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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?


  • Bluessweet says:

    BAB: Nobody loves you more than your fellow active Parterrians. Please sit back in your seat in the fifth row of class, unless you wet your pants with excitement, in which case you can have the pass to the little girls room.

    I think that the costs in New York versus the salary offered choristers at the Met must be looked at from the point of view that, if this is going to be a member’s entire career, by the time they get to be a senior member, they’d like to live a little above the poverty line. Further, while at times it has appeared that no matter how old and how wobbly the voice, no chorister was ever pensioned off, it is likely that at least a few will run out of voice before 68, the year Social Security kicks in. If the choristers can wring a living wage and the ability to put something away for a career shift, more power to them.

  • Sanford says:

    Bluesweet, it never has come out on Cd, nor has the Verdi Arias, as far as I know. I found both on Ebay on vinyl and they have been posted in their entirety on Youtube. There isn’t a wrong note anywhere on the Verdi, and while the French Heroines finds her past her prime, there is some stunning singing.

  • Sanford says:

    Blue, I also have her Debussey songs album, which I didn’t even know she made; I think it was her last recording from about 1975. It’s pretty amazing.

  • NYCOQ says:

    In answer to Indiana waaaaay back at comment #39 -- let me clarify myself. I get what Gelb is trying to do with those directors at the Met, BUT they really haven’t added to the great art that is opera. I was deeply dissapointed by all of the “staight theatre” director’s productions with the sole exception of Sher’s Barber. They don’t “get” opera and neither does Gelb. I have enjoyed many a Zimmerman directed play, but she needs to stay the HELL away from opera. Yes, he will peak the interests of the theatre elite, but I can’t imagine a person who isn’t inclined to like opera want to return after seeing a Sher “Hoffman” or Zimmerman “Sonnambula”.

  • Sanford says:

    NYCOQ, but you’re looking at it from the perspective of someone who knows opera. For a first time attendee, who has no experience with those operas, they may very well enjoy them. I’m not saying that they were great; I didn’t see either one. But we’re preaching to the converted on this site.

  • Bluessweet says:

    Sanford: Since you seem to be a Moffo fan, have you gotten a hold of the Operetta Treasury? It’s fun stuff. She did a Boheme with leindorff in ’62, as well.

  • Bluessweet says:


  • Sanford says:

    I’ve heard some of the operetta but I never owned; I’m not a huge fan of German operetta; I’d go for Offenbach instead. The one exception was the kitschy but wonderful Fledermaus with Sergio Franchi. And for Puccini, I’d pick the Rondine over the Mimi, Musetta, or Butterfly.


    Lordy, that was a great album, but you had to really pick and choose at the Goodwill because you needed to have the album with all the supplemental discs. And if you were lucky, you also found one with the Gilbert and Sullivan discs tucked in. The one song that sticks — and I can’t remember if it was Moffo or Rosalind Elias — singing “Lak Jeem” on the “Rose Marie” side. Listen to it and you’ll know where Renee got her styling ideas.

  • armerjacquino says:

    This is ringing a bell- I inherited a vinyl ‘Golden Treasures of Operetta’ box set when my grandad died. Elias singing ‘Zigeuner’ from Bitter Sweet, Jeanette Scovotti as RosalindA in a strange Fledermaus mashup, Moffo singing ‘Smoke Gets In Your Eyes’…

    At least one track from that collection is available on itunes, because I bought it the other day- Elias singing ‘Can’t Help Lovin’ Dat Man’.