The Metropolitan Opera announced eight new productions Tuesday for its 2009-2010 season -- including a rarely heard Verdi work with costumes by Italian fashion legend Miuccia Prada -- but said it was dropping four others and slashing salaries because of the economy.
Met General Manager Peter Gelb told a news conference that the new season would be "a precarious balancing act" for the nation'spremier opera company. But the Met will not proceed with ticket price increases, as originally planned.
"We have not solved the problem yet," Gelb said. "We are still making cuts to make ends meet." It's the first Met season entirely planned under the leadership of Gelb, who became general manager in 2006-07.
Gelb was joined at Lincoln Center by Met Music Director James Levine and four top singing stars _ sopranos Karita Mattila, Angela Gheorghiu and Natalie Dessay, and tenor Marcelo Alvarez.
Gheorghiu and her husband, tenor Roberto Alagna, are to sing in a new staging of Bizet's "Carmen," directed by Richard Eyre and premiering on New Year's Eve.
Carmen is usually cast for a mezzo-soprano, but a clip of Gheorghiu singing offered a taste of the unusual casting. "I am not pretending to be a mezzo-soprano," she joked of her first-ever stage portrayal of the gypsy femme fatale.
Another unusual highlight of the new season will be tenor Placido Domingo as the lead in Verdi's "Simon Boccanegra," which was written for a baritone.
At 68, high notes have become a challenge for the opera legend, although that didn't stop him from taking on the tenor role last weekend that launched his career at the Met _ Maurizio in Cilea's "Adriana Lecouvreur."
Two other big names will appear in Offenbach's "Tales of Hoffman" Russian soprano Anna Netrebko and tenor Rolando Villazon, in a new production by Tony Award-winning director Bartlett Sher.
Ambroise Thomas's "Hamlet" will showcase Dessay's vocal pyrotechnics in the part of Ophelia, with Simon Keenlyside as the Danish prince.
Prada will design costumes for Verdi's "Attila," with bass Ildar Abdrazakov in the title role of the Hun leader and Italian conductor Riccardo Muti making his Met debut.
The season opens Sept. 21 with the gala premiere of Puccini's "Tosca," a new production led by the Swiss director Luc Bondy. Mattila will take on the title role with Alvarez as tenor.
Patrice Chereau, the French director renowned for his cutting-edge productions in Europe, will create his first show in the United States _ Janacek's "From the House of the Dead," based on a 19th century novel by Fyodor Dostoevsky. Also making his Met debut in the production, which has won rave reviews in Europe, is
conductor Esa-Pekka Salonen.
American soprano Renee Fleming will be featured in Rossini's "Armida,"a new production directed by Mary Zimmerman.
Gelb said four expensive Met revivals originally scheduled for next season have been sidelined, saving millions of dollars: John Corigliano's ``Ghosts of Versailles"; "Benvenuto Cellini" by Berlioz; "Lady Macbeth of the Mtsensk District" by Shostakovich; and "Die Frau Ohne Schatten" by Richard Strauss.
Gelb outlined the Met's financial woes as it attempts to stay within its $291 million budget for this season.
Its endowment of $300 million has dropped along with stock prices, he said, as have donations from philanthropists and other opera lovers. He did not disclose exact figures, noting that they fluctuate with the market.
In addition, he said, the salaries of senior staff members -- himself included -- have been cut by 10 percent as the company negotiates finances with unions representing the orchestra, chorus, stagehands and other employees.
"If the economy worsens, we will have to face the situation as it happens," he said.