Des Moines Metro Opera Alters Summer Plans

“Rusalka,” one of Des Moines Metro Opera’s most popular past productions, will be broadcast on Iowa PBS as part of the opera company’s virtual season.

By Christine Riccelli

When making what arguably could be the biggest decision in his tenure as general and artistic director of Des Moines Metro OperaMichael Egel drew on what might seem an unlikely source: the late British satirist and fantasy fiction novelist Terry Pratchett, who wrote that “Opera happens because a large number of things amazingly fail to go wrong.”

With that in mind, Egel, along with DMMO’s board of directors, decided to cancel the 2020 season, as COVID-19 was making the odds of something going wrong too high. “Our model relies on many people coming here from all over the U.S.—we [had] 200-plus company members due to arrive in three weeks,” Egel said in an interview Monday. “Not only do we all work in close proximity to one another, but company members … live together in close quarters.”

Although the season has been canceled, the contracts for all those hired to stage the shows—including performers, orchestra members, production staff, and the design and costume teams—will be honored, making DMMO unusual among its peers and an industry leader. “It’s important to us that we take care of people,” Egel said. “We often talk about how we’re a family at DMMO … and that sense of family comes from the loyalty and dedication of the artists, patrons and audience. … It’s personal for them, and it’s personal for me, too.”

Those who have bought tickets to the summer season, which was set to open June 26, may receive a credit for the 2021 season or a refund, but DMMO is asking them to consider converting their tickets into a tax-deductible donation. DMMO earns about $500,000 through ticket sales every year, a significant part of the company’s budget, Egel noted. To provide ticket buyers with an incentive, a group of board members and donors have committed $125,000 as a challenge to match the value of every ticket donated before June 1.

While Egel is understandably disappointed about canceling this year’s shows, he was excited to talk about DMMO’s newly dubbed 2020 Virtual Season. Through a partnership with Iowa PBS, DMMO will present online and televised presentations of some of DMMO’s most well-received recent productions, including “Billy Budd,” “Rusalka” and “Manon.” In addition to the broadcasts, DMMO will offer virtual artist recitals and other events.

“This positions us to share extraordinary content with the world,” Egel said, noting that DMMO patrons can be found in some 40 states and even in such far-flung locales as New Zealand. “We have every reason to be enthusiastic and positive. We are going full-speed ahead, and we have big dreams ahead of us.”

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