Cher Public

Drive on

The battle of the management-labor emails continues with Alan Gordon demanding Peter Gelb fire his driver.

From: AGMANY@aol.com [mailto:AGMANY@aol.com]
Sent: Wednesday, May 28, 2014 11:04 AM
To: agmany@aol.com
Subject: Response to Peter Gelb’s Letter to Prtincipal Artists

Dear Peter:

(With copies to all AGMA-represented Met employees)

Your recent letter to all of the Met’s unionized employees is, regrettably, once again filled with shameful misstatements. You owe your employees, the people who actually are the Metropolitan Opera, a greater level of truth and transparency.

Your statement “The Met’s initial proposals seek cost reductions of 16.4%. That includes our proposals on wages (through work rule changes), health, and retirement benefits.” Is simply not true and mathematically impossible. In point of fact, the changes you propose in compensation alone would reduce take-home-pay by some 20-30% and, for some parts of the bargaining unit, as much as 50-60%. Your health insurance proposal, per se, would increase family medical expenses by $15,000 annually. And, to the extent that we can understand your proposed changes in the Met’s pension plan (we are hampered in this regard because of your continuing refusal to respond to our information request about your pension proposals) would reduce pensions by 40% for most people, more for newer employees. Your proposal to eliminate Health Plan B is, separately, an additional 3% reduction in compensation. You simply do not understand the actual extent of the devastation that your proposals would inflict on the Met’s employees.

Your statement: “We have informed AGMA that if it has an alternative proposal as to how to achieve a comparable reduction in AGMA labor costs, we would be happy to hear it. AGMA has so far ignored us.” is, likewise, nothing but obfuscation. In point of fact, it is you who have ignored our requests for the truth about the effect of your proposals so that we could respond to them, ignored our requests for safety changes that would prevent a reoccurrence the horrible tragedy that the Met visited upon Wendy White and ignored our proposal to reduce expenses through an oversight structure that would rein in your out of control spending to achieve a comparable reduction.

Your statement: “ We have provided a great deal of costing information to AGMA to back up our numbers …” is not true. The information you’ve provided to us is useless in evaluating the effect of your proposals, as you apparently intended it to be, because it is based on past seasons and not on the seasons that your proposals would actually affect.

Your comment “one thing beyond dispute is that cost reductions are necessary to the Met’s survival”, may be literally true but hides the facts. Actually, the cost reductions the Met needs to adopt are reductions in your run-away, unregulated spending and excessive draws on the endowment.

Your comment: “We want to reach an agreement.” Is belied by your actions. It is clear to every member of our negotiating committee that your intent is to bad-faith surface bargain, stone-wall the negotiations, and then lock out employees in an attempt to bully them or con them into accepting your proposals.

Your comment “As you know, the audience for opera has been shrinking, which is a major factor in why the New York City Opera has gone out of business…” is not at all the reason that City Opera went out of business. There, as with the Met, the nonsense business plan imposed by the management and the Board coupled with similar out of control spending, made the Opera unsustainable, even after the employees agreed to deep concessions. Unless we can stop you, your spending (especially that on new productions which are not supported by ticket buyers, and on HD productions which are cannibalizing the live audience) will do the same to the Met. We can not let that happen.

Your statement “we must reduce our overall costs in order to achieve a sustainable business model.” is absurd. First, you have admitted that your “sustainable business model” is nothing other than ‘spend less, earn more’, even after it has repeatedly been pointed out to you that ‘spend less, earn more’ is neither a business model or a business plan. Second, it’s you and your failing artistic vision that has increased Met expenses by $100 Million.

We note that while you continue to ask employees to reduce costs, the first and most egregious cost to be cut should be the Met-paid, with full Met benefits and pension, cost of your personal chauffer. To maintain this ludicrous and wholly unnecessary perk in the face of the devastation that your proposals would do to employees is both offensive to decency and nothing short of disgusting.

If you want the help of your employees in promoting the fiscal and artistic viability of the Met, you are going to have to accept that those employees, in turn, have the right to oversee, advise and consent with regard to your plans, your strategy (both operationally and artistically) and your spending. The AGMA negotiating committee made it clear to you that the only way in which the union and its members would consider helping you stabilize the Met’s finances were 1) If you accepted some measure of oversight by the performers to control your astronomically increased spending and 2) If you agree to reverse the waste, excess and extravagance that have thus far been the hallmark of your current administration, rather than continuing in your attempt to destroy the lives and livelihoods of the Met’s employees.

Your vacuous compliments to our members will not dissuade them from their determination to force you to confront the truth.

Alan

  • DeepSouthSenior

    I have made two trips to New York City in the past six months, each built around performances at the MET. I’ve been a classical music fanatic for fifty-five years (all genres and all periods, but especially orchestral, chamber, and choral). I only recently caught the “opera bug,” however, primarily due to Live in HD. I own many thousands of classical CD’s but remain lukewarm toward audio opera recordings. Live theatre is 90% of my enjoyment of opera. I know it’s a worn cliché, but opera truly is the complete art form. Live in HD, MET Opera on Demand at home, opera on DVD/Blu-ray, and trips to the opera house -- the MET and New Orleans Opera -- are a huge part of my life now, all thanks to Live in HD, which “primed the pump,” as it were.

    Early this month, after a performance at the MET, I spoke to a couple from Switzerland, who said that they had watched Live in HD for years, and just had to come to New York to experience it live.

    Anecdotal evidence, for whatever it’s worth.

  • Money is tight for me, so I tend to see the productions that are transmitted in HD only in HD. But there are always experiences like “Die Frau,” Damrau & Domingo in “Traviata” and Damrau & Camarena in “Sonnambula” that can only be had live in the house. I would think that most locals, such as myself, do a healthy mix of both.

  • Constantine A. Papas

    Well, there nothing wrong with people eating at the HDs (my wife does), but it bothers me. They follow the old tradition of the plateia (orchestra with practically no seats)of provincial opera houses where people were eating, talking and having a good time even during the performance.

    • Clita del Toro

      I think eating during the opera HD is gross. It’s not a popcorn movie.

    • Feldmarschallin

      Well what I don’t understand is that if an opera is a few hours cannot one eat before or after the opera. Does it have to be during the opera or HD? Maybe I am different there but usually I am so into the opera that I wouldn’t even think of eating.

      • antikitschychick

        well I never eat at an in-house performance, unless I am absolutely starving, and I actually was when I went to go see Nabucco a few months back because I had to rush home from work and get ready and didn’t have time to eat dinner, so I had a brownie that a friend I ran into bought me lol, but at the HD transmissions its different because one is in a theater and the Matinees take place relatively early in the day (US eastern time) so I sometimes wake up and head straight to the HD without eating breakfast first, thus I eat after or during one of the intermissions. I don’t think that’s disruptive to anyone since my theater is almost always pretty empty. At a packed performance its a different story though. The strong scent of food, noisy wrappers and water bottles can be distracting but what can ya do. Its part of the experience; part of the ‘thrill’ I should say :-P.

      • Camille

        Feldy,
        Wie geht’s der Garten??

        At one HD, ONCE, I had to hurriedly finish my sandwich after walking back in at the interval and it was a very strange experience, eating while looking at the Metropolitan Opera. I decided I did not want to repeat the experience.

        Then there was that bloke who brought his bagel hit schemear to an in house live Tristan und Isolde and sat contentedly munching away during the throes of Isolde’s first act agonies. Such is life.People do rush to the Met from work, thereby giving them and their respective blood sugars the proverbial bella scusa to go ahead and eat. However, at the HDs, one is in a bit more of a controllable situation.

        Most of the HDs I have attended have been populated only by the senior citizen set, and they have been relatively sedate in their habits.

        Anyway, the important thing is to attract a new audience, popcorn be damned.

      • DonCarloFanatic

        It’s a bizarre phenomenon of American life today that people eat or drink all the time. They carry sodas and cups of coffee with them everywhere. (I remember the days when it was considered tacky to eat in public.) At movie houses they act as if a two-hour movie without an enormous bucket of popcorn and a soda that could feed five would be intense deprivation. Our standards about what is large have shifted, too. What used to be considered a big serving is now called a small.

        OTOH, the Saturday HDs start at the lunch hour here on the east coast, either 12 noon or 1 PM, and they often go to five o’clock. It’s not unreasonable to want to eat or drink something during such a long period, either at the beginning or near the end. Whether doing so annoys a neighbor depends on how full the room is and where you are seated. People who talk during the opera are much more annoying than people who eat, IMO.

        • armerjacquino

          It’s not some ‘modern’ thing. People have eaten popcorn, hot dogs etc at the cinema for as long as I can remember, and I am 40.

          I wouldn’t want to be sat next to someone eating during a live performance, but anyone who’s ever been to a film knows that it happens in the cinema, and it’s utterly precious to pretend otherwise.

          • phoenix

            It certainly isn’t a ‘modern’ thing -- popular when I was young in’ provincial’ operahouses. I remember scantily clad, svelte waitresses selling drinks, snacks, cigarettes, cigars, poker chips & playing cards to patrons in the golden horseshoe boxes while the opera was going on -- and they ate, smoked & played poker while the opera was going on -- at the late, beloved, unrenovated old Baltimore Opera House 40 -- 50 years ago.

      • Cicciabella

        You haven’t lived until you’ve heard Peter Mattei groaning in existential agony to the sound of snapping cucumber sandwiches.

        • “Everything but the cucumber sandwiches snappin’ at his rear end!”

          • Krunoslav

            “Not even for ready money. I went down twice.”

      • operaassport

        Its a movie theater that sells concessions to be consumed during the attraction. You can’t expect them to change the way they do business because, oh, heavens, it’s an Opera! Please. It’s not going to an opera house, you’re watching a movie. Let people eat and enjoy themselves. You start instituting restrictive rules and you’ll keep the audience away.

        • armerjacquino

          Truth.

        • grndvu

          At the Warwick (RI) Showcase Cinemas, the HD is shown on 2 screens, one being configured for live weekend “comedy club” performances (e.g. tables for the chairs in the front). A full “pub” menu is available and is served throughout the performance.

  • tulla

    Why isn’t Gordon pondering the huge fees (about $1.5 mil) wasted on Levine for a few heartfelt performances over the last few years. Actually, better question: why doesn’t Levine turn back some of his pay to benefit the company after 40 years?

  • Milady DeWinter

    Forget about even the popcorn and the bagels.
    Is everyone in America so chronically dehydrated that it is de rigeur to lug around 68 ounces of some potable at all times, in all places?
    I don’t know, maybe it’s the greenhouse gas effect.

    • DonCarloFanatic

      I don’t understand it, either, but then I had a mother who told all us kids firmly that we were going to the zoo to see the animals, not to eat.

      I wouldn’t mind some popcorn right now, though.

  • jackoh

    I found Gelb’s initial description of what he wanted the HD experience to be quite enlightening. He said that he did not want it to be a “filmed” opera like those on DVD only presented live. His model, he said, was live television coverage of an unfolding event (I think that he used tv sports as an example). What you gained with this approach was the on-edge immediacy of an event that the viewing audience was actively participating in by virtue of the fact that what was happening was taking place in real time before their eyes (and ears). And the attendant uncertainty, with an undercurrent of anxiety, of how things will go and what the outcome will be serves to heighten the experience for the audience, to draw them into the action, and to couple them to the event. To return to the sports analogy, if you have ever watched a college football(American) game on tv, you know how you can be enveloped in the experience of the game as if (and even better than) you were sitting in the stadium.

    That Gelb knew what he was doing in this regard was made starkly plain to me while attending the Rheingold HD. I will confess, but I will not apologize because I am absolutely certain that the experience has happened to more than one of you here, that, on occasion, while watching a DVD of one of the Ring productions I have drifted off to sleep. That is a natural result of a “canned” experience. At the Rheingold HD, even though I had not seen the production in-house but had read the reviews and articles about how it was done, I had a pretty good idea of what I was about to see. What I found, however, was that a not insignificant part of that experience was the dread that the machine would at some point swallow one of the principals or would come to a halt at a crucial moment ruining the presentation. That anxiety, akin to what one feels in-house with regard to singers (especially those one is a fan of) being able to execute the roles and the notes without coming to grief, the tension inherent in the moment, is what helps to make the Hds work and makes them significantly different from a popcorn movie

  • mozartFreak

    I am very pissed. Is Mr. Gordon copying Parterre on his memos? These appear to be private communications to AGMA members that have been leaked to Parterre. Why not posting some of Mr. Gelb’s communications to the negotiating firm he has hired?

    Last week, WQXR posted that the initial offer made to the Met’s orchestra was “devastating” according to the musicians’ negotiating committee. Salary eductions of 15%-16% are not “devasting” in today’s climate, at least not according to the situation with the Minnesota Orchestra, which I’ve watched closely.

    I suspect that Mr. Gelb is in fact attempting some less blatent union-busting. He needs to account for the huge increase of spending under his regime. In October of 2011, the New York Times noted that the budget had increased 38% since 2005. Can some one show me how union salaries increased by even 20% or 30% during that time?

    If Gelb is asking for anything near the concessions that Alan Gordon discusses, he has--or should have--a lot of questions to answer.

  • none

    Participating as an elderly resident of a small town in California who loves opera and classical music, I find the HD performances at the cinema to be simply wonderful. I could not possibly fly to New York to see performances at the Met, and in the cinema I not only see wonderful shows, but I get to have backstage interviews! I do go to L.A. Opera (my daughter very kindly takes me) and I recently saw Renee Fleming give a wonderful performance in A Street Car named Desire, but believe me, people like me just love the Met HD. I don’t miss one if I can help it!

  • La Valkyrietta

    Let me quote, as Van Vechten does, Pitts Sanborn on Mary Garden. “…Ponder a moment her singing in ‘Thais’. The converted Thais, about to betake herself desertward with the insistent monk, has a solo to sing. The solo is Massenet, simon-pure Massenet. the idol of the Paris midinette. Miss Garden, with a defective voice, a defective technique, exalts and magnifies that passage till it might be the noblest air of Handel or of Mozart. By a sheer and unashamed reliance on her command of style, Miss Garden works that miracle, transfigures Massenet into something superearthly, overpowering. Will you rise up to deny that is singing?”

    What is described is not exactly what a canary can do, and I certainly would not want to be distracted by munching a sandwich. Unfortunately, I never saw Mary Garden, of course, but I saw Jonas in another Massenet opera. Thank God my neighbors in the house then were well-behaved.