -- appears to have started the transition from Volpe, who took over in 1990, to Peter Gelb, the former Sony Classical music executive who becomes general manager in August.

Gelb has declined interview requests, but he appears to have formulated an aggressive agenda that could include an increase in new productions, which have numbered four or five in recent seasons. Some of the productions will be shared with other companies or borrowed.

The English National Opera says its new hit staging of Puccini's "Madame Butterfly," directed by Academy Award winner Anthony Minghella, is a co-production with the Metropolitan Opera and the Lithuanian National Opera. While there has been talk that it will come to the Met next season, possibly for opening night, the Met hasn't acknowledged its participation.

The San Francisco Opera said this week that the Met plans to borrow its world premiere production of John Adams' "Doctor Atomic" for the 2008-9 season. Volpe said the decision to bring "Doctor Atomic" to the Met is not yet confirmed.

There also are changes on the business side. Coralie Toevs started work this week as the Met's director of development, replacing Lillian Silver, who had held the fund-raising job since 1997. Toevs had been the New York Philharmonic's development director since 1997.

Thomas Michel, the Public Theater's director of marketing since March 2004, began work this month as the Met's director of marketing. Elena Park, who had been with radio station WNYC and previously worked for the San Francisco Opera, starts next month as director of communications and will take over as head of press and public relations in August from Francois Giuliani, who's retiring.

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