Cher Public

If it quacks like a Lebrecht

It’s Logic 101, really: “Peter Gelb says opera in the United States is having trouble finding an audience. A single performance at the Mariinsky Opera last week sold out. Therefore, Peter Gelb is a liar.”

  • la vociaccia

    Why is he wearing that microphone??? Was he giving a motivational speech at a Holiday Inn Express somewhere?

  • MontyNostry

    You can always depend on Mr Lebrecht for a well-reasoned argument. He has been doing PR for himself on the back of Lorin Maazel’s death all week.

  • manou

    Incursion warning!

    For the non-Twitterati:

    • grimoaldo

      “The conventional wisdom is that high-concept opera like The Passenger is the future of musical theater, but Ms. Lopez’s promising debut suggests that the old-fashioned virtues of a fine diva performance may be just as likely to keep the art alive in the 21st century.”


    • Yikes. With all due respect to JJ, he’s not a critic I would turn to for an evaluation of musical scores written before Mozart or after Puccini.

      • “The Passenger”, though, does seem to have a knack for bringing out the worst in critics. Here is a passage from the TLS’s Guy Damann, wherein he confesses he offered an opinion on the opera without ever having heard it.

  • bluecabochon

    Two interesting comments:

    July 17, 2014 at 10:35 pm

    “The Met was in a “sustainable” condition when Gelb arrived.
    Joe Volpe was asked NOT to return to this year’s negotiations.
    A very well known board member resigned the position in protest over PG’s tactics.
    A temporary worker in the finance department found irregularities in the “books” last winter. He made several attempts to alert his superiors. He was ignored. When he attempted to contact the board in an effort to make his findings known, he was escorted bodily from the building.”


    July 18, 2014 at 11:32 am

    “Clearly their are irregularities with the Metropolitan Opera’s books. The New York Attorney General should be investigating. First and foremost, the Metropolitan Opera claimed a profit in 2011. However, that very same year, they “borrowed” money from the pension fund which has yet to be repaid and should be repaid with interest. Second, enough of the twenty million dollar Ring Cycle, the cycle prior to the second poorly attended bis, the real numbers are hovering over thirty million dollars and cost over-runs have been hidden in their books. Diana Fortuna, the assistant house manager for finance is the creative accountant and also the leading union buster on the Metropolitan Opera staff. As I said, it may be time for the New York Attorney General to step in, as so much of their income comes from donations and the financial irregularities are well known in the house.”

    • bluecabochon
    • 98rsd

      A lot of non-proof here…surprised they had room for all the lack of evidence…

    • messa di voce

      “the Metropolitan Opera claimed a profit in 2011. However, that very same year, they “borrowed” money from the pension fund which has yet to be repaid and should be repaid with interest”

      Somebody doesn’t know anything about P&L statements.

  • Cicciabella

    (It’s Onegin in St. Pete, if the Russian’s a problem.)

    He’s on familiar terms with the city of St. Petersburg, and he thinks anyone who can’t read Russian has a problem. What a pillock!

    And while we’re at it, I hate the name of his website. He probably thinks it’s terribly witty, but it just makes me wince, thinking of back pain.

    • MontyNostry

      Sadly, a lot of people read his stuff and think it’s authoritative. Just shows you where some drive, not spending time on getting the details right, and an endless supply of chutzpah can get you.

  • Countervail

    I’m confused. Who is being quoted here?

  • Not really off-topic, but inspired by Dawn Fatale’s series of articles on Met’s current problems, here is an article about how the Bucharest National Opera (Romania) is doing. Sure, Romania is largely unknown to many of you, but this is the country where Virginia Zeani, Ileana Cotruba?, Angela Gheorghiu and Anita Hartig are coming from, just to quote a list of lyrical sopranos :)

    • semira mide

      Don’t forget Nelly Miricioiu!

      I’ve been following the struggles of the ballet in Romania. A friend was once a dancer there and I know what a great company it was. The financial situation is tough and artists like Johan Kobborg and Alina Corjocaro are lending artistic and financial (collecting once-used ballet slippers to bring to the dancers) assistance. I wonder if singers are doing the same sort of thing?

    • FWIW, I was in Bucharest on business in January 1997 and had the good fortune to attend the Bucharest National Opera two nights in a row. One evening was “Aida” sung in Italian, while the other was Mozart’s “Seraglio” sung in Romanian. Both productions were well done, with decent regional singers and a pretty good orchestra. Box seat tickets worked out to US$2.00 each (yes — two dollars). There was also a very cool opera museum upstairs behind the balcony that showed pictures of historical productions and some of the famous singers who’d performed there. All in all, a beautiful house with more-than-adequate acoustics.

      • My impression is that the situation now has improved since 1997. At least there are more money now, that 20 years ago.
        A ticket now costs around 24$

    • oedipe

      Vittelio Scarpia,

      The excellent (and very extensive) Enescu Festival has a large government subsidy, thanks to the influence of its Director, Ioan Holender. I don’t know the exact amount of the subsidy, but I know (from an insider) that foreign orchestras and soloists who participate are paid extremely well.

      Maybe what the Bucharest Opera needs is a famous Director, with the prestige of Ioan Holender, who could obtain larger subsidies from government and more contributions from private sources, and who could improve the image of the Opera house?

      Incidentally, I have been told that the quality of the Cluj Opera has improved substantially under a new management.

  • operaassport

    Norman Lebrecht and Alan Gordon: separated at birth.

  • CwbyLA

    Off topic but any word on Angela Meade’s Lucrezia from last week? Maybe a recording will emerge…

    • steveac10

      The NYT review was extremely positive for both Angela and Tamara Mumford (who the Met wastes in featured bits -- the woman is fabulous)

      • Hippolyte

        I thought Meade was marvelous but I was less enamored of Mumford: her singing was uneven, occasionally hollow and downright iffy at the top. I don’t think bel canto (despite her pleasing Smeaton a few years ago) is her rep; her technique was very challenged by Orsini, particularly the Brindisi which was pretty rocky.

      • la vociaccia

        She’s a wonderful talent, but I don’t know how compatible she is with the Met’s programming. Most of what she’s been doing is concert work. (saw her in Das Lied and Gerontius; she has both on her schedule in the future, I believe). Her voice isn’t really easy to categorize. It’s not very big, but it doesn’t sit high enough to do Composer or Octavian (or for that matter, Cenerentola or Rosina). The Met currently favors big rich voices like Anita R (and previously Borodina) for Carmen. It, sadly, doesn’t leave her open to many options apart from those off the beaten track such as Lucretia (which she has done), and roles in new operas (which is a huge possibility given the effort Gelb is making to feature more new work). If they bring Borgia to the Met I could see them using her as Orsini, but she’d probably be in competition with Elizabeth Deshong (not to mention whether or not the Met decides to keep Barcellona around after La Donna Del Lago, or even bring in Pizzolato).

      • operaassport

        Callas was fabulous. Caballe was fabulous. Mumford? Don’t make me laugh out loud.

        • CwbyLA

          Please feel free to laugh out loud

  • olliedawg

    Lebrecht’s “article” is incoherent, based on gossip, earsay, and speculation. But, he sure takes excellent dictation!

    Just a quick comment per Lebrecht’s astonishment ( he’s SHOCKED, I tell you, SHOCKED) as to why the opera-loving public isn’t jumping to the unions’ defense: most folks I know work hard and dont make $100k+, certainly NOT with the promise of a defined pension plan, let alone great bennies. I’m not sure why so many of the union members find the lack of common cause from employees like me disappointing or amazing. Maybe they’re (sorry for the pun) tone-deaf to the realities of working wages circa-2014.

    • most folks I know work hard and dont make $100k+, certainly NOT with the promise of a defined pension plan, let alone great bennies.

      Maybe you need a union, or a better union…

      I don’t know too many people who work harder than farm laborers, and they of course don’t make terrific salaries, nor do they get benefits. The lesson I draw from this is not that the Met unions don’t have a case, but that the wages and working conditions for farm laborers ought to be improved.

      • operaassport

        Answer this question: who do you think pays for everyone in the world to have a $200k salary plus pensions and benefits? Do you know anything at all about economics? Do you think the money grows on trees? Why do you think that all the states facing the worst economic crises are the ones that gave their public sector unions blank checks for the past 30 years? Paging Joe Volpe.

        What you armchair socialists don’t get is that the well is dry. There is no more money.

    • blansac

      Did you ever think that most of the folks you know probably aren’t the best -- or close to the best -- in the world at what they do? Do the folks you know spend 10-15+ years becoming masters in their fields? To get their jobs, did the folks you know have to compete against the many other hopefuls who are also insanely talented and also spent 10+ years working to get one of those positions?

      Musicians in the Met Orchestra aren’t like all the folks you know. They are the most talented, hardest-working, exceptional people you may know. Lump them in with the doctors, the lawyers, the CEOs, the execs -- the top 1% of your acquaintances. Chances are, the top 1% of the people you know make way, way more than 100k. That amount in NYC not even close to an elite salary. The average Wall Street salary was $360k in 2012. You can imagine what the elites on Wall Street make.

      It’s absurd to say they should be paid average wages like the folks you know. They’re at the top of an intensely competitive and difficult profession. I doubt you can make that claim about the people to which you’re comparing them.

      • steveac10

        But they are not the “elites” of the music world. The elites are the star singers, and big name violinists, pianists, cellists, etc who have to pay people a significant percentage of their fees to secure and promote their gigs, frequently pay for their lodging and living expenses while working, and rarely get paid for rehearsals. The chorus and orchestra of the Met make more than 3 times the income of the average American, are among the last non-governmental employees in this country with a defined benefit pension, and currently pay far less for their healthcare than 99% of the American public. Let’s pick a name just for illustration. Diva Johnson is is an extremely talented soprano who books starring roles in the top tier of regional opera houses in the US, plus the odd international gig. Based on estimates of what the AAA list international stars get per performance, she’s likely lucky if she tops $5-7k a night. If she’s prudent (and lucky) she’ll do 5 or 6 runs of 3-5 performances over the year and might be able to sandwich in a few concert gigs as well. If we go with the high end of all of these estimates she might gross $250,000 a year. Pay the agent 10% off the top, the employers share of FICA and Medicare she would be liable for, and she’s already well below what a Met chorister would gross. Factor in that if she’s lucky, about half of her gigs will pay her lodging and we’re lower still. Then: no pension, no healthcare benefits, no vacation/sick time/ paid leave (get a cold at the wrong time and lose 15 or 20 thousand bucks), and zero job security (whereas a Met chorister likely stays until the wobble starts to stick out). If Diva is lucky, she’ll be able to keep this level of bookings up for 10 or 15 years. Then… if she’s lucky she’ll get a teaching Gig at a small college and maybe a lucrative church job.

        I would argue Diva is the elite one, because the opera world flagged her as a talent and started hiring her to headline performances. And anyone who want’s to tell me she’s not working her talented ass off to keep her position in the opera world, they’re nuts. The orchestra and chorus at the Met are the talented middle managers at a successful company. There’s not too many places they’re likely to pull down $300k plus that elusive defined benefit pension. They certainly don’t in London, Vienna, Munich or Milan -- all of which are also obscenely expensive cities to live in. I truly don’t want them to get screwed in this whole process, but it has to be put in perspective.

        • The orchestra and chorus at the Met are the talented middle managers at a successful company.

          This condescending comment is one reason why a small, tiny, ungenerous part of me won’t be too sad if a lock-out or labor action does occur. Steveac can listen to Diva Johnson sing atop a park bench.

          But of course, my better nature devoutly wishes that the unions and the MET speedily reach an accord that all interested parties can live with.

          • operaassport

            I hope for an agreement that is good for the MET as an institution because that’s all that matters. Making union members happy is what got us to this point. The MET exists to further an art form not to provide full employment for some privileged few.

        • Cicciabella

          One could argue that it was Diva Johnson’s choice not to audition for an opera chorus, but to try to make the big time as a soloist, a highly risky endeavor. Chorus members, for whatever reason, forego the chance at the glory/money/celebrity as soloists. They will never get the chance to give a solo recital and earn tens of thousands of dollars in one evening. Job security and benefits are the positive side of the trade-off.

        • oedipe

          There’s not too many places they’re likely to pull down $300k plus that elusive defined benefit pension. They certainly don’t in London, Vienna, Munich or Milan — all of which are also obscenely expensive cities to live in.

          That’s because these orchestra/chorus musicians out there are less talented and less hard working, obviously. And stupider too.

      • 98rsd

        I don’t know ANY “folks”. Further, I do know a lot of very well-educated and talented people, many of whom make considerably less than the orchestra, let alone the stagehands.

        I would prefer to see the young artists singing roles get paid enough to live in NYC rather than continue the tremendously generous contracts of the chorus.

        Or are the singers not up to your standards?

      • Cicciabella

        Most folks aren’t the best in their fields, but some are, and I’m sure many of us have met some of them. I sincerely hope that this dispute is resolved ASAP and with the least damage possible to Met employees and the company itself, but Met orchestra and chorus members are not the only elite practitioners of their profession. It’s an unfair fact of life that different professions yield disparare earnings and some are more sensitive to economic crises than others. That’s why a pop songwriter who churns out a banal summer hit in two hours makes much more money in one year than a highly trained second violinist in a top orchestra.

  • Angela Meade sang “Era desso” as a bis after Lucrezia Borgia at Caramoor tonight.

    • javier

      so it was that good, huh?

    • operaassport

      Brava for her!

    • davidhenry

      I was also there. My first time at Caramoor, and my first staged opera performance, and it was phenomenal. Angela Meade brought the goods as Lucretia. The Act 1 cabaletta that was appended to “Come bello” blew me away, and she rocked it utterly. I had earlier hoped that she might sing “Era Desso” after the conclusion of the performance, but by the end it was far from my mind. I thought the Act 1 cabaletta more than made up for its removal… And then she went and sang it anyway, with incredible precision and fire. She omitted the E, but with the amount of vocal riches she provided, I was already thrilled.

      To me, Tamara Mumford was the other shining light here. She absolutely stole the show whenever she was onstage, which was not enough. She duetted beautifully in Act 3 (now that was a love duet!), and sang both arias with rich tone and style. Her low notes in the Brindisi made me gasp, and the conductor slowed things way down for those moments. After her lowest note, there was a half second pause of perfect silence, before the aria continued- the audience was enraptured. Even the birds were frozen silent.

      To my ears, Michele Angelini started off with a few unexpected slip-ups in Act 1 which drew attention from “Di Pescatore”. Did anyone else perceive this? He seemed to have regained his confidence by the end of the act, and carried this through the rest of the opera, though I can’t help but feel he was singing tentatively. His Act 3 duet with Mumford was lovely.

      The bass, Stamboglis, was quite fine, as were the supporting singers. The male chorus was exceptionally cute and I enjoyed the view. The orchestra and conducting seemed to be sensitive and response to the singers. Caramoor was lovely and I recommend visiting. Staff were very helpful and responded to a customer service mishap with attention and an invitation to the members tent. Free wine, but seemingly very few members. The audience was even more homogenous and aged than that of the Met. As a young man I felt particularly conspicuous, but I’d be lying to say that’s not part of the fun.

      • operaassport

        I’m willing to bet you’re “conspicuous” in the best possible way :)

        • la vociaccia

          David, I cannot imagine any more perfect way to spend one’s first love opera performance. Caramoor is always a treasurable experience, and I cannot imagine how lovely it must have been on a cool, mild night like yesterday’s. Please continue to stick around and share your exciting new experiences with us.

  • olliedawg

    I used the word “folks” in a generic sense. You can substitute “human being” or “person” if you like. To me, it all boils down to the same thing: It is patently elitist to assert that someone’s gifts are better and more deserving than anyone else’s. Met orchestra and chorus members, not to mention stagehands, wig and costume designers, et. al. still put their pants on one leg at a time. Just because they learned a craft and competed to get their current gig doesn’t make each and every one of them a Master of the Universe. They are not, as one of my fellow Parterrians characterized them, middle management. They are on staff. They prefer to take little, if any, risk, and want to be paid as if they do.

    Amen to prayers for reconciliation. Peter Gelb refuses to own his mistakes. Ditto union members. They are all in the same boat. It’s time to row, or drown, together.

  • InsideOut

    “row, or drown, together”

    As an industry and as a society, we must demand this from both sides.

    The labor/management divide makes no sense in the 21st-century non-profit performing arts field. It does not serve the art, the audience, or the business.

    Sooner than any of us think, new models will be necessary if the art form we love is to survive.

    • Do you have any new models in mind?

      • InsideOut

        Indeed, it’s a pickle.

        Smaller performing arts organizations have the nimbleness to experiment and forge new relationships between art and business. They will certainly offer possible paths forward.

        In the end, we all need to recognize that the most fragile relationship is with the audience. Without them, they’ll be nothing over which to squabble. In the end, the audience is often the forgotten stakeholder and the most sensitive to quality. Of all the lessons we can learn from for-profits, foremost must be to never assume the audience is a given; an unwavering counterbalance to the Grove Dictionary of Music.

        Public displays of polemics serve neither art nor audience and sink the business. Our next models must include open acceptance of the mutual shared interests among all stakeholders.

        Mutual assured destruction is no future and the success of our cultural organizations disenfranchises no one.

        • steveac10

          You’re on to something Insideout. The Met debacle was cast as us vs. them from the get go to the detriment of all. Both sides are to blame. You have to look to a company like the Minnesota Opera to see one that works. Good productions, varied repertoire (including, for now, a new work every season), and pretty good casting. Interestingly, it appears they operate with a side agreement with AGMA to this day (I know that was the case when I sang there in the 80’s). In other words, pay the nationally negotiated minimum, but don’t actually make the singers join the union. They seem to be thriving, and have more performances now than they did a few decades ago when the Met was regularly selling out. It can work when the pieces all fall together. The unions have their place in this world, but they have to understand the world has changed.

  • Cardillac

    Given all of this bickering, can we just get our money back for this upcoming season. I’m not interested in patronizing all of this non-sense. Let it die!

  • jrance

    O.A.P: There’s plenty of money and Gelb knows where to go for it. Study the relationship between Gelb and His Board. Have a nice cup of Tea and maybe you’ll be able to figure things out.