CityWatch: In NYC, coronavirus cancels Met Opera, Times Square in-person New Year’s Eve celebrations

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Times Square, which becomes a sea of people and confetti each Dec. 31, is going to be unrecognizable as Americans turn the calendar to 2021. And that’s just the latest change in what’s shaking out to be a different kind of winter for New York City.

Besides the announcement Wednesday of the largely virtual event on New Year’s Eve, the Metropolitan Opera said it was canceling its entire upcoming season.

The revelations are the latest in a long list of blows for the city’s arts and live entertainment community because of the coronavirus pandemic. Broadway performances were shut down in March, and canceled until at least Jan. 3, 2021. The Macy’s M, -2.55%   Thanksgiving Day Parade will also be televised-only this year. 

For this year’s Times Square New Year’s Eve celebration, a “virtual world” and “complementary broadcast app” will be available to viewers, though there will still be a small group of in-person honorees, according to a statement Wednesday from event organizers. The announcement was accompanied by a 35-second video clip that shows an animated version of Times Square with the iconic ball drop.

Around 1 million people usually attend the event, according to the Times Square Alliance. 

“Any opportunity to be live in Times Square will be predetermined and extremely limited due to COVID-19 restrictions,” Tim Tompkins, president of the Times Square Alliance, said in a statement. 

The Times Square Alliance did not immediately return a request for further comment. 

The Met Opera said it made its decision to cancel its 2020-21 season based on the advice of health officials and the group nature of its rehearsals and performances, according to a statement. The season typically runs from September through May. The organization added that it would not be safe to resume performances until a vaccine is widely available and when masks and social distancing are no longer required. 

When the city went into lockdown in March, the Met canceled its performances through December of this year.

People who bought tickets to various performances for the 2021-22 season will be automatically credited to their Met Opera accounts within the next 10 days, according to the organization. Money can also be donated or used to purchase tickets in the future. 

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Unions with members who work in Met productions were unhappy with the announcement and lamented that the organization had not worked harder to find alternate or hybrid-performance models.

The American Guild of Musical Artists (AGMA), in a statement to its members obtained by MarketWatch, wrote that it was “disappointed that the Met has peremptorily announced this cancellation, rather than engaging with its artists or AGMA to find creative paths to create opera this spring.” It also called on the Met to “innovate and, just like other large and small arts organizations across the country have done, find ways to get our members back to work, even if they can’t physically be on the Met stage.”

The Metropolitan Opera Orchestra Committee, whose nine members are part of the American Federal of Musicians Local 802 union, pointed out that other orchestras in the U.S. are adapting to the coronavirus pandemic and still connecting with their communities. 

“Simply stating that labor costs must be cut is not a solution or plan for the future; especially in light of the fact that no labor costs have been paid by the Met over the last seven months,” the committee said in a statement to MarketWatch. 

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Ned Hanlon, 36, is a bass in the Met Opera’s full-time chorus, and usually sings in roughly 170 performances a year. He has health insurance while the opera is shut down but is not being paid. 

“This is a devastating blow for all the artists that work at the Met,” Hanlon told MarketWatch. 

“I don’t know when I’m going to perform again,” he continued. “I love being on stage. That’s what I do. And we can’t right now.” 

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