Behind Met's closed curtain

Back when jewel-bedecked Mrs. William Waldorf Astor dictated society's tastes , she would often leave the opera long before the final curtain, and many of New York's "Four Hundred" obediently followed her out the door.

Progressive federal taxes and an altogether changed world have long since decimated the Four Hundred. But a new legion of Metropolitan Opera lovers of every background and income level was sorely disappointed when the "Met" walked out on themm even before the curtain could rise on the first production of a new season.

Barring a last-ditch reprieve, the entire season was canceled Sept. 29. The Met's management is leaving the door open -- "for a few days only" -- for an agreement with its 93 striking musicians, members of the American Federation of Musicians Local 802. The musicians are demanding a four-performance, 21-hour week and salaries that would amount to over $40,000 annually per player, up from company simply cannot afford the terms.

While Met president Frank E. Tapin says he is "not optimistic" about a resolution to the impasse, now in the hands of a federal mediator, there appears to be the possibility of favorable movement. For one thing, Met sources privately admit there is "some room for compromise" on the four-performance week demand, even though the Met board has, to date, unanimously rejected it.

Meanwhile, thousands of ticketholders -- from students paying $4 for standing room to the usual crowd of secretaries and salesmen -- and millions of weekly Met radio listeners are saddened by the close of one of the city's premier cultural magnets.

"The society type is finally out of the picture at the Met," spokesman David Reuben told the Monitor. "Our audiences are knowledgeable and serious -- and younger than they ever have been before."

Ironically, the cancellation of the 1980-81 season comes in the fourth year of financial stability for the Met. Unaudited figures for the 1979-80 season show a $101,000 surplus -- derived not from tickets but from tax-exempt personal , government, foundation, and corporate contributions.

Second, New York's Gov. Hugh Carey or his representatives may soon, sources say, try to get negotiations rolling again. Besides the immediate impact of throwing 1,900 Met employees out of work -- the 1979-80 season employee payroll was just under $30 million -- the cancellation will cause other wide-ranging economic waves. The Met season means millions of dollars for area restaurants alone.

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