“Is this enough light?” asked the baritone Peter Mattei.
He was in the living room of his home outside Stockholm, speaking over Skype with a small group of Metropolitan Opera staff members who were giving him directions to prepare for the company’s At-Home Gala on Saturday — a worldwide relay of live streamed performances that, in contrast to opera’s usual grandeur, will be filmed using only household devices.
In Mr. Mattei’s case, it will mean transmitting a Mozart aria with a smartphone and a cellular data plan, from a house that of course wasn’t meant to be a studio. So he needed help from the Met to at least establish his shot. He moved from room to room while his dog, a labradoodle named Yoda, occasionally sneaked into the frame. But nothing was quite working.
Through the windows, Peter Gelb, the Met’s general manager — at home in New York — could see a waterfront and serene Scandinavian twilight. He had an idea: “Could you try singing outside?”
But Mr. Mattei laughed off the suggestion. “I will feel embarrassed,” he said. “Everyone will think I’m crazy, that I have no job and now I start to sing outside.”
It was a bit of gallows humor at a catastrophic moment in opera. The Met halted performances on March 12 in response to the coronavirus pandemic — and eventually canceled the remainder of its season, estimating losses of up to $60 million. The industry, a global ecosystem largely made up of freelance artists, is now facing widespread unemployment with no end in sight.
With the Met closed to the public, its administrative staff has been busy with an emergency fund-raising campaign and, for the past two weeks, the At-Home Gala. The event, which will be streamed on metopera.org at 1 p.m. Eastern on Saturday and remain available until Sunday evening, has an only-in-opera level of aspiration and difficulty: a roster of more than 40 of the company’s starriest singers, plus members of the orchestra and chorus, performing live across nine time zones. Among them are Lisette Oropesa, in Baton Rouge, La.; Anna Netrebko, in Vienna; and Piotr Beczala, in what he described to Mr. Gelb as a village at the end of the earth in Poland.
Mr. Gelb — who will be hosting from New York along with Yannick Nézet-Séguin, the Met’s music director, who is in Montreal — said that the idea came about because “I am determined to keep the Met in the consciousness of the broader public, and I am determined to use any possible means to do that.”
Since the opera house went dark, it has posted a free stream from its vast Met Opera On Demand library every night. (Mr. Gelb said that in the past five weeks, the number of paid subscribers to that on-demand service has doubled, to 30,000.) Each stream is accompanied by a “Donate Now” button; the At-Home Gala will have one, too, though Mr. Gelb was quick to emphasize that this is not “a PBS telethon.”
“I think people recognize what the Met is trying to do,” he said, “and they express that without our having to hit them over the head.” The gala, he added, is instead a way for people feel a little like they’re back in the theater.
“There’s no substitute for performing,” he said. “And yet this gives us something meaningful to do.”
Within 48 hours of conceiving the gala in early April, Mr. Gelb had enlisted Mr. Nézet-Séguin and dozens of participants, asking little more than that they sing an aria and dress, as he told Mr. Kaufmann, “somewhere between sauna and formal attire.” Things came together so quickly that a news release was sent out before the performers had done their screen and sound tests.
The star soprano Renée Fleming, who has been sheltering in place at her home in Virginia, recalled that when she heard from Mr. Gelb, she told him, “Well, nobody can say they’re busy.” Joking aside, she said, she agreed to take part because she wants to help the Met and other organizations “maintain a connection to their audience.” (She also has some experience with homespun performance, having recently made a video of Schubert’s “Ave Maria” remotely with the pianist Evgeny Kissin.)
All the artists participating in the gala are donating their time. “It’s totally a labor of love and, I think, an opportunity for people to do something,” Mr. Gelb said.
With seven-figure financial support from the philanthropist Mercedes T. Bass and Rolex, the Met has pulled together an enterprise for less than $100,000 that blends the lo-fi quality of Skype and the broadcasting might of the company’s Live in HD series. Some parts will be prerecorded: Mr. Nézet-Séguin, not using a click track but, rather, a video of his conducting — which, he said, will be “more human and warm” — has already led members of the Met Orchestra in excerpts from “Lohengrin” and “Cavalleria Rusticana,” and choristers in “Va, pensiero,” a crowd favorite from Verdi’s “Nabucco.”
The live portions will be powered by four channels, two of which will be needed for the stream’s technical back end. That leaves one for whoever is on camera, and one for the singer on deck — so none of the performers will be seen or heard until shortly before their moment in the spotlight.
Mr. Gelb’s week, then, has been filled with tests: half-hour Skype calls with singers and technicians including Gary Halvorson, the longtime Live in HD director. Through trial and error, they have sought sweet spots of Wi-Fi signals and sound balance; Mr. Mattei eventually found his light not in his living room, or in his boathouse, but in a nearby studio where he learned the title role of “Wozzeck” for the Met.
Even well-prepared singers have run into difficulties. The soprano Angel Blue — who will perform from her basement in New Jersey, in front of a framed photo of the Met’s old theater — had marking tape and good lighting. But her phone’s mic was unreliable, producing a tinny sound, so she was asked to change devices and return for another test.
“I’ll be here,” she said. “I have nowhere to go.”
Her second sound check was a success, but technology has been less cooperative for other singers. Names have been added to the gala roster, but also subtracted because of insufficient internet access — or, in the case of Christine Goerke, the inability of an iPad to handle the enormous sound of a Wagnerian soprano.
Some are singing for the first time in weeks; Ms. Fleming joked that she’s grateful the gala has made her start practicing again. “I’ve never had to worry about being disciplined,” she said, “because I’ve always had something to work on.”
Come Saturday, though, vocal troubles are the least of the worries. If something does go wrong, such as a signal cutting out, the Met has assembled some buffer videos to pass time until the next singer is ready to get on camera.
They wouldn’t be needed if the performances were prerecorded, as they have been in pop events like the recent special “One World: Together at Home.” But Mr. Gelb preferred something closer to the danger and thrill of the Met’s stage, where you never know whether a singer will overshoot a high note or land it with sublime precision.
“That’s what makes opera so special,” Mr. Gelb said. “We’re living on the edge.”