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Met cuts ticket prices following box office slump
By RONALD BLUM , Associated Press

NEW YORK (AP) — The Metropolitan Opera is cutting ticket prices by an average of about 10 percent next season, when music director James Levine returns from a spine injury that led to a two-year absence.

In the company's first season without Wagner since anti-German sentiment in 1918-19 caused by World War I, the Met will present six new-to-New York productions, the fewest since Peter Gelb's first season as general manager in 2006-07.

New stagings include Johann Strauss II's "Die Fledermaus," Borodin's "Prince Igor" and Massanet's "Werther." There will be new-to-the-Met productions of Tchaikovsky's "Eugene Onegin," Nico Muhly's "Two Boys" and Verdi's "Falstaff' that already have debuted in Europe.

An intended new staging of Bellini's "I Puritani" was scrapped in favor of a revival.

The Met said Tuesday more than 2,000 of its 3,800 seats will have lower prices next season and its average ticket price will drop from $174 to $156. There will be a minimum 15 percent discount for evening subscriptions and 10 percent for Saturday matinees.

"I think we're slightly overpriced. I think we were perhaps too ambitious in our pricing for this season," Met General Manager Peter Gelb said.

Gelb said the Met projects it will sell 80 percent of available tickets this season, down 2-3 percent from last season. The company increased prices for 2012-13 by an average of 4.2 percent for subscriptions and 7.6 percent for individual tickets.

Part of the decrease in ticket sales may be attributable to the Met's successful simulcasts to movie theaters.

"Although we have expanded the paying audience for the Met through the HD transmissions, we've also cannibalized a little bit our local audience in the opera house," Gelb said.

Levine, sidelined since May 2011, will lead revivals of Mozart's "Cosi fan tutte" starting Sept. 24 and Berg's "Wozzeck" beginning March 6, the company said Tuesday, and a new-to-the-Met staging of Verdi's "Falstaff" (Dec. 6) that appeared at London's Royal Opera in 2012 and Milan's Teatro alla Scala this year.

"This is I think an intelligent and prudent re-entry season," Levine said during a telephone interview Friday.

Levine, who turns 70 on June 23, has been the company's leading force for four decades as principal conductor (1973-76), music director (1976-86 and 2004 on) and artistic director (1986-04).

He has had three spinal operations since his last performance on May 14, 2011. When the Met announced his planned return in October, the company said he will conduct a concert performance of the Met Orchestra at Carnegie Hall this May 19. Because he had been unable to walk, a podium that elevates is being designed for his use.

"With a spinal injury, the rule of thumb is it takes about two years to have some idea how the fullness of the recovery is," Levine said. "I have the potential to have everything completely return."

Levine had no lower body movement after he fell in September 2011 but said he has made progress in walking as the result of six-days-a-week therapy.

"I'm working on all kinds of things to make my muscles be ready as the nerves return, and so far it's working very well," he said. "It's very slow and it's very difficult, but it's also very exciting because you get these great breakthroughs".

The Met didn't present any Wagner operas in 1917-18 and 1918-19 during U.S. involvement in World War I, the only seasons until now without the composer since the company began in 1883. The company did not present any staged operas in 1892-93 and 1897-98.

In the second half of a year marking the 200th anniversary of Wagner's birth, the Met originally planned a revival of "Parsifal" for next season but changed it to "Wozzeck" to accommodate Levine's comeback.

"There's a tremendous amount of Wagner in our future plan," Levine said.

The season opens Sept. 23 with conductor Valery Gergiev leading "Eugene Onegin," in a Deborah Warner production that opened at the English National Opera in November 2011. Anna Netrebko sings Tatiana in her third consecutive Met opening night.

"Two Boys" has its U.S. premiere Oct. 21 in a revised version of the Bartlett Sher staging that opened at the ENO in June 2011. The Met co-commission is a fictionalized account of a British teenager who used the Internet in an attempt to arrange his own murder in 2003.

Looking to future seasons. the Met has joined with the Royal Opera and the Salzburg Festival to commission Thomas Ades' "The Exterminating Angel," based on the Luis Bunuel film. It will premiere at Salzburg in 2015, go to London in the spring of 2017 and open at the Met that fall.

The Met's joint commissioning program with Lincoln Center Theater will conduct a workshop this spring of Scott Wheeler's "The Sorrows of Frederick," with a libretto by the late Romulus Linney based on his 1960s play.

Ricky Ian Gordon is composing "Intimate Apparel," with Lynn Nottage adapting her 2003 play about an African-American seamstress in 1905 New York, and composer Jeanine Tesori and Tony Kushner are working to expand "A Blizzard on Marblehead Neck," their one-act opera based on Eugene and Carlotta O'Neill that opened at Cooperstown's Glimmerglass Opera in August 2011.

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