Opera house takes proactive measures to combat allergy

Image copyright Albert Mancera

Edward Gardner is a soprano from the UK who sings at the Metropolitan Opera in New York.

As part of the Met’s regular pre-opera meetings, the British soprano contracted a bronchial infection, contracted pneumonia and spent two weeks in hospital.

For performance days during the three weeks she was in hospital, she had to stay in her hotel, with the opera company chaperoning her.

This is not her preferred situation, but it is what it takes to avoid bad situations.

“I don’t know how to explain it,” she said. “For me as a soprano, opera is my love and my life. “

Olivier Metzold, the Met’s International Artist Relations representative, thinks it’s about time that singers received the same access to treatment.

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Mr Metzold believes that by taking more proactive measures towards allergy management, the company will be able to ease the financial strain on singers and help them perform at higher capacity.

“What I’ve tried to do with the Met is, let’s take control of a situation that is a great stress for everyone,” he said.

“So we’re looking at everything, whether it’s making sure that singers can get the antibiotics they need, whether it’s the delivery of the subcutaneous injections to them, whether we’re talking to those who have been affected the most and how we can respond together,” he said.

“One thing we’ve heard is that when an opera performance is scheduled they don’t have time to go to the doctor to check if an opera singer is a good candidate for the delivery of an injection, and I’ve worked in London for three years and I’ve never been on the Met.”

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Mr Metzold is the third of five grandchildren of Met Opera’s founder, Bernard Haitink. He remembers the pain of his grandfather and beloved grandmother experiencing terrible weather conditions.

His grandfather lost half of his left leg to a blister from short-circuiting a generator during a performance, and his grandmother had to be evacuated from her seat when an asbestos-laden shower ceiling collapsed.

“We wanted to do more to make sure that performers aren’t affected by the weather,” Mr Metzold said.

At this point, the Met’s temperature in excess of 40 degrees C, humidity of 95% and humidity of 80% are unique to New York’s huge pro-football stadium, MetLife. However, similar observations have been made by the Boston Opera Company.

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Metropolitan Opera’s managing director Peter Gelb says that, unless a patient has been diagnosed with an allergy or suffers from a particular condition, the Met carries out screenings in order to check if someone might need to use a device before a performance. However, according to Mr Metzold, this means that no one has ever required the treatment.

“If we don’t have it, we’re not going to have it, and that’s really the company policy,” Mr Metzold said.

It’s his hope that the Met’s policy will lead to greater access for all singers and greater comfort for all audiences.

“No single singer, no matter how much love they have in their heart for this opera, is in a position to explain that the postponement of an operatic performance they would dearly love to give is not beneficial for the company,” he said.

“In total, singers, performers and musicians may contribute as much as $150-250 million to the company in wages and benefits that can be accounted for. It’s a very important part of the business,” he said.

Image copyright Albert Mancera

The Met will announce the exact details of its new policies on Monday 27 April.

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