Peter Gelb’s Series of Unfortunate Events

Another summer, another lockout looming!

This time it’s the Met’s. If you’ve been following my Twitter account, you know my thoughts. (There I’ve posted such in-depth analyses as Who looks at the Minnesota Orchestra negotiations and says, “I want THAT for my non-profit”? and I don’t think Peter Gelb got the memo about the power of audience advocate groups. Anyone want to deliver that memo? It’s kinda important.)

But as the deadline grows nearer, it’s time to dig deeper into the story. Let’s turn to the New York Times‘s July 23rd article, “Met Opera Prepares to Lock Out Workers.” Met General Manager Peter Gelb, here’s your chance to convince me you’re not Michael Henson 2.0. As you speak, keep in mind Song of the Lark Lockout Tip Number One:

When you’re preparing to initiate a lockout, don’t come across as a dick.

So. The floor is yours.

 

In letters to the company’s unionized workers, Mr. Gelb, who is seeking to cut pay and benefits, wrote that “if we are not able to reach agreements by July 31 that would enable the Met to operate on an economically sound basis, please plan for the likelihood of a work stoppage beginning Aug. 1.” He added, “I sincerely hope to avoid such an unfortunate event.”

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An unfortunate event? An “unfortunate event” is having to take a detour during construction season. An “unfortunate event” is getting caught in the rain without an umbrella. An “unfortunate event” is going into a bakery craving cherry doughnuts and finding out the guy in front of you just bought the last cherry doughnut.

Or this. This is an unfortunate event, too.

Or this. This is a movie about a series of unfortunate events.

Those are unfortunate events. But here’s one thing an unfortunate event isn’t: choosing to shut down the United States’s largest opera house for an undetermined length of time for vague and unsubstantiated reasons, in the process threatening to upend the lives of hundreds of hardworking American workers and their children. Referring to such an abomination, such a catastrophe, such an artistic and human tragedy, as an “unfortunate event” tells me a lot about Peter Gelb. In fact, that one sentence tells me so much, I genuinely don’t know what more I need to know about him.

Another Lockout Tip: Adding the word “sincerely” to a statement doesn’t actually mean you’re sincere, and when you’re not sincere, the word tends to add to your general air of dickishness.

How do I know Peter Gelb is not sincere? Next paragraph:

Mr. Gelb said in an interview, “If we haven’t reached agreements, the Met really has no option in my opinion but to impose a lockout.”

Yes, that’s right: no option. No Other Option. No play and talk. No mediation. No outside consultants. No change in negotiating personnel. And that’s just off the top of my head. Those options are not options because….well, because. For reasons.

Peter Gelb is indeed Michael Henson 2.0. Or maybe Michael Henson 1.1: it’s not much of a change over the original version, and clearly there are still some bugs.

“I don’t know what the operatic equivalent of it taking two to tango is, but that’s sort of where we are,” Mr. Gelb said.

So…he’s basically saying the musicians aren’t negotiating (sound FAMILIAR?), and that he doesn’t know why. Insinuations:

  1. The musicians are greedy
  2. The musicians are selfish
  3. The musicians are childish
  4. The musicians are petulant
  5. The musicians are stupid and don’t have the mental acuity to realize their long-term job security is at stake

And as we all know, those kinds of insinuations always increase employee morale and productiveness. /sarcasm

Mr. Gelb’s record earnings in 2012 reflected a raise that he was given that March when he signed a new 10-year contract

Oh joy. So either this story ends with Gelb sticking around for another decade, or it ends with a massive golden parachute. He really is Henson 1.1, isn’t he?

which brought his base salary to $1.55 million, the Met said.

More than half of the last deficit. (Shades of Bonusgate…)

They also reflected $177,000 in retirement and medical benefits, which included what the Met described as an unsolicited gift from a donor to create a supplemental retirement plan for him.

Okay, so I have to stop here. Can we all collectively pause for a minute to appreciate that somewhere in New York City there is a donor who, as the Met is supposedly facing a fiscal apocalypse, is concerned that Peter Gelb has an adequately comfortable retirement? May I add, a retirement that is not slated to occur until (AT LEAST) 2022? That is hilarious. It’s also so sad I’m going to cry. But here’s another tip: When you’re torn between laughing and crying, laugh.

I encourage y’all to click through to the NYT article to read more context about Gelb’s pay.

It is increasingly obvious that Mr. Gelb believes that “once we get worker cuts, everything will be fixed.” He sees worker cuts as the equivalent to a magic pill. (A Viagra, maybe.) You pop the pill, the pill works, the institution’s symptoms are cured, and you can proceed with your evening’s plans. And you know what? If Mr. Gelb succeeds in getting those cuts, they might indeed help the Met’s bottom line…for a few seasons. But without a guarantee that soaring production costs will be reigned in, in about three years’ time (when the next contracts are up for negotiation, probably) the Met will start running deficits again. And the cycle will repeat itself. You can keep cutting and cutting and cutting the pay of unionized employees all you want. But if you have a serious revenue problem, or a serious production cost problem, as I would argue the Met does, then cuts to workers are not going to singlehandedly solve your long-term problems. You’re just kicking a very expensive can through a field of poppies. And I haven’t even touched on the costs of alienating donors and audience members during a lockout, or the costs of not offering a product for months on end, or the costs of dragging employee morale into the pits.

And one more thought: shouldn’t an art that is dying or declining constrict? In all ways, not just in worker compensation? Peter Gelb has said that opera is in a decline. And Michael Henson held this view about orchestral music, too. (Just look at the first few pages of the Minnesota Orchestra’s last Strategic Plan, or the half-pops 2013-2014 season he had planned pre-lockout.) And Mr. Henson actualized this worldview by slashing the number of classical concerts and shifting the Minnesota Orchestral Association’s attention away from orchestral music, to the point where the word orchestra was actually removed from the organization’s mission statement. I think that whole premise is unspeakably dumb, but at least there was a kind of internal logic to it. Gelb, on the other hand, is saying that opera is declining, and that workers’ compensation must also decline…but that production costs (not to mention, his long-term compensation) don’t need to. Is this a tacit admission that costly spectacle is more important to opera than paying competitive wages and retaining top talent? If so, what does that mean for the art, practically and philosophically? How else do you interpret these insinuations? And may I say, if the leader of the Met can earn well over a million dollars a year while presiding over a declining art form, then that’s one hell of a cushy decline.

So where do Met lovers go from here? Assuming that future negotiations will indeed prove fruitless, and assuming that the lockout will indeed begin on August first, the attention ought to turn now from the quarreling musicians and management to…New Yorkers. So, New Yorkers. As Jon Stewart would say, meet me at Camera Three.

Hey, New York. During the Minnesota Orchestra lockout, I heard many comments from the East Coast, like: “why doesn’t Minnesota do something?” The New York press covered our story with an air of incredulous sadness. One got the vibe that big city writers were frequently thinking to themselves: such clusterf***ery would never happen here. Ha. Well. Lucky for you, though, New York isn’t the first to deal with the problem of orchestral institutions intent on suicide. There is now a newly emerging tradition of effective audience advocacy: a tradition that has developed within the last few years and has proven exceptionally successful in Detroit and Minneapolis. If Gelb’s vision for the future for YOUR opera house is unappealing – and make no mistake, it is YOUR opera house, because the Met belongs to anyone who loves opera – start writing about it, start investigating it, start sharing the story with your friends and family, read about the Detroit Symphony and Minnesota Orchestra meltdowns, form a Save Our Opera coalition, and work your hind ends off to somehow fix the problems. I have faith that, if New Yorkers care about culture as much as they say they do, this mess will (eventually) (eventually…) (eventually……….) get straightened out in an equitable manner.

New York audiences not caring about the Met enough to protest its going dark would be the most unfortunate event of all.

***

39 Comments

Filed under Labor Disputes

39 responses to “Peter Gelb’s Series of Unfortunate Events

  1. A most excellent post, Emily! Thank you for your candor.

  2. drmarksays

    The Met situation is significantly different from the MO situation. First off Peter Gelb is not Micheal Henson. Peter Gelb is a seasoned executive with experience and proven competence. He was formerly in charge of the Sony classical division. He is not perfect. His problem now, after a striking period of innovation is that he is now timid. He is genuinely worried the Met may disappear in bankruptcy, never to reopen.
    I have been a Met Guild member for over 30 years. I have managed to get to one Met performance in all those years. I’m a subscribing member to Met Player.
    I’m certain that the Met as it is can not survive. Orchestras are expensive, but major opera houses are like orchestras on steroids. He is right that his audiences are declining. One reason is they feel priced out. They are going to reduce prices. The other reason is lunatic opera stage directors. In recent years the Met has succumbed to that plague of “Eurotrash”. In my view that is why you can’t build audiences. My children and their wives want to go to opera and I take them. It is very expensive. They want to see traditional performance in period costume. I don’t blame them. Nowhere is this more obtuse than in Baroque opera which I love. Setting a Handel opera as a Japanese mask play is a travesty. The Met production of Parsifal as a post apocalyptic scene another travesty. The music was also turned into a dirge for that performance.
    However the financial problems go deeper because of the vast number of employees required.
    The Met has a vast world wide donor network, which they manage carefully, but it is still not enough, and never will be. There is a definite problem with unions in NYC, especially the stagehands, electricians etc. Just look at the situation Carnegie Hall faced this past year. They caved and should not have.
    There is a huge opera chorus, which is second to none, but very expensive. I think it is time to look at a volunteer chorus. I hate to see some standards, drop but they will have to. Peter Gelb in his recent temerity has been reluctant to have a significant number of star performers debut at the Met.
    Peter Gelb has been innovative to a degree with electronic media. He has started the Live in HD program. This has a vast world wide audience, with 3.5 million attendees for the last year figures are available. In addition there is Met Player. Surveys show that the audience for Live in HD feel the price is reasonable. In NYC there is evidence that people attend Live in HD rather than going to the Met because of price. Some prefer the screen experience. Some attend the opera and Live in HD.
    In my view Peter Gelb should have started his own record label, rather than have DG and Decca issue the BDs.
    Met Player is also nowhere near as good as the BPO Digital Music Hall. The steam drops too often and the audio is not good enough. The picture is excellent. The biggest failing is no Apps. You can only get Met Player on your big home screen and audio system, if you can open up a web browser on your TV. This defeats a lot of people. The BPO have Apps and you can view their programs without opening a web browser. As far as I know they are the only classical organization to have achieved that.
    However even if all of this worked perfectly I don’t think it will pay the bills. The cost of Met productions has to be decreased. They are an outlier and Peter Gelb is correct about that not continuing in the future.
    It seems to me that all classical music organizations and opera companies must use electronic media. However this is were the American Federation of Musicians is obstructive. They want payment ahead. They need profit sharing and shared risk instead. This boil needs breaking fast.
    I think in the US all organizations should join together as a one stop shop. A first class distribution center and system needs setting up. This is so expensive, it can only happen with pooled resources.
    Classical music and opera are not dying. The evidence for high interest and demand is overwhelming. However the barriers are serious infra structure issues and intellectual arrogance, lunacy and bad taste.

    • “I think it is time to look at a volunteer chorus.” With all due respect, no thanks. Nobody would work the hours they work for free. You couldn’t, especially in NYC. This proposal would cause more problems than it would fix.

      • Nancy

        How about volunteer tech people, costume sewers, set builders, etc?

        • Then add volunteer soloists, and what do you have? A community music organization! As a community musician and vocalist, I am very active in community music, however, I have no illusions whatsoever that either myself or the wonderful people with whom I make music are anywhere near the caliber of the great artists at the Met. Apples and oranges. And I find it quite shocking that a prominent arts administrator would even consider such a suggestion.

  3. Beautifully written summing up of Peter Gelb as a Pampered Idiot. Thanks. As for the gentleman who states that he is, “a Met Guild member for over 30 years {and] I have managed to get to one Met performance in all those years,” he does not strike me as a particularly trustworthy source of information about anything operatic. It’s a live performance art, dude.

  4. drmarksays

    I spent most of my life as a busy Critical Care physician in Grand Forks. Most of the time there were only three on our team. I was also a father of four. So very few opportunities presented themselves to watch live opera. When I did is was usually when I visited family in England. I was a regular listener to the Met broadcasts. I had state of the art recorders to record them when I was not able to listen to the live broadcast.
    Now through the wonders of technology, I can see and hear opera. I have a good collection now on DVD and BD. I can also see opera on Met player and Medici TV.
    I still attend opera at the Minnesota Opera, but I will tell you I actually prefer the experience in my AV room to the opera house, and I’m not alone in that.
    If it were not for the advent of recordings I doubt there would be many orchestras or opera houses.
    The arts seem to have been captured by the left, with an anti technology bent and an entitlement mentality.
    Going to the opera and concerts is expensive. I have spent a small fortune on tickets this season. Yet, it still does not pay the freight, and there are constant demands for money. I can buy five opera on BD for the cost of a night at the opera for me and my wife. I can buy 10 if I take a child and spouse as well.
    I will tell you one thing I can be certain of, that if this anti technology mentality persists, and the expectation is that revenue comes from in house ticket sales and gifts, there will soon be no professional orchestras and opera houses. We will be lucky if we have amateur ones. I’m sure Peter Gelb senses that.
    It will be over if sales revenue does not increase and there is far less dependence on donated funds. The only way that will happen is through the appropriate use of technology and building interest and demand through superb electronic productions.
    This statement: “It’s a live performance art, dude.”: will get you dark concert halls and opera houses around the globe, of that I’m absolutely certain.

  5. There has been a Met Opera on Demand App for at least 2 years. It’s just been updated so that you can Airplay from a new apple device to your apple tv (among other improvements). As for Peter Gelb being the right person to run an opera house because he was in charge of Sony Classical? I see zero connection in those two jobs. Volunteer chorus? at the MET? Oh, and there was a man sitting next to me at one of the Parsifal performances (at the MET) who said it was the best thing he’d seen there in 30 years.

  6. DYB

    Excellent article! This comment above by drmarksays, I mean, I just can’t even with this. It lost me with Gelb being “a seasoned executive with experience and proven competence. He was formerly in charge of the Sony classical division.” I mean, was this written for comedy? You mean the same Gelb who destroyed the Sony classical division and was *fired* from the Sony classical division? *That* Mr. Gelb? Because that’s the Mr. Gelb we’re all talking about, so we must be talking about two different Mr. Gelbs.

    As far as volunteer artists – I mean, just get out! No really, get out. Let’s pay Gelb millions of dollars, give him a chauffeur to drive 3 blocks (he lives 3 blocks away from the Met), but let’s get volunteer artists. I’ve always wanted to sing at the Met! I mean, I can’t really carry a tune, but I’d love to do it! Where do I sign up?

    I want to see the Met’s books opened and finances examined independently. My fear is if that happens – this “seasoned executive” Mr. Gelb might become a jailed former executive for cooking the books. Maybe somebody can write an opera about this. Gelb can organize a production of it in prison.

    • JKM

      Reminds me of the Minnesota Orchestra Association’s cooking of the books.

    • John Davenport

      DYB, what a great idea! An opera about CEO/Executive Suite malfeasance-tragedy. It would be topical, even trendy, serve to give the great unwashed and unperformed music-appreciating Public something to throw tomatoes and cabbages at, to salve our frustration and anger. Very therapeutic. Just think: Stan Freberg goes to the Opera. [I’m showing my age here ]. And, if it were done on radio a la Freberg, production costs would be low, since one would need only the sound of tomatoes and cabbages; no unionized stage hands to clean up after every show. No performance hall upgrades would be necessary, ever. Expensive singers could be wage-grade good voice actors, like Tim Russell and Sue Scott, not to mention Garrison K; a few good musicians rather than a huge orchestra. It would still be entertaining for live audiences who couldn’t get enough of this Post-Modern Opera at home, just like Prairie Home Companion. Possible titles: “Creative Destruction!” “Romney!” “The Beggar’s Opera” [Oh yeah, that’s been done . . ]

      • John Davenport

        Sorry, in line 3, it should be ‘unperfumed’ [gosh darn that auto-correct at it again; one must be ever vigilant!]

  7. DYB

    Oh and the comment “The arts seem to have been captured by the left” tells us everything we need to know about drmark’s view of this. The only “entitlement” I’m seeing is Peter Gelb taking a 26% wage increase while demanding those who make significantly less than him take a 17% pay cut. The Koch Brothers are running the Peter Gelb show, aren’t they?

  8. Sylvia

    Holy smokes- a volunteer chorus- for the MET? That is, charitably, an idea springing from lack of knowledge of what it takes to sing this music. Even very, very small house opera companies pay at least some choristers because the music is simply too hard for amateurs. Heck, many small churches hire professionals to help the amateur choir members, for the simple reason that even that music is too hard for most to manage. I GUARANTEE you would not want to pay any amount of money to hear what an Aida or Carmen, etc. sounds like with a volunteer chorus, unless you enjoy the schadenfreude of watching/hearing folks as their vocal chords explode. This is one of those “laugh or cry” ideas, as mentioned in the article, so I’ll go with laughter as well.

    • carolyn

      i don’t think dr mark wants any old volunteer chorus. he wants the current chorus of highly trained professionals to volunteer, to work for free, for the greater glory of entertaining the 1%; in effect he wants slavery

      • drmarksays

        Not really. The problem is that everyone is in the same boat pretty much and we have to experiment. The ROH is now experimenting with adding volunteer amateur singers to the ROH chorus.
        I have watched the opening night of the Proms twice now, the last just this afternoon. It was Elgar’s the Kingdom. There were 400 performers in the Royal Albert Hall. The choral writing in this 90 minute oratorio is very challenging. There were two choirs joining forces, the BBC Symphony Chorus and the BBC Welsh singers. It might surprise you to know that both these choirs are consist of unpaid volunteers and always have been. That goes for almost all of the great choirs in the UK. These choirs are second to none, and in my view the best in the world. I noted lots of young singers. I think these choirs in the UK have been tremendous boosters of classical music.
        These choirs and the BBC Symphony Orchestra were conducted by Sir Andrew Davis. I watched on iPlayer from my HTPC via rented bandwidth from Rack Space. The screen was a 65″ Plasma. The audio was superb. The huge organ of the Albert Hall was used throughout, and frequently I could feel it rather than hear it. It is just magnificent. In my view no concert Hall is complete without a pipe organ.
        The point is that modern technology can really take your there now, even via the Internet. There was not one drop out and Internet audio is getting very close to BD and at least as good or better then DVD. Now without technology I would have missed out. I can now rejoin the Proms community I was part of in my teens and during medical training, in the middle of a forest on Benedict Lake. Now just think about that for a moment. I can assure both video and audio were of a quality that I missed nothing by being located on Benedict Lake.
        If I were CEO of an orchestra a top priority would be investing in AV and IT. I would network to set up a one stop shop.
        I’m really afraid that although we have come out of our crisis in Minnesota renewed, I’m afraid economic forces will eventually get us back to ground zero.
        It really is not productive to argue about the 1%, although I have to say I fail to see the benefit to society of a hedge fund manager, it is their money, not yours and ours. If we really are to protect our civilization and these art forms we must be less dependent on the whims of wealthy donors. With the cost of tickets, I doubt the middle classes will replace these donor funds indefinitely.
        Business as usual is in the past. We have to be open to experimentation and take the road untraveled. That means everybody. However I doubt the best starting point for innovation is a lockout.
        You can listen to, but not watch the Proms in the US, from the BBC server over here. http://www.bbc.co.uk/proms/features/listen-and-watch The bandwidth is limited to 180 kbs in the US. In the UK you can access the HD audio from the BBC. However the US bandwidth is still higher than the MPR bandwidth which is only 120 kbs, and at least on my system inferior to everything else I listen to that I continue to access MPR via excellent analog FM.
        I’m aware that MET player has an App for apple mobile, that can be used for ChromeCasting. However I operate in a PC environment and use DROID for mobile. My preferred way of enjoying the delights on offer around the world on the NET is with an advanced HTPC of my design and build and with my audio workstation, again of my design and build.

        • Sylvia

          There are many wonderful professional choirs that do have amateurs in their ranks, and many wonderful amateur choirs- but standing in place with music in folder, conductor in front of you is very different than having all the music memorized, being in full costume, fully staged. The difficulty is much greater, and the potential for injury (vocal and otherwise) much greater. I’ve been in all of the situations we both have mentioned, as I was formerly a professional chorister (still teacher and performer.) With operas, as we got closer to production time we worked near full-time hours, which is simply impossible for people with jobs. That was necessary for people to learn music and blocking, to work out tech, to get the whole unwieldy organism that is a production easily involving more than 100 people (singers, crew, orchestra, supernumeraries, dancers) to work safely and smoothly (let alone in an aesthetically pleasing way, hopefully.) Choirs can rehearse 1-3x a week for a few hours and obtain wonderful artistic results- operas simply can not.

          I hope you can realize that if you don’t have music directorial/production experience or other behind-the-scenes artistic experience you don’t have the ability to be the best judge of how to deal with these issues. Same goes with me trying to diagnose or treat medical conditions. There are ways to cut costs, which absolutely must be done- large set, extremely complex productions need to be nixed, unless they are a sure bet for the money, for one thing. The ridiculous pay of Mr. Gelb is fair game for discussion, as far as I’m concerned- he hasn’t delivered anything close to deserving it. But the suggestion of making the chorus volunteer is simply nowhere near realistic.

        • Sylvia

          Also, I am curious what “experimenting with adding volunteer amateur singers to the ROH chorus” you are referring to? Do you mean their affiliated community chorus that joined with the ROH professional chorus for a couple of concerts? If so, that’s called having smart business sense and doing some great civic work, but has nothing to do with being in actual ROH operas. That is a community-building (and audience-building) fun event, but is not aiming to be the height of artistic achievement. But if you are talking about something else, I’d like to know about it.

  9. Felipe

    Yes, the Koch Brothers are involved, according to an inside source.

    • MGB

      The Met situation appears to have the hands of the Koch brothers all over it—so if this is true, not a surprise.

  10. Opera is composed of two things:singers and instrumentalists. They should get the most money if you want the best performances. LOIS BRAINARD

    • John Knudsen

      So Lois, do you really believe that opera singers appear naked on a dark, empty stage? Think about what you just posted.

  11. Performing Artist52

    I guess I have no objection to creative technology itself but I can’t see an opera, ballet or orchestral concert performed in front of an empty house just so someone can watch in the comfort of their recliner. These art forms need an audience. Indeed, doctors could volunteer their services as well and we would save a bundle on healthcare! As for Mr. Gelb, if he hasn’t exhausted all means of negotiating, he shouldn’t be in the postion he is in. His salary should be cut to volunteer status as well.

  12. I read somewhere that Gustavo Dudamel frequently prefers to see orchestras in a virtual format rather than in person. That says alot. I am not sure that making great music so aviailable on radio and the screen necessarily leads to increased concert attendance. It may be the opposite. Any research on this? please help me. Mr. Gelb seems like a clone of Michael Henson only with more experience. It is the administrators and cutting funds for music education that have put the orchestras at risk.

  13. Your criticism of Mr. Gelb, even if it is accurate, is unhelpful. I say this as a former chair of musicians’ negotiating committees for two major symphony orchestras. Getting personal doesn’t do any good. Please keep your eyes on the issues and on the facts. The only information you’ve offered in this blog are bits of quotes from a single NY Times article, so what you’re now telling us is already filtered through two biased lenses. What Mr. Gelb earns or, as you suggest, doesn’t earn, is a very insignificant part of the problem. What’s more important is to know what’s on the table, not just with the musicians’ union, but with all the others as well. You were wonderful shining the cold glare of public opinion on the Minnesota situation, but your bitterness has spilled over and you are not convincing in your current vitriol. I hope the musicians at the Met get everything they’ve ask for, but the collective bargaining process can be very bruising on both sides. Let us hope that all parties are bargaining in good faith. I haven’t seen anything to suggest they’re not, your comments notwithstanding.

    • Mr. Elias said of the post from Song of the Lark,
      ¨What Mr. Gelb earns or, as you suggest, doesn’t earn, is a very insignificant part of the problem.¨ I disagree. As a percent of the total budget Gelb´s salary may be insignificant, but it remains as a symbol of greed and self serving. Michael Henson´s $200,000 bonus became a contentious point, among other reasons, because he took the bonus while planning to cut the musicians from 32 to 50 percent. He made over $400,000 per year plus generous benefits, something that is not acceptable in a non profits arts organizations. There have to be more altruistic reasons for wanting to be an arts adminisitrator, otherwise it would be better to be a CEO in the private sector. Donors look at this kind of thing in considering a gift. Dozens of arts groups exist in every large city that operate on a shoe string, deserve support, and are more cost/benefit effective giving a lot of bang for the buck. An example would be a community orchestra or small art museum. Emily was right to make an issue of compensation, especially as it compares to the musicians.

      • Yeah, I completely understand that Gelb’s compensation is a very small percentage of the Met’s budget. That being said, I know that, rightly or wrongly, it’s a hugely *meaningful* percentage of the Met’s budget…especially to concerned audiences. (And to be blunt, concerned audiences are the stakeholders I’m most interested in. Their voices are frequently lost – or outright ignored – until a dispute has been going on for a while.) And I think it’s fair to say, the general manager’s compensation and contract length, in combination with a variety of other numbers, do signal a lot of things to concerned audiences.

    • I hear you, Gerald, and thanks so much for your comment. I definitely heard that sentiment more than once during the Minnesota dispute, and I’m sure there were many people who felt the same who just didn’t say so to me directly. So I deeply appreciate your candor.

      That being said, I do have to (respectfully!) disagree with you that this is different from what I wrote about Minnesota’s leadership in September 2012 (and I actually reread those entries tonight to make sure I was remembering correctly). I do feel there is quite a bit of room for honest disagreement among music lovers about what is or isn’t appropriate to write in this time and place, especially in a format such as a blog. We will all express our love of music, and the concomitant anxiety over the direction our major musical institutions are going, in different ways…and some of those ways will be more productive than others. As so many people on the internet say: Your mileage may vary.

      If it’s any consolation, I don’t plan on giving much more time to the Met implosion. Ideally the lockout will be averted and I won’t feel the need to write about it at all.

      Thank you again, and sending you all best wishes, E

    • Sarah

      Have you also commented on the demonization of unions and “greedy musicians” by Peter Gelb? Let’s get the whole story here.

      And as far as “good faith bargaining” – getting yourself a 10-year contract and then starting the negotiation process with “my way or the highway” isn’t exactly good faith, but it is a page right out of Michael Henson’s playbook

      • Sarah, I am an ardent unionist and have more than enough knock-down-drag-outs negotiating on behalf of musicians, and enough successful outcomes, to give me street creds. That being said, I know that both sides try to leverage public opinion by spinning the media. Ultimately, though, it’s what happens at the bargaining table that determines the quality of the collective bargaining agreement. Though Mr. Gelb’s public comments or past actions may be obnoxious or reprehensible to us, good faith or bad faith bargaining is a legal determination made by the NLRB and is defined much more specifically than just being an ass. In fact, it’s imperative that our side maintain a thick skin and keep its eye on the prize, rather than respond with vituperation. Getting what you want or getting even? I’ll take the former.

  14. Amy

    @Gerald Elias, if Emily were a member of any of the involved unions (or on a negotiating committee), she would have a responsibility to exercise diplomacy and caution.
    But she’s a member of the public, with a penchant for spotting cow manure disguised as managerial expertise. I heartily hope she keeps it up, lest another organization step in it.

    • Elizabeth Erickson

      Well said, Amy. I was thinking, “Well Emily is not the fricking concierge at the Hilton. It’s not her job to be helpful. The universe or God or the ghost of J.S,. gave her an incredible gift of smelling cow manure from miles away and shining a light on it in a most incredible way. I think she is spot on about Peter Gelb. For those of us who were at the epicenter of the Minnesota disaster, this looks and feels way too familiar and stinks to high Heaven. Thanks again, Emily for your brilliant commentary.

  15. RICHARD BONFORTE

    Gelb is a typical “spoiled brat.” He is arrogant, self-centered and totally impressed with himself and his supposed accomplishment. From day one, he demonstrated his disdain for the loyal subscribing public — refusing to personally respond to letters, having his minions respond instead with acerbic curt missives. Google my name on the NYTIMES Website for a published letter I wrote to the paper at the time. Warnings then, chickens returning to roost now.

    • Me again.

      Don’t forget the shameful way Gelb and the Met administration treated Wendy White — a solid, dedicated Met stalwart for years. She fell while performing on one of Met’s crazy platform productions — “Faust” this time — is seriously injured, basically ending her performing career. Gelb’s actions reflected an uncaring, unsympathetic persona, more annoyed at her for falling than concerned about her personal outcome and future. Typical of his “style.”

  16. A reasonable outcome, the result of tough, honest bargaining by both sides: http://www.nytimes.com/2014/08/19/arts/music/in-met-opera-deal-both-sides-give.html
    One doesn’t know all the details, but the agreement would seem to put the Met on a positive long term course.

    • Interesting settlement. The way I see it, Gelb comes out the real loser. For sure, he didn’t garner additional bon homie with the people he has to work with, nor with the general public. Why did he have to come down so hard at the start. Was this his decision or was he acting at the decision of the Board? Likely, the Board wanted to break the unions and have them absorb the cuts needed.

      Who knows what the arbitors found lolling at the Met books. Plenty, I assume. High staff salaries — look at that huge list of staff in the Playbill; production costs, etc. The most telling piece of the settlement is that there will be an outside oversight group monitoring finances. The Board won’t be happy with Gelb over that one, and that just might mark his doom. He probably has not been watching the books much, and probably not being fully honest with the board, mostly blaming union costs. Oversight makes sense. Lack of that killed NYCO, as the NYT reports. Look, the endowment was exhausted, Chagall murals put up ad collateral. Not good management.

      The season will open. But, this story will still play out.

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