Cher Public

The Way We Were

UPDATE: The New York Times has published a followup story, with some select sheepish comments from Peter Gelb.  

EARLIER TODAY: Well, slap my face and call me Vox Populi, but “[i]n view of the outpouring of reaction from opera fans about the recent decision to discontinue Met performance reviews in Opera News, the Met has decided to reverse this new editorial policy. From their postings on the internet, it is abundantly clear that opera fans would miss reading reviews about the Met in Opera News. Ultimately, the Met is here to serve the opera-loving public and has changed its decision because of the passionate response of the fans.”

This in a press release from the Met less than 18 hours after the New York Times reported that “Opera News, 76 years old and one of the leading classical music magazines in the country, said on Monday that it would stop reviewing the Metropolitan Opera, a policy prompted by the Met’s dissatisfaction over negative critiques.”

Or is this a sort of double-reverse version of the Streisand Effect?

MONDAY NIGHT: The situation at Opera News recalls similar friction in San Francisco in 1975 when critic Stephanie von Buchau “was ‘banned’ from the War Memorial by San Francisco Opera General Manager Kurt Herbert Adler. Adler, at least as prickly a personality as Buchau, took offense at one of her reviews, and ordered the publicity department not to make press tickets available to her.”

This latest move of suppression of healthy discussion of events at the Met is extremely discouraging; in fact, I don’t think it’s too much of an exaggeration to call the situation “horrifying.” As doesn’t enjoy press credentials at the Met, your doyenne doesn’t see herself in any immediate danger; and, at the other end of the scale, first-tier media like the New York Times, the New Yorker and the Associated Press are unlikely to be shut out.

In between, though, there are dozens of more vulnerable small magazine and web reviewers who are right now feeling the chilling effect of this very high-profile move to quash dissent. The threat is now implicit: publish negative criticism of the Met, and the Met will silence you.

What action journalists and the opera public in general should take is hard to define precisely at the moment, but one thing is clear: this is not just about Opera News.

Bloggers weigh in:

The Classical Beat

Iron Tongue of Midnight

Alex Ross

Out West Arts

  • CwbyLA

    I am sorry if this has been discussed before but was Matilla relieved from Ballo because she complained about Gelb’s regime?

    • Bosah

      I just a few minutes ago saw this same thing on another blog! What have I missed? What did Matilla say?

      • operaguy

        Up thread you will see a couple of references to Mattila that suggest (as I have heard) they she referred to the Gelb administration as a “Nazi Regime” or words to that effect.

        I’d love to hear if there is a quotable source for this, or whether as a blogger wrote on another blog that she (the blogger) personally heard an “in favor” Met soprano make that remark directly to Gelb.

  • No, she quit because she finally looked at the music and realized she couldn’t possibly sing it.

    • Cocky Kurwenal

      Finally looked at the music indeed. This was not going to be her first Ballo Amelia -- as Grimoaldo points out, she did a run in London in 2005 and may have done so elsewhere as well for all I know.

      • armerjacquino

        Let’s be charitable and assume that what was intended was ‘finally took another look at the score’.

        Otherwise, yes, it’s another case of our old friend ‘New York or it didn’t happen’.

  • grimoaldo

    Matilla did it in London in 2005, I saw it, so did some other parterrians. She managed to give an enthralling performance,all in all, although not ideal vocally and very stretched at times.
    It was a stupid production and the real problem was the lacklustre Marcel Alvarez, utterly lacking in the charisma, fun, heroism, light and shade needed for the great tenor part in Ballo and unfortunately he is scheduled to do it in the new production at the Met, why I cannot imagine.

  • antikitschychick

    This was a smart move…if anything a definitive attempt to distance himself from the negative political analogies aimed at him…and although I did consider the possibility that this whole debacle was fabricated from beginning to end, I don’t think the Met would risk getting such negative publicity. But what do I know, since all cynics are idealists at heart as the saying goes.
    He has strong convictions this Gelb. Thank God he indeed isn’t a full-blown politician.

  • Feldmarschallin

    What a surprise this morning when I was listening to Bayern 4 Klassik at 7 and they bring a report about this whole Gelb/Opera News mess. So this is an international story now. Makes Gelb look foolish.

  • DonCarloFanatic

    Please, I beg of you, La Cieca, put up some other post. I am sick of seeing Peter Gelb’s grinning face.

    • Clita del Toro

      Don Carlo, I agree. Gelb is not very appealing. Yuch.

      • operaddict

        That photoshop of Gelb has got to be one of the funniest ones in a long time! Brava, Cieca!

  • efrayer

    I’ve said it once, I’ll say it again: Gelb out! Rick Santorum in!!

  • ardath_bey

    Again, no one cares what critics say. Had Gelb ignored WQXR, Opera News, etc. they would all be forgotten. Summer is here, everyone’s away, soon we would be talking about opening night and the new season.

    The board’s probably on his side so this too will be forgotten. What matters is ticket sales and look at the Ring. Critics destroyed it and it was still 96% sold out.

    Gelb will be replaced if/when it’s determined that sales are down *because* of him. That won’t happen.

    Considering what 8 years of Bush plus Obama’s disastrous presidency did to the arts, opera companies closing down, etc. the MET is doing brilliantly, it’s in the black and the HD series is turning out a profit.

    I still say: shut down the Guild. Or take over. Get rid of the writers, Gelb should be Opera News’ publisher, it’s an in-house publication for God’s sakes, not an independent publication. It should promote the house, not attack it. There are plenty of attacking venues out there, including Sam Ramey’s Facebook page :)

    • Clita del Toro

      Why stop at the Guild. I think that Gelb should take over Lincoln Center and the NYCO!

    • Nerva Nelli

      Ardath, quick and slick as ever with the Big Lies and the Party Line.


      • brooklynpunk

        “,,,,and the Party Line.”

        ,,EXCEPT… WHAT FRIGGIN “PARTY” is AB representing…??

        More and more I am inclined to believe s/he is a spokes-mouth fer the Tea-baggers Party…

      • ardath_bey

        so I’m officially not a troll anymore? I love you Nerva, as always brilliant at coming up with wind bag wonderful stirring one-liners that actually say nothing.

        • Nerva Nelli

          Oh you’re a troll all right.

          RING cycles sell hugely in advance in NYC- remember? So that there were heavy sales before the shows even opened, let along got reviewed.

          And as others have said, papering did thd rest.

          • ardath_bey

            the only troll here perhaps is you darling? La Cieca knows who I am. You probably missed the huge lines of people trying to get in before each of the four operas hoping for cancellations. That alone nullifies your argument. Plus two of the operas opened last season, the advanced sales for this season came mostly after last years’ bad/lukewarm reviews. It only goes to prove my point, that people don’t give a rat’s ass about what critics say.

          • Nerva Nelli

            Well, how is it that your Eminence knows that La Cieca does not know who I am?

            Be that as it may, the RING is a special case, and with the TIMES’ help there is no denying that Gelb and Co. kicked up a lot of publicity. But DVD sales and sales of revivals- even of the RING- will be affected by the reviews. Otherwise why would Gelb care enough to try and squelch them?

          • I don’t quite see the point of this bickering. Let’s try to stay on-topic, shall we?

          • Bosah

            La Cieca,

            I agree about the bickering.

            But what is interesting about this conversation is that this debate over Ring ticket sales has gone on here before and was a hot topic a while ago over at the OTT NL blog. Two camps seem to be battling it out, with one saying no one bought tickets and another that people were clamoring for tickets. It’s impossible to know the truth if you were not there, and facts are nowhere to be found, it seems. But it is interesting and rather illuminating to see the battle.

            I assume the truth is somewhere in the middle -- good sales, not bad and not great.

          • marshiemarkII

            Nerva your logic functions not working again or what? Ardath said “La Cieca knows who I am” that’s all, nothing more, it was a statement about himself, not YOU. How does it follow from there that he meant to imply ANYTHING about whether La Cieca knows you or not? Under no logical rule that could be implied from Ardath’s statement!
            Again something don’t compute here :-)

      • luvtennis

        Amen!!!!!!!!! Ardath -- N.B. THis is NOT a FOX news blog. Don’t insult our intelligence. The only disaster of this presidency is the near treasonous behavior of the GOP. Do you think we are idiots!

        • ardath_bey

          when is Parterre installing a LIKE button?

    • Flying Wotan

      The Ring sold out at 96%? 96% of seats taken, perhaps. There was alot of papered seats and reduced price seats to fill the house. Not sure where you are coming by this information, but it is very innacurate.

    • A. Poggia Turra

      Ardath -- I think you have a compelling point about the Guild having outlived its usefulness -- the discussion about u.S. arts funding and political debate, while valid (if you go back to the 1980s, when demonetization of the arts became a useful tool of anti-intellectual forces), distracts from the point you are trying to get across. My 2 cents advice (overpriced I’m sure) is not to tell you to self-censor your opinions, just to bring them up in their own context.

      DO you agree with me that the fact that the Guild runs a $3M annual deficit is justification enough for the Met Opera Association, an entity that had to take out operating loans collateralized by the Chagall paintings in the lobby, to take a long hard look at collapsing Guild functions and salaried positions into the Association itself?

      • A. Poggia Turra

        detracts, not distracts

        • ardath_bey

          A. Poggia Turra the Guild is a BURDEN to the opera house, you’re correct and Gelb knows it. It’s not only useless, it’s detrimental.

          The MET board is well advised to find legal ways to get rid of it, Mrs. Belmont would be thankful.

          Problem is, it still has a few savvy SHARK executives running it so they won’t let go of their fat weekly paychecks that easily, they’ll cause trouble. They only see $$ signs in front of them, screw the Metropolitan Opera.

          • Camille


            Please, fellows, according to information given by Midgette and reiterated by Lisa Hirsch on her blog Iron Tongue of Midnight, the Guild is separate entity that contributes to the Met via their fundraising … ? Wieso dat?

            Click on “Waltrautes Schilderung” in the next thread topic or on Iron Tongue of Midnight. I am just attempting to get some facts sorted out here, that’s all.

          • messa di voce

            I find getting fundraising appeals from both the Met and the Guild VERY confusing, and I’m never quite sure whom I gave money to.

            Wasn’t the Guild started when the very upper-crust Met did no fundraising of its own? Maybe it is time for it to go back into the mother ship.

          • A. Poggia Turra

            Camille, I want to preface this by saying my remarks are not “aimed” at you, they address the two blog posts you refer to. I want to thank you for bringing them to out attention.

            Yesterday, in seeking some of the information that Midgette and Ellison did, I did go to GuideStar and read the most current Form 990 that the Guild had filed. (The IRS Form 990 is in essence an annual return filed by tax-exempt organizations). The most current 990 for the Guild is the 2010 form, for year 2009.

            <Aside -- everyone who wants to understand more about tax-exempt organizations and they way they raise and spend money should have a free GuideStar account -- ).

            Ellison is correct in that the Total income for that year was $12,146,743 -- this information is on the GuideStar front page for the MOG, and does not require actually downloading the 37-page form. But I do "wonder" why Ellison chosen not to publish the Total Expenes number, which is right below the income number on the GuideStar summary page. That Total Expense number is $15,429,702. Google math tells us that the deficit was $3,282,579

            Ok, not into the 990 itself. We first see that the organization is asked to briefly describe its mission or significant activities: To develop, support and culture a wider public interest in the Metropolitan Opera and the art form at large.

            OK, so far so good, that’s actually a justification for coverage of opera other than the Met.

            Now down to Section VIII, where they break down where the money comes from and where it goes.

            That $12M+ income breaks down (rounding to thousands) into $6,808,000 from membership dues, $1,252 from non-dues contributions, $44,000 from a fund-raiser, $2,187,000 from advertising revenue, $463,000 from feess for educational programs and $1,018,000 from investment income.

            On the expense side: $6,186,000 is contributed to the MOA, $372,080 for compensation to officers, $2,100,000 for non-officer employee compensation (including benefits but not including pension contributions), $1,065,689 for pension/401/403 contributions, $421K for other employee benefits, $92K for investment management fees, $419K for advertising, $609K for office expense, $114K for IT, $344K for “occupancy” (not sure what that is), $55K for travel, $239K for depreciation, $273K for binding, $416K for paper, $84K for color separation, $183K for photos/illustrations, $237K for contributed editorial, and a catch-all “All other expenses” category of $1,630000.

            (Note: fund-raising expenses are included in each of the line itmes).

            OK, numbers are well and good, but what do they mean? In my opinion, the bottom line is that funds that most people are INTENDING to contribute in support of the MOA and its activities are being diverted to a middleman, the MOG. And further, and the “trickle-down” percentage is, again in my opinion, is not justified. How many people would pay dues to join the guild if it were only to receive a magazine?

            Putting it another way, say that the Guild was shut down and its activities were subsumed into the MOA. The cost efficiencies could well result in the elimination of the MOG’s current deficit, and any funds left over could go to, say, eliminating those fees for the educational programs, and maybe even a single Web streaming of a production, a la the Bayerische Staatsoper… one can dream.

          • whatever

            the $1.2m on the pension line is a STAGGERING sum compared to the total compensation. either the MOG has been SERIOUSLY underfunding a defined benefit plan for a very long time, and the board chose this particular year to get right with god, or there was a run on the bank of epic proportions by terminating employees that year, or somebody(ies) has(ve) a mighty fine golden parachute.

            that figure is just out of all proportion.

          • Camille

            That is very good of you to write such a disclaimer, and I appreciate you not shooting the messenger, as well as doing the research, on a subject I know little enough about.

            I am trying to arrive at some bit of understanding, that is all. I have had the experience (just my observation) when I have been there to buy score desks, that it was not exactly a hub of creative energy, nor much energy of any kind. That is about all I knew of the Guild.

          • whatever

            actually, pogggia, we don’t know if that $3m deficit is “annual” or not … 2009 was not a kind year — it might have been a one-time event.

            you’d want to look at the 990s for a couple of other years to spot a trend before labeling the imbalance structural.

          • A. Poggia Turra

            Good point, whatever -- here’s what I can glean from a quick glance:

            Year 2008 Revenue $11,328,872
            Year 2008 Expense $13,262,709
            Year 2008 Deficit $ 1.933,637

            Year 2007 Revenue $15,262,860
            Year 2007 Expense $15,991,406
            Year 2007 Deficit $ 728,546

          • whatever

            hmmmmmm … not sure what to make of that.

            since 2008 was the year the Great Recession hit — and MOG revenues took an obvious hit — one could argue it may be an outlier as well.

            but in 2007 we were all still lighting our cigars with fifties, and the deficit that year was not insubstantial.

            i’d say nothing conclusive, but it sure is starting to quack like a duck!

            definitely NOT an encouraging trend, at any rate …

          • oedipe

            A cursory look at these accounts shows, on the income side, a principal recurring entry of $6.8 million from membership dues, and on the expense side, a principal entry of $6.2 million contribution to the MOA. So, very roughly put, the membership dues cover the contribution to the MOA, as well as (part of) the cost of administering this membership, which appears to be the main activity of the Guild. So far so good.

            The rest is much more obscure. The pension contribution ($1.06 million) is probably non-recurring and is actually matched by the investment income ($1.02 million), so it doesn’t look all that bad. But $1.6 million in “other expenses” and $2.1 million for employee compensation seem way out of proportion to me as compared to the total size of the accounts. More clarity on these items would be helpful.

          • whatever

            oedipe: i dont follow your point on the “matching” of the pension contribution and the investment income — ‘splain, please?

          • A. Poggia Turra

            oedpie and whatever -- I think your hunches via a via the pension line are justified -- the numbers are $114,826 for year 2008 and $141,157 for year 2007. I wonder if the almost tenfold increase in year 2009 was caused by early retirements or staff reductions spurred by the recession/loss of value in the endowment?

            In consideration of the subjects of money, charity and Gelb vs. the MOG (as it were), I had no real interest in castigating anyone, whether at the MOA, MOG or here on Parterre. I have a very hard rule about not contributing to charities of any kind whose expenses (especially staff costs) seem greatly out of proportion to the amount going to the ostensible beneficiary of the contribution. It’s my opinion that this is the case with MOG.

            Many of the commentators have raised the question of how Gelb enacted his “No Met Reviews on ON” edict (even of only for 24 hours), and I’d like to see that one answered (specifically, the mechanics of his ability to do so, and therefore the underlying symbiotic relationship between MOA and MOG). Such as, is there a guaranteed percentage of dues revenue that the MOG is “required” to present to the MOA as a “grant”?

            Ruminations on Gelb: You’d think that Gelb would realize that the review ban would have a great deal of negative blowback. Is it simply a question of one man’s hubris? Or is Gelb thinking in a Machiavellian manner? How’s this for a Conspiracy Theory:

            1. Gelb purposely bans ON reviews, fully expecting the outrage -- he even has his “reverse the ban” press release prepared ahead of time (to me, that document did NOT sound as if it was written on the spur of the moment).

            2. The public focus is now moved from Guild itself, but on preserving the editorial independence of ON. Nice bit of marginalization there, Peter.

            3. In due time, Gelb announces that, “in order to guarantee that ON is able to maintain its independence, the MOA is severing its ties with the Guild.

            On second thought, it’s just too crazy ;)

          • oedipe


            I simply meant that institutions generally use (or SHOULD use) investment income to fund pension obligations. In the case of the Guild, the reported investment income amount “matches” the reported pension contribution.

            We don’t have any information about their pension obligations but, hopefully, this $1.06 million figure is a one-time contribution to an unfunded pension fund. If so, it was a wise decision to fund it -or to reduce the underfunding- in a year when they have $1.02 million in investment income.

      • Flying Wotan

        The Guild is a seperate entity, seperate charter, seperate board. In their most recent financial statement, their donation to the Met was $6.0 million dollars. As was reported on Opera-L, Voldemort has been after them since he took his job, slowly squeezing the life blood from them as he did not control them. Now he does, threatened to take their name away from them and placing his stooge in as the Managing Director. There was also another suggestion there that they should cut their ties with the Met and become an operation which supports American opera companies. There are possibilities for their future away from the misguided hand of Ronald Wilford’s evil protege.

        • Nerva Nelli

          Flying Wotan-- You dare to confront ardath bey with mere FACTS?

        • Bosah

          Since all propaganda needs a kernel of truth, what could the press release have meant by saying “funded by the Met”? That blatant a lie would be ridiculous. Surely, the Met powers aren’t that dumb. They must have something to hang that statement on, no?

          • Flying Wotan

            Solely advertising dollars, but those are returned with their annual donation, so it is more than a wash. At the end of the day, a periodical like Opera News will take advertising dollars from those it reviews, all of the commercial opera journals do. Have a look at the independents like Opera Now, which are loaded with adverts from many opera companies and festivals. The New York Times accepts advert dollars from the Met and reviews them as well. So the claim by the Met to have a financial stake in Opera News is a pretty weak one and no different than any other publication of its’ type. As many have properly said here, they are a distinctly seperate operation and Gelb has been on some odd tangent to dismantle them and pull them into his evil clutches since 2006. As I said before, he now has a shill running the day-to-day operations there and it is high time the board developed some balls.

  • DonCarloFanatic

    I don’t think some people understand that critics do not control audience responses to productions, and audiences do not stay away simply because critics have written negative things. They stay away when the particulars described, whether negatively or positively, do not appeal to them. Word of mouth is a powerful factor, too.

    But there’s another consideration. In the depths of a recession, it is possible that some people did not care to spend the enormous amount it costs to see a Ring cycle draped over one to three weeks in one of the most expensive cities in the U.S. Why does no one factor this in? Seeing a Ring cycle at the Met is EXPENSIVE.

    Somebody please add up how many people went to see the Ring in the HD venues DESPITE all this supposedly lethal criticism. Those modestly priced tickets did not have to be purchased in advance of any critical commentaries, and yet, the audiences were there anyway.

    Criticism does not destroy a production. Bad concepts and execution do.

    • Flying Wotan

      A big bravo on this post!

    • marshiemarkII

      Brava DonCarloF, yes people go to see the Ring first and foremost for the casts and the production, not because of what critics say (or not say). In 1997, for the last Behrens Ring, I was told by a high Met official that there were ticket requests for ***five*** Rings, had it been possible to mount that many. Tickets were more prized than oil, and even for [star]singers it was hard to squeeze one more ticket, because there were simply NONE to be had.

      This Ring was most definitely papered. I received not one but three comp tickets for the first Gotterdammerung, and still the Grand Tier was quite empty from the first act on, and it was a wasteland by the third.

      Lastly an aside: why is it that whenever there is “bickering” there seems to be a common denominator?
      Ardath is one of our most intelligent and knowledgeable posters, especially when it comes to belcanto. And I, for one, HUGELY admire his courageous and extremely lucid forays into political commentary, as he has an incredibly sophisticated understanding of the real forces at work. Likewise I’d like to immodestly claim to have made my share of good posts on the information-content meter. Why is it then that Ardath and myself have both had the distinctly unfortunate luck to have found ourselves, in different situations, in which La C has had to apply her wise intervention to “stop the bickering”? Is there a common denominator?

  • Clita del Toro

    On to more important things: I am watching *Lady in the Lake* with the divine Audrey Totter. Audrey says to Marlowe,, “Lets talk about this over a couple of ice cubes.” He says, “Imagine you needing ice cubes.” LOL

  • In the latest on that “other” opera company, George Steel has taken to tele-fundraising in his latest missive. The news on Superconductor.