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Met Opera Announces Good Health, New Season

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The Metropolitan Opera announced its 2011-12 season on Wednesday. Amid plans for the second two installments of Robert Lepage's Ring cycle, a World War II-era Faust, and a world premiere of The Enchanted Island with an English language libretto by Jeremy Sams, the big news to emerge was from the podium. Music director James Levine maintains that he is in improving health and not going anywhere anytime soon.

"I feel very good when I'm in whatever position I'm in," Levine said. "But the first minute or two of walking from here to there is a bit different every day." Levine has faced a series of health issues in recent years, including pronounced back problems. At the close of a performance of a new Met-Juilliard production of The Bartered Bride on Tuesday night, Levine did not appear for a stage bow. "It's better not to have a mishap," Levine said of his absence.

The Met also reported stabilizing financial health following the recent economic downturn. "We have increased our ticket sales dramatically since I became general manager," commented Met general manager Peter Gelb. "They have leveled out since then, but Nixon in China is selling out," Gelb said of the recent Met run of John Adams' first opera, its Met premiere. "Donation levels are higher than they've ever been," he added.

Regarding the use of the Met's celebrated Chagall lobby murals as collateral, Gelb said, "Just to get the record straight, the Chagalls are a small part of the collateral. They are not at risk, and we have no intention of losing our Chagalls." In 2009, the Met put the murals up as part of the collateral for an existing loan from JPMorgan Chase.

The Met's new season, to open on September 26, 2011, will bring seven new productions, including a world premiere of The Enchanted Island, a Baroque pastiche, and a Met premiere of Donizetti's Anna Bolena. The season will also feature the complete performances of Der Ring des Nibelungen under Robert Lepage's direction. The company said Siegfried will feature 3-D technology as part of the production's digital video projections.

Gelb came under the usual fire for replacing beloved old productions with more modern, up-to-date stagings. "I do not believe we are necessarily experimenting," said Gelb. "We are following a course that opera companies, and this art form, have pursued since the beginning -- to present opera in the most dynamic form possible."

The new Faust, directed by Des McAnuff, is to be set on a stage that, if early design shots hold, will feature model atomic bombs and World War II military uniforms. "Des gets to hone his artistic ideas in advance," Gelb said of the director, whose take on Gounod's Faust is a co-production with the English National Opera where it had its premiere earlier this season. "Without saying that ENO is our tryout, it serves a very valuable purpose to us," Gelb said. "Once you see something on the stage and see how it plays, there are always modifications and changes that are necessary."

Met ticket prices are scheduled to increase slightly in the coming season, but the lowest priced tickets of $25 each will remain unchanged. The Met will also implement earlier start times for most operas, raising the curtain on evening performances at 7:30 pm instead of 8 pm. The Met's Live in HD series will continue for its sixth season, presenting 11 operas in live transmissions to more than 1,500 theaters in 46 countries.