Met Opera Taps Its Endowment Again to Weather Downturn

The Metropolitan Opera, still reeling from the disruption brought by the pandemic, said on Thursday that it had withdrawn nearly $40 million in additional emergency funds from its endowment as it works to survive one of the most trying periods in its 141-year history.

The move came after the Met took $30 million from its endowment fund last season to help cover operating expenses amid weak ticket sales and a cash shortfall. Nonprofits usually try to avoid drawing down their endowments, which are meant to grow over time while producing investment income. The Met’s endowment fund is now worth about $255 million, down from $309 million in July.

“For most people the pandemic is over. For arts institutions, we’re still in it,” said Peter Gelb, the Met’s general manager. “But we see a way out. There is light at the end of the tunnel.”

The company pointed to several signs that it may be turning the corner.

Paid attendance has risen to about 73 percent so far this season from roughly 63 percent at the same point last season, and is nearly back to what it was just before the pandemic hit. The Met’s Live in HD cinema broadcasts — which contributed more than $15 million to the company’s bottom line before the pandemic, but are currently only breaking even — are beginning to draw larger crowds. And as the Met presents more contemporary opera, it is attracting younger audiences: The average age of single-ticket buyers for in-person performances has fallen to 44 from 50 before the pandemic.

The Met expects cash gifts of more than $100 million to help replenish the endowment over the next few years. The company is also working to land a “transformative” gift, Gelb said. He declined to provide details, saying only that he hoped it would come “sooner rather than later.”

Gelb said that the Met “obviously can’t make a habit” of dipping into its endowment, but that the withdrawal would help the company while ticket revenues recover and as it waits for expected donations.

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