Cher Public

Rumors addressed

Peter Gelb sent out an email to the “Public Bulletin Board” earlier today, noting that “inaccurate rumors [are] flying around” and attempting to clarify the Met’s position on upcoming union negotiations. Naturally, La Cieca (pictured) has obtained a copy of this email, which she will share with you.

From: Gelb, Peter
Sent: Saturday, May 03, 2014 4:51 PM
To: Public Bulletin Board
Subject: Ensuring the future of the Met

Dear Members of the Company,

I first fell in love with the Met when I was a part-time teenage usher in the family circle standing room forty-four years ago. In my early twenties, I worked here as a freelance press agent. In my mid-thirties, I was responsible for the Met’s media operations, producing its telecasts on PBS and its Saturday radio broadcasts. I dreamed of someday becoming General Manager.

When I was appointed GM in 2004, it was one of the happiest and exciting days of my life. I was thrilled to once again be working with Maestro Levine and this wonderful company. But I also knew that the Met faced many challenges, since its audiences were ageing and declining. That’s why I pursued – with the support and cooperation of the entire Met family – a new plan of artistic renewal and public initiatives to make opera more accessible, and to help the Met regain its place as the leading opera company of the world, a position that we now once again can proudly claim.

This couldn’t have been achieved without the efforts of all of you: the Met’s great artists and artisans; its peerless orchestra and chorus; our singing stars; our music staff and librarians; our guest conductors; our plan artists; our supers and our dancers; our gifted and hard working stagehands and the army of behind-the-scenes talents – our construction, scenery and costume shops; our designers and directors; our stage managers; our box office and call center; our scenic painters; our wigs and makeup artists; our wardrobe department; our ushers and cleaners; our security, safety men and building engineers; and our tireless administrative team.

But today, as we approach the end of the season – my eighth season as General Manager of the company that I love and respect and that I will continue to serve to the fullest – we face the biggest economic challenge in the company’s history.

In the last year, we have seen the demise of New York City Opera and the collapse of other companies in this country and abroad. Earned revenue from ticket sales for opera across the United States is diminishing and we can’t count on annual donations to continue to increase to make up the difference. Today, with 2/3 of the Met’s annual budget in excess of $300 million going towards union payroll and benefits, we have to make an adjustment to ensure the future sustainability of our company. We must act now before it is too late.

That is why, for the first time in decades and with the support of the Met’s Board, the Met is asking for a limited cut in our costs. If we are able to achieve a reduction in our costs, our donors will be inspired to help shore up our endowment. In fact, the Board has made that a condition of their rebuilding of the endowment. The combination of reduced costs and a greater endowment will result in the Met achieving a sustainable business plan for at least the next five to ten years.

There are many inaccurate rumors flying around about the size of the cuts we are seeking. First, the planned reductions will be shared equally by the administrative staff. Since we are in this altogether, I have promised the union leaders that the administrative staff costs will be reduced by an overall amount equal to what is ultimately agreed to by the unions. Our proposals to the unions with the most highly compensated employees are in the range of reductions of 16% to 17%. These are our initial proposals in our good faith effort to achieve necessary savings. We intend to avoid reductions, wherever possible, in the compensation of our lower-paid union and administrative employees.

In order to ensure the future of the Met, and the livelihood of all of our employees, we must try to look beyond the immediate pain of a reduction in pay. With a new business model in place, adjusted to today’s reality of a smaller audience for opera, we will be able to guarantee the jobs, health care, and pensions of our hard working and talented employees. Without this change, the Met will not be able to survive.

I ask for you to be open to this plan. It is in the best interest of yourselves and your families, as well as for the institution that we all love.

Thank you for a season of artistic success and for your understanding of what we need to accomplish.

With my best wishes to you and your families,

Peter Gelb

  • operaassport

    What a contrast to the threats and grandstanding emanating from the pulpit of Alan Gordon. Bravo Mr. Gelb!

    • olliedawg

      PG sounds sane, conciliatory, and most of all, leader-like.

      By the way, he didn’t write the recent news articles — someone else, perhaps with a political POV, provided the prose and slant.

      Ratcheting up the rhetoric, calling people out for imagined “crimes” against art or people, asking leadership to grandstand at press conferences, defending incredibly generous salary and benefit packages in the wake of a prolonged recession & a miserable first quarter, provides intense discussion and lots of heat, but little light. Gelb’s memo strikes me a clearly-defined rationale for rethinking the Met’s business going forward.

  • Nero Wolfe

    And over to you Mr. Gordon.

  • balabanov11

    oh good friggin’ lord -- just who do you think has been leaking inflammatory information to the press, and who in his own interviews has been throwing around wildly inflated figures about chorus and stagehand salaries and benefits? He’s a liar and a snake, and I guarantee there isn’t an actual EMPLOYEE of the Met who did nothing but send this email straight to the trash. He has absolutely no support or credibility inside the house with the unions with which he is trying to negotiate. wake up people. and ftr, I know, because I’ve been an employee there myself for many, many years.

    • CwbyLA

      balabanov11, are you a unionized or a non-unionized employee?

      • redbear

        Cwby, I think your question is rhetorical. It does suggest, however, that there are significant numbers of employees who are going to “just say no.” Gelb has made clear the financial pressure, felt by literally all arts groups. This is now a well-documented phenomenon. The loose governance of boards who have, in the past, not worried about salary creep, are one of the principal problems in America. It is not only stagehands but conductors, chorus, and GMs that have salaries way above their European counterparts.

        • olliedawg

          Its the employees’ prerogative to say no. But, it’s management’s prerogative to find a solution to the larger issue of cost control. Wherever or whomever deserves the blame is now irrelevant. What matters is finding a solution. If that solution involves hiring experienced but unemployed stage crew, technicians, administrators, etc., then that’s what it will come to, is my guess.

          Threats and tantrums can, and generally do, backfire. I’ve had one subcontractor say, in response to a not-terribly-intrusive customer request, “I’m not going to do that. What are you going to do to me?” I talked through the customer request with another equally-qualified subcontractor, we agreed on a contract to do the work, and I let the other person go. I’m a fair employer, but I’m not a schmuck. Letting that subcontractor get away with poor behavior is bad business. Period.

          • If that solution involves hiring experienced but unemployed stage crew, technicians, administrators, etc., then that’s what it will come to, is my guess.

            Ha ha, good luck with that…

            • olliedawg

              It’s more viable than you would think, m. croche, although not preferable to keeping smart, experienced staff in place.

            • Since I don’t think it’s at all a viable option, I’ll be conciliatory and grant you that in fact there’s a one percent chance such a tactic might be viable.

          • If that solution involves hiring experienced but unemployed stage crew, technicians, administrators, etc., then that’s what it will come to, is my guess.

            Ha ha, good luck with that…

    • operaassport

      Spoken like a true blue member of the unionized stick your head in the sand it’s still 1953 here that will soon man the barricades with clubs and start yelling scabs!

      • armerjacquino

        There’s a noun missing here somewhere. Member of the what now?

        • operaassport

          Aj: the last refuge of the small minded is pointing out typos and ignoring the larger meaning. Proud of yourself?

          • armerjacquino

            ‘Get back to me when you learna da English’

            Recognise that? Condemned from your own mouth.

            Besides, it’s hardly just a typo. You failed to give the sentence a subject.

    • Ewige Nacht

      Somebody should talk to Wendy White about her post-FAUST experience with PG and the MET

  • Quanto Painy Fakor

    {They] may have made a bad mistake,
    Yet I can tell who in that pair
    Is poisoned victim
    and who snake.

  • Constantine A. Papas

    I like Mr. Gelb and I value his leadership at the Met. In time of crisis, a real leader should set the example for the rest to follow. The cutting of administrative costs by 16% to 17% is a rather abstract generality. Mr. Gelb and Mr. Levine have to come up in front and set the pace of personal sacrifice. They should hold a press conference and announce that effective immediately they will cut their compensation by 20%. The unions have to follow, and the Met’s artistic and administrative leadership’s credibility will soar and shut up all the loud mouths. Period.

    • KCB

      Mr. Gelb and Mr. Levine have to come up in front and set the pace of personal sacrifice … and announce that effective immediately they will cut their compensation by 20%.

      I would not count on that happening. Remember: the most rabid boosters of open-office plans are themselves invariably ensconced in private offices. Same with salaries/benefit packages. Senior management: “Hey, peons! Do as I say, not as I do.”

      • olliedawg

        Spoken like someone who has never sat in the manager’s seat. That’s movie dialogue, not what I’ve seen and heard in the executive meetings I’ve attended or chaired.

    • Benedetta Funghi-Trifolati

      Re: A 20% comp cut from Gelb/Levine. I wouldn’t hold my breath. I lived through the Met strike of 1969 when the season did not open until December 29th. I do not have a good feeling about this impending strike. I sincerely hope I’m wrong.

      Just for the record, there were many cancelled contracts and lots of behind-the-scenes schedule juggling back in 1969 but Mr. Bing was still able to pull an Opening Night AIDA out of his hat with (predominantly American/NY-based singers) Leontyne Price, Richard Tucker, Irene Dalis and Robert Merrill.

      • olliedawg

        Bing was, from all accounts, a difficult person, a guy who didn’t tolerate a lot of bullshit from intemperate divas and union leaders, but who could also show enormous sensitivity to artists with “baggage” (Teresa Stratas, in particular, tells stories of how Bing protected her from her unstable father). Painting leadership as a smarmy, selfish profession strikes me of serving no other purpose, other than to provide good copy and stoke a grievance mentality.

  • tpogto

    Mr. Gelb is not yet repentant of his “sins” not choosing proper operatic repertoire, creative executions -i.e. choice of stage directors, dramaturg, scenic concepts i.e. wasteful extravaganzas for no-purpose, heavily borrowed productons from all around on this earth as “premiers at MET”, furthermore diverting opera house
    audience to HD cinemas in a large mass! Basic problem here -- media(HD)opera is carnivalizing live opera! Thus,
    goodwilled patrons (Angels of Opera) desert> Too much of miscalculations.

    • armerjacquino

      Did people in the 30s say that complete opera recordings were going to stop people going to the opera? Because somehow I bet they did.

      • Krunoslav

        Well, the House of Ricordi earned eternal damnation for feeling that if people heard Destinn, Caruso and Amato recordings of the solos and duet from FANCIULLA, they would buy fewer vocal scores for home use.

    • “Not choosing proper operatic repertoire” has to be the most puzzling charge. Peter Gelb has finally caught up with the rest of the world in presenting bel canto works on a regular basis and not just the token Lucia or Elisir. He’s brought several contemporary classics (Death of Klinghoffer, Nixon in China) and newer more experimental works.

    • oedipe

      tpogto,

      Out of curiosity: if you were GM of the Met, what operatic repertoire would you pick? And can you also give some examples of stages directors, scenic concepts, etc. that would be good choices?

      • Lohenfal

        Oedipe, since tpogto didn’t respond, I’ll answer for him/her. I would like to see a repertory more representative of opera history as a whole, i.e. more before 1800 and more after 1900. That, of course, might not sit well with much of the audience at the Met. In addition, some of the choices in any particular season are strange. This year, for example, we had no Wagner and only one French opera, and yet 40 performances of 3 Puccini operas. I would by no means ban the Puccini, but look at the disproportion.

        As for stagings, we need fewer of the middling productions that Gelb prefers, which are neither traditional nor modern. Either go with what is really contemporary, or stick with the old-fashioned. The compromises he likes don’t please anyone. The old guard wants only Zeffirelli and Schenk and hates any change whatsoever, even something mild, like Richard Eyre. I myself would prefer the truly contemporary, even if it angers the conservatives.

        • armerjacquino

          Certainly the Met could do more French opera. But there was never likely to be much Wagner the season immediately after his big anniversary.

          • Lohenfal

            Armer, if I remember correctly, the Met did plan to have 2 Wagners this season: Tannhäuser and Parsifal. Parsifal was replaced by Wozzeck; I’m not sure what replaced Tannhäuser, or what the reasons were for the change in plans. Thus, the closeness to the anniversary didn’t seem to bother the Met, at least in the planning stage. I’ve noticed that The Wagnerian website has already criticized the ROH for having only 2 Wagners next season, Holländer and Tristan. We Wagnerites like to complain.

        • oedipe

          Thanks for your reply, Lohenfal.

          I am beginning to think that, going forward, the thinking behind the repertoire is the essential variable and that opera houses, big or small, needn’t and shouldn’t try to cover all periods and be all things to all people.

          Rather, they should concentrate on the genres and periods they know and do best and which their audience has a preference for. In addition, in-depth forays into these areas of strength could bring to the fore rarely performed titles, the production of which would create the “buzz” of novelty.

          By concentrating on areas of strength, rather than spreading themselves too thin, not only would opera houses improve the quality of their product, but they would also differentiate it from the product of the competition (instead of continuing to offer pretty much the same fare as everybody else, as is the case today).

          • oedipe

            And no, I don’t think the Met should do more French opera.

    • steveac10

      Here’s the thing. The choices are limited. I think Gelb has been rather smart concentrating on shared productions of fringe repertoire so the kinks can be worked out at less expense. Sure there are shared productions that stink (Faust for instance, but many of them have been the houses biggest modern “hits” (Butterfly, The Nose, From the House of the Dead).

      Also, anything earlier than large scale Handel is just not going to work in a 4000 seat house. In fact most of the repertoire the Met presents would benefit from a house under 2500 seats -- but a lot of potential draws like Monteverdi and Rameau are just not going to cut it.

      I would also argue that “extravaganza” is part of the Met’s mission.Part of Opera is extravaganza, and if the Met can’t do it, who can.

      As to directors. Yep. There have been some boners that Gelb has used at least on times too many. Here’s the thing.. just like singers and conductors, producers have lead time. I’m sure Hoffmann, Comte D’Ory and L’Elisir were booked largely on the basis of Sher’s success with Barber and a history of successful musical productions. Who was to know he blew his rod on Barber and everything else would be downhill. Once the sets are built (from sources I’ve seen it’s 6-18 months prior to the premiere) Gelb is kind of stuck. He’s kind of a slave to his own company’s outdated business model (which he seems to want to change).

      You can’t lay it all on him. Sure he’s made bad decisions (the Ring for instance) -- but please convince me Volpe, Bing, Johnson and Gatti didn’t either.

      • grimoaldo

        “Also, anything earlier than large scale Handel is just not going to work in a 4000 seat house. In fact most of the repertoire the Met presents would benefit from a house under 2500 seats — but a lot of potential draws like Monteverdi and Rameau are just not going to cut it.”

        I’m afraid I don’t buy that. If Cosi fan Tuute can become, rightfully, part of the Met’s core repertoire, there is no reason why Lully and Rameau’s operas,for instance, which have a lot more opportunity for “extravaganza” than Mozart’s opera with six people and only very brief chorus, should not be performed there too. The Met is certainly too big for Mozart but that would be a pitiful excuse for not performing Mozart there and I don’t think that is a reason not to try with Baroque works, they just are not interested. They don’t want to.

        • grimoaldo

          *Tutte*

        • I honestly think that a lot of “intimate” repertoire would be workable, or at least more workable, at the Met, if the stage were slightly reconfigured to include the baroque/early romantic “apron” extending over the orchestra pit and into the auditorium. The Met’s pit is designed to hold a Wagner/Strauss orchestra comfortably, which means there is a lot of empty space down there when a work is done with chamber forces.

          Moving the stage action forward, say, 10 feet, so that the mean playing plane is around where the prompter’s box is installed, would mean that everything would seem closer to the audience, and the voices would sound more present as well. This Zeffirelli method of shoving everything behind a picture frame, with none of the action coming farther forward than ten feet behind the curtain line, makes everything — voices included -- seem small and distant.

    • olliedawg

      By your statement, Mr. Gelb should’ve presided at a long unwinding of a great institution vs. attempting to change ANYTHING or do SOMETHING different. Would that have satisfied you?

  • Krunoslav

    I think if there were “surprise” encores at every Met show that the JERSEY BOYS and Comedy Club publics would come flocking in.

  • redbear

    The Met’s problems go much further than rep and stagings. It is an operatic dinosaur. If you want to know the future of opera for the major companies you should watch to this discussion about the San Diego Opera. The solution? Smaller venues, less star singers, simpler productions, more creative repertory. The problem for the Met is that they have trained their audiences to expect expensive productions, standard repertory and big names in the world’s largest (by far) opera house. Even if the negotiations are successful, it would buy the Met another decade or so.
    httpsv://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9rmg027mQNs

    • redbear

      Link is

  • Quanto Painy Fakor

    How does one access that “Public Bulletin Board”?

  • In light of this discussion here’s a blog post by Haglunds Heel that makes some rather broad stereotypes about opera fans:

    http://haglundsheel.typepad.com/haglunds_heel/2014/05/balle-is-not-opera.html

  • All-knowing Earth Goddess

    From Bloomberg News in 2009: “Donald Palumbo, the chorus master, made $422,431. James Blumenfeld, the property master, made $431,949″… i think a reduction of 16 per cent won’t cause certain employees to starve to death.

    • I don’t think you’re being consequential enough. If “not starving to death” is the criterion, then we can set Gelb’s and Levine’s salary at $200,000 apiece.

      In a stroke, I will have wiped out a large part of the MET deficit for this season!

      But if we want to be systematic about it, let me offer this formula: employees making less than $100 K see not cuts in their wages. For every $10K above that, their wages will be cut by .5% A five percent reduction for those earning $200K, 10% for $300K, 15% for $400K.

      And look, I’ve hit the sweet spot where Palumbo and Blumenfeld will get the reduction you think is appropriate for them.

      By the time we reach Gelb’s salary, the MET will save over a million dollars a year. That’s a sharp reduction for him, but at $450K a year he certainly won’t starve!

  • antikitschychick

    :shock: oh dear. Well I do hope things get resolved as I would hate to miss AN’s Lady M in HD, given that its unlikely I’ll get to see her sing it live in Germany this summer unless I magically transform into Feldm’s pooch :-P.

    The email sounds pretty sensible to me and if things are as dire as he suggests then negotiations need to happen sooner rather than later.

    • Feldmarschallin

      There are ways anti, there are ways. You just follow the Feldmarschallin’s lead and you will be in the Macbeth and will be writing on it here before no time. I need to pick up an old lady friend of mine who is in the nursing home now and whose wish it was to go to the opera again so we all chipped in and got her three tickets of her choosing for her birthday so I will not have so much time to spend with you at the Liederabend since I need to push her around since she is wheelchair bound but we can talk more at the Macbeth AFTER you are in the house. :) Still a few days off anyway and I have the Soldaten Premiere before that anyway and Garanca plus a Butterfly with Calleja.

      • antikitschychick

        and follow the Feldmarschallin’s lead I shall! :-D. That’s a lovely gesture on your part taking your old lady friend to the opera…hope everything goes well for her and I hope you enjoy the Soldaten premiere, the Garanca (concert?) and the Butterfly performances!

        • Feldmarschallin

          I have known the woman for more than 35 years and we used to be in the same group who stood in line for tickets. She is 80 now and we had to make arrangements for her to go to a nursing home where she is really happy. Though she is in a wheelchair and cannot walk she can get up on her own and two of us will help her down the few steps where we got her the corner seat. The Liederabend is a sort of trial run since it is the shortest and if all goes well she has tickets for FroSch and Forza as well. She is very excited to be able to see all her old friends again at the opera and to be able to see some of her favorites. Opera friends need to stick together. :)

          • antikitschychick

            awww…yes I agree we do need to stick together…hope it goes well for her!! :-).

  • Jamie01

    They could save a lot by just merging the orchestra and the corps de ballet.

  • armerjacquino
  • antikitschychick

    did anyone else get an email from the Met yesterday about being a Met “volunteer ambassador” to help promote the HDs? Its good they are trying to be lucrative. The HDs could certainly use more promotion in my area…Id be happy to promote them on FB and stuff but I actually have to find time to go first lol. I’m really hoping I can catch the Cenerentola this Sat!