The Metropolitan Opera Guild, a nonprofit that supports the storied opera house and publishes the magazine Opera News, will wind down its operations and lay off its staff this fall in the face of financial troubles, the organization announced on Tuesday.
The guild, which was founded by Eleanor Robson Belmont in 1935 to help the Met survive a funding shortfall caused by the Great Depression, has supported the company and its education programs ever since, bringing thousands of schoolchildren to dress rehearsals each year and working to promote interest in opera through the publication of Opera News, which became one of the leading classical music publications in the United States.
Opera News will end its run as a stand-alone monthly magazine. The Met and the guild said it would continue in a different format, under new editorial direction, as part of a new section in Opera magazine, a British publication, focused on the United States that will bear the Opera News logo. The magazine will be sent to guild members and Opera News subscribers in the United States.
“We greatly appreciate the valuable efforts of our employees over the years, but it is no longer economically viable for us to continue in our current form,” Winthrop Rutherfurd Jr., the Guild’s chairman, and Richard J. Miller Jr., its president, said in a statement.
The guild will be reclassified as a supporting organization under the Met; it will no longer operate as an independent nonprofit. The guild said that it would provide severance to its 20 employees, and that it expects the Met to hire some of them. Its board members will be offered positions on the Met’s board.
Under the guild’s membership program, patrons pay $85 or more per year for benefits including subscriptions to Opera News, access to dress rehearsals and advance ticket sales.
The guild, like the broader opera industry, has faced serious financial pressures in recent years. It draws much of its revenue from its roughly 28,000 members. But contributions and grants have fallen in recent years: they totaled $8.1 million in 2021, compared with $9.1 million a decade earlier. And to some extent the Met and the guild found themselves competing for support from the same opera lovers.
The Met, grappling with its own financial woes as it works to recover from the pandemic, said it would continue some of the guild’s offerings, including the program that brings schoolchildren into the opera house to watch dress rehearsals.
Under Peter Gelb, who became the Met’s general manager in 2006, the company has expanded its oversight of the guild. Gelb said in an interview that the changes came after several months of discussions. He said the problems facing the guild reflected the “difficulties for nonprofit performing arts companies,” including the Met.
“It’s the same pressure that, on a large scale, the Met feels,” he said. “We tried to find a way forward that would enable some of the programs of the guild to continue, even if the guild in its current structure would not continue.”
The partnership with Opera magazine that will replace Opera News — which began publication in 1936 and has a circulation of about 43,000 — will start in December. The Met will not have editorial input but will provide a share of fees paid by guild members to help offset the magazine’s production costs, as it did with Opera News. Opera magazine named Rebecca Paller its U.S. editor; since 2003, Opera News has been led by F. Paul Driscoll.
John Allison, the editor and publisher of Opera, vowed in a statement to preserve the “rich editorial history” of Opera News. He said in an interview that he hoped to engage former Opera News writers when possible.
“Coverage of opera at the Met and throughout the United States will continue to be just as comprehensive as guild members and Opera News subscribers have grown accustomed to over the years,” he said.
Opera fans reacted with concern to news of the guild’s demise on Tuesday, saying that it was another sign that the art form was struggling.
Posy Ryan, a guild member, said that she was “very surprised and deeply saddened” by the changes, including the end of the stand-alone Opera News.
“It’s an institution that will be missed,” she said. “For me, it was an introduction to so many young American singers. I’d see a feature, a review and then research them on YouTube. I’ll miss that.”
POST AUTHOR: Javier C. Hernández