Grand opera is dying along with its increasingly ancient audiences, according to Peter Gelb, general manager of one of the grandest operas in the world, the Metropolitan in New York.
The renowned 3,800-seat opera house was fighting a losing battle on many fronts, and could face bankruptcy within three years, he said, and the crisis in his own company could be a warning to many other world opera houses.
A long-running dispute with unions, which are threatening strike action, is just one of his many problems.
Box office receipts are weak and seat occupancy down to 80 per cent in the most recent season, while costs are soaring. The opera recently spent US$169,000 on a spectacular poppy field set for a production of Borodin's Prince Igor.
The Met's much vaunted introduction of live cinema broadcasts, pioneered by Gelb and copied by opera companies across the world, including the Royal Opera in central London's Covent Garden, was merely entertaining an existing and dwindling audience, he said, rather than creating new interest.
"What we've basically done is to extend the life span of the opera-goer. In the United States, 75 per cent of the cinema audience is 65 or over, and 30 per cent over 75. Those are people who are so old that they can't go to the Met, to the theatre, any more."
His analysis is rejected by Alex Beard, chief executive at the Royal Opera. "I don't want to get into a slagging match with the Met, but that is just so far from our experience. Opera is on a roll."
Beard said productions were selling out, with shows in the cinema season often selling fastest.
John Berry, artistic director at the English National Opera, also rejected the glum analysis: "We are having a tremendous season here, and our audiences are not dying. They are getting steadily younger."
However, Gelb's problems are real. He has until the end of July to come to an arrangement with the 16 unions who represent the Met's employees and avoid "some kind of work stoppage".
The Met's musicians earn vastly more than their British equivalents, with chorus members on an average of US$200,000 a year.
Their contracts, according to Gelb, mean that they are paid even when they are not working. Funding from other sources is also falling. The bulk of the Met's money comes from donations.
The cinema broadcasts, which beam to 2,000 theatres in 66 countries, are Gelb's most famous innovation. It has inspired every major opera company to develop similar schemes and on the surface could hardly be more successful, allowing more people simultaneously to be part of a live operatic experience than ever before, as well as creating a hybrid art form.
Yet instead of celebrating a new world-wide audience, Gelb said the broadcasts had "captured the audience that's already there. So there are hundreds of thousands, maybe millions, of people who love opera out there. But that base is getting smaller".
Recent research backs him up, with a report for the English Touring Opera finding that the audience for operas in cinema was full of people who already knew and loved the art form.
Despite Gelb's mission, since he took over in 2006, to reinvigorate the Met, it has not yet led to results at the box office.
Even the closure of New York City Opera, a disaster for New York's opera lovers but another audience for the Met to attract, has not boosted attendances.
Critics argue that Gelb could do more to make the Met appealing to the younger audience the company needs, but Gelb sees a larger cultural question at the root of the problem.
"Where is opera being taught in schools? I don't know of any place. I think that's pervading the rest of the world," he said "Children are brought up to be technological wizards and to have the attention spans of mice."