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La Cieca’s favorite couple of sentences from that Vanity Fair piece, and why

vanity_gelbVolpe, who is 69, wants to set the record straight, now that Peter Gelb is being held up as the architect of a new, dynamic Met: with enough money, he too could have been creative. ‘Peter spends money in ways I never could,’ Volpe told me. ‘If I had Mercedes Bass and I could have spent money upon money in those days, it would have been a lot different. But I couldn’t. You know, I couldn’t’.”

See, this is funny because Uncle Joe is acting like Gelb looked under the floorboards and found a treasure chest with gazillions of dollars in it, and because of that utter and complete chance windfall, he gets to actually produce opera whereas all Volpe could do was scrimp and save by hiring that noted minimalist Franco Zeffirelli do direct everything, sometimes twice.

The point is, one (you might say, the most important one) of the General Manager’s duties is to get unearned income flowing into the organization from wealthy benefactors. In other words,”Bassfinder” is in the job description.  What a general manager does with his days is winning the company “money upon money” so that it can be spent (in small part) on the kind of activity that Volpe so obviously wishes he had had the wit to do.

And it is only a small part of the budget that can be spent on “creative” stuff, because “more than three-quarters of the Met’s budget” is earmarked for labor costs. And who, let us think for a moment, negotiated those contracts that currently cost the Met over $200 million a year?

Hint: it’s someone who is famous for his good relationship with the unions.

Yes, it’s Joe Volpe who made all those promised that Peter Gelb is currently keeping. So, in a sense, Gelb gets to be “creative” only after he pays for Volpe’s guarantees of (e.g.) “$175,000 [in salary, plus] benefits that include nine weeks of paid vacation, a defined-benefit pension plan, and health insurance underwritten entirely by the Met” per chorister.

Not to say Gelb is blameless; in fact, as the season rolls by he sounds more and more nearly clueless. It’s a laudable ideal to say to your artists, “I’m not going to second-guess every decision you make, so please won’t you reconsider working at the Met?” But it’s fuzzy-minded or lazy not to have someone in authority who can take a look at, say, the Bartlett Sher Hoffmann and say, “Sorry, this is just not working. What else do you have?”

It’s a wonderful thing that nowadays at the Met the buck stops at the General Manager’s desk instead of, as it did before, somewhere between the Breslin office and CAMI. But La Cieca, taking a page from her colleague Anthony Tommasini’s book, is worried: why aren’t there experts on hand advising Gelb about dramatury and musical values. Or, if there are experts, why isn’t he listening to them?

138 comments

  • Harry says:

    It is all very well for Lindoro Almaviva to quote all those accounting figures for a person to make it, I assume to the chorus. Just a question: with all of those expenses including those quoted $100.000 dollar loans just being part of it “How does the singer pay it back all the quoted mountain of debt, if they don’t make it?” Skip town?

    Let’s get real. A heck of a lot of those quoted expenses are under what could be called ‘self ego /promotional/ fostering career costs. The judgment on how much is spent by an artist is a personal one. Just because someone has an unquenchable ego, does not mean others have to provide and pay out for the type of living they aspire to. Nor guarantee the rewards they demand. We all make and weigh up definite choices in our life.

    As for all the creative costs for disposable diapers ( don’t people get shit on their hands any more -- washing reusable babies nappies?), baby sitters etc.etc. etc I prefer to remember the statement of Mary Garden…..”Who needs a marriage and kids, when you have a career and suitcases?”. Opera is still theater…and it should be willing to conform to those same time honored constrains, its disadvantages and disciplines -- if one is ‘religiously seeking fame’. That is the beast of it and the price to be paid in any form of the ‘Performing Arts!.. Laying your beliefs in one’s own talent (or lack of it)on the line. If some artist then chooses to drop out, that is their own free decision. If they find the financial burdens too much…’get out’…by getting a 9 to 5 regular day job. In all walks of life people are faced with, and making the very same decisions! What makes this apparently sacrosanct MET chorus or any other high paid chorus any different.It appears with all those ‘accounting costs’ you laid out for us to examine,you are building the case for a minor performer to not only justify supporting themselves, but an added complete ‘family menagerie of support people’. Hey! Opera productions and their production costs are still ruled by limiting factors like any other theater pursuit. Whether there is enough money coming in…to pay all the wages: stop the joint going dark and the doors from shutting! To argue otherwise, smacks of an elitist attitude of separated immunity from such forces. A.K.A ‘Dancing merrily on the 92 floor of the Titanic before all the participant contestants are told they are ready for elimination: by taking the big high jump splash.

  • iltenoredigrazia says:

    Oooops, guess I forgot that college graduates do not have college loans to pay, licensing and accreditation fees, continuous training costs, headhunters fees, tools of the trade, cost of attending conferences, rent, babysitting fees, health costs, insurance costs, etc. Not to mention the cost of tickets to the opera. My mistake.

  • BETSY_ANN_BOBOLINK says:

    Boy, I never thought I’d find myself siding with Harry, but the fact is that I never bought into that “From each according to his abilities; to each according to his needs” crap. I once confronted a colleague who boldly stated in a faculty meeting that because he had four children he should be paid twice as much as someone who had only one (I confess, that was me.) The fact is (another one for your collection, Armerjacquino), in a free market economy, there will always be someone trying to make a buck by persuading you that you absolutely NEED their services to survive. If enough people buy into their spiel, that ‘need’ becomes an entitlement, and shortly thereafter a ‘right.’ I’m afraid, LA, that you may have fallen into the trap. Nothing in your argument persuades me other than that you made a number of choices volitionally that left you at the mercy of the scalpers and you are now trying to get someone else to pay for those choices, either through government assistance or a higher salary. Trouble is, a higher salary is simply going to result in a round of rises in the cost of living, leaving you no better off. Governmental assistance results in higher taxes (or higher national debt) and again you are left no better off.

  • Harry says:

    B_A_B : following on from my comments: I think that many people also accept that because some, choose a sane work stability over ‘luck of the draw -- life of instability’ trying for a career, many performers of great potential are unfortunately lost. As a sideline to the career they originally wanted, some teach and may at times perform for semi professional groups intermittently, if other commitments allow. It is then you can by chance see who had the real talent and intellect over those, they previously ‘rivaled’. If you ask them why they chose the different path they did….invariably they are ‘straight talkers’ Telling about all the sickening bitchy rigmarole ‘to get ahead’, which they found personally offensive. The sucking up needed, to influence certain figures or needing some rich benefactor to push-promote them,or the requirement to be charming to people that were loathsome and cultural idiots.To succeed in biased ‘cut & dried’ singing contests: perhaps by means of seeing the need to be one of ‘some so & so’s’ particular pupils.Or the need to be introduced to the right people, then advised or strongly hinted at -to even expect to drop their pants!) for the doors and stage engagements to open!
    A case where they were finally ‘shat off’ with the whole business and not willing to compromise their own sense of personal integrity. Is it not funny how the behavioral rules what is expected outside ,in normal business don’t apply. Imagine the fuss in some office if workers were being passed over by less talented people because they were not openly shagging with the boss! I myself remember vividly a singing contest where I was backstage and observed one ‘pretty clinging creature’ plainly throwing himself as ‘on offer’ (it was as clear -- as dogs’ balls!)to the main judge who was a well known international composer. That pet.. never won, in any case.

  • Lucky Pierre says:

    oh lindy, you should talk about mouth diarrhea since you are the queen of speaking before thinking. since you have never posted anything of intelligence before, why start now???

    i’m done with the twerp.

  • Clita del Toro says:

    Jane Archibald’s Hamlet Mad Scene was wonderful--no comparison with the German soprano, Petersen--the first time I have enjoyed the Mad Scene this season.
    Miss Jane was quite moving and the coloratura was yummy!

  • Cocky Kurwenal says:

    Maybe I’m too late to wade into this one, but Lindoro Almaviva at #123, I really don’t think that many of your examples of additional expenses apply to Met chorus members. They’ll probably have student loans to pay off, like everybody else, but ongoing voice, coaching and language lessons and accompanists fees? I seriously doubt it.

    I don’t think 175K per anum plus benefits is unfair, but it is certainly beyond my wildest dreams and far, far above the top chorus salary at Covent Garden, (despite Europe’s obviously lavish government subsidies for the arts). London isn’t exactly cheap to live in either you know, and as far as I understand it, a long serving chorus member can’t expect to top 40K sterling per anum. Covent Garden also seems to have a longer season than the Met, unless I am very much mistaken. Both houses start in September, but whereas the Met seems to finish in May, the Royal Opera goes well into July (although perhaps the fact that they share the theatre with the Royal Ballet lightens their workload during the year, I realise).

  • Haimes says:

    La Cieca,

    Thank you for trying to clean up or otherwise moderate this blog. It is about arts and culture not about slurs and rude comments about sexual identity. Lets hold off on the perjorative arrogance and intolerance. Remember this type of racial and sexual hatred has never led to a positive outcome.

    Sanford -- a belated Hag Samech! Good health. I agree with you on La Rondine. Last year’s performance with Gheorghiu and Alagna was sstupendous with luscious singing and acting. (That will never happen again since thaey have broken up and won’t sing together).

    As for chorus, orchestra, wages, get real. They work hard, are professionals and should be paid so that can live in Metro NYC area -- this is not Kansas. It costs a lot to put on and stage an opera. Perhaps the real underlying question both at MET and elsewhere is what work? Many performances have been bood in Europe. Americans are overly polite (but I hope with a high level of sophistication). We should expect more and demand more. Whether it be Sher, Zimmerman or Wily Decker, I am all for innovation, but great cast and superlative singing and acting make an opera. I know that this is highly subjective and open to a lot of opinions. Siungers can and do have off nights. Forez missed a high C in La Fille this year, buut got an ovation after having had the MET annnounce that he agreed to sing with a cold. Bravo JDF! Joyce Di Donato did Barber from a wheelchair -- talk about committment. Others cancel frequently for capricious reasons -- that they should be taken off roster.

    La Cieca -- keep up the great work of provoking discussion and passion among us.