Cher Public

Back from the dead?

BREAKING: The Met has extended its “lockout” deadline for an additional 72 hours at the request of the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service, who is leading talks between the company and two of its largest unions, AGMA and Local 802.  The Met has already reached contract agreements with Local 32BJ, which represents ushers, ticket takers, cleaning staff, porters, security guards, and office service workers; Local 210, which represents the call center; and Local 30, which represents building engineers.

EARLIER: AGMA and Local 802 have agreed to the Met’s proposal that Allison Beck, a representative of the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service, be appointed immediately to mediate negotiations, working with both sides to find a compromise agreement. More details at New York Times.

  • DeepSouthSenior

    After weeks of huffing, puffing, bloviating, and hyperventilating, reality always has a way of catching up with you, doesn’t it?

    I’m taking no sides here, but self-preservation usually trumps all other concerns. We attach the label “pathological” to any person for whom it does not.

    • Jacopo Peri Housekeeper

      Something to consider amid the Met’s troubles:

      Classical music is one of the glories of our civilisation, but it is not exempt from the fundamental law of economics which states that when supply of a commodity outstrips demand the value -- both real and perceived -- falls. Forget the conspiracy theories, and forget the canard that growth is always good. Indisputable data shows that audiences for classical music are shrinking, yet, equally indisputably, the supply of music is increasing exponentially. You do not have to be a so-called industry expert to see that this is a disaster waiting to happen.

  • reedroom


  • tannengrin

    • DeepSouthSenior

      I thought scabs were not an option for the Met.

      • Grane

        LOL, DSS!

        • Donna Anna

          Great idea for a box office spike.

  • Quanto Painy Fakor

    • warmke

      Posting a video of a man who did in fact destroy an opera company, and came close to another was the point of your jest, I assume?

  • Krunoslav

    “How many times I’ve told you not to touch my things…”

  • CwbyLA

    Off topic but hopefully fun topic: Why can’t we understand sopranos when they sing high notes?

    • DeepSouthSenior

      Oh, my goodness, there are so many great jokes out there on this “fun topic” just screaming to get out! If my brain weren’t fried from consulting work today, I might have a couple myself.

  • Donna Anna

    DSS, did you ever hear Peter Schickele tell the joke about the guy who goes in for a brain transplant?

    • DeepSouthSenior

      Ha! I had completely forgotten that one. Had to look it up.

      Copied and pasted from another website:

      “This comes courtesy of Prof. Peter Schickele.

      A man considering a brain transplant visited a neurosurgeon, who showed him three brains for his consideration. The first brain was that of a nuclear physicist; asking price, $10,000. The second, an architectural restorer; asking price, $15,000. The third belonged to a tenor and the asking price was $50,000. The astonished prospective patient asked why the tenor’s brain commanded such a high price. “It’s hardly been used,” replied the surgeon.

      You can supply the donor’s name on your own.”

      • armerjacquino

        That reminds me of the mathematician, the architect, the actor and their dogs. A scientist is doing an experiment to find out if pets are like their owners. He gets three dogs and one by one puts them into a room full of bones.

        The mathematician’s dog arranges the bones into sets and subsets. The architect’s dog builds rudimentary structures out of the bones.

        The actor’s dog eats the bones, fucks the other two dogs and asks for the afternoon off.

    • DeepSouthSenior

      In the same vein, so as not to appear sexist:

      Q. When a soprano steps off the stage, what’s worse than not understanding what she says?

      A. When you do understand what she says.

      • DellaCasaFan


        BUT, there is a counter-sexist joke:

        Q. Why are soprano jokes all one-liners?

        A. So tenors can understand them. ;-)

  • thirdlady

    i have to say that i have found the recent discussion of the met’s labour negotiations on parterre beyond frustrating. i love the assumption, for example, that members of the met orchestra really don’t deserve to be compensated more than, say, someone who works in an office, and that local 802’s inability to create a compelling power-point presentation somehow invalidates their existence.

    does anyone here really have any idea of the time and resources required to attain the level of skill requisite to filling positions in the met orchestra? or the met chorus? or how lucky we, in new york, are to have an opera orchestra, and chorus, that exist at their level?

    in general, the gelb-apologism and the union-bashing that has run rampant here on parterre in the discussion of the met’s labour negotiations has really highlighted the moribundity of the met under gelb’s tenure and its utter irrelevance to the cultural life of new york city. it’s especially a shame that parterre, in this situation, seems to have become something of a house organ for the met, rather than the gadfly it could be. i hope that there is a future for opera in new york, but the discussion here doesn’t seem to be contributing to it in any way.

    • rofrano

      You. can’t. actually. be. serious. ?

    • operaobserver

      Your free to find a more generous employer. The audience is free to walk away from the price of a ticket. Keep pushing and this will happen. In fact I think it has.

      • operaobserver

        I am curious in that the only red meat has been Gelb’s proposed cuts, and the Unions response to claw back savings. What exactly is the Union asking for? Have they every proposed what kind of contract they would like with cost of living increases and any proposed work changes? It all seems one sided somehow. I would assume a mediator would need both positions to cut a deal.

    • Don_Dano

      I think it is more complicated than that.

      I think my paycheck is in the same zip code as the MET Orchestra and Chorus, (my benefits a bit less generous). I admit they probably work harder than I do, and are more “deserving” of the high paycheck.

      But paychecks also depend on the employers ability to keep the paychecks from bouncing. At my previous job, about 15% of my paycheck was paid out ONLY if the company was profitable on a quarterly basis. So for the 2Q 2008 and 1Q 2009, I had roughly a 15% pay cut and the company 401K match was reduced by 80% for ALL of 2008 (we received most of the 401K match in a lump sum in the following year). Considering my employer did not have layoffs or go bankrupt during 2008/2009, (like some of our competitors), I think I got an OK deal.

      I know my situation is not the same thing as a long term union contract, but unless those one percenters are willing to keeping subsidizing the MET to the level they have for the past few years, something about the finances will have to change.

      “And another thing”, I hope it all get resolved soon. I thought this MET season was more interesting that the past few years and I was hoping to get to NYC a couple of times this season.

      • rofrano

        I see where you’re going with this, and I think you have many reasonable “common sense” points, but the very reason for a contract for a highly skilled orchestra like the met (not to exclude the other unions, but just for example) is the idea that they should be insured against those regular fluctuations which are more par-for-the-course in a for-profit situation. Because a non-profit like the met spends money to LOSE money (for the sake of art) rather than to make money, it isn’t reasonable that the talent should get up every day thinking about the box office stubs, or what audition they are going to line up next.. that is, therefore they should have some longer-term fiscal certainties, in order to retain and recruit an ensemble that can be above the level of a pick-up or per-service orchestra.

        If you want a pick up orchestra, that’s a different story. But the Met budget grew a long time ago, and the renown of the institution in general, beyond the threshold of becoming a world-class ensemble, and that’s what this pay scale model tries to ensure.

        • rofrano

          “and another thing”…

          Those one per centers DO subsidize the Met! And are continuing to. To what degree, and how long, that’s a very good question. But I don’t think it’s right for Gelb to wake up one day, see his books are out of whack, and call the unions and say “We gotta makes some real tough changes around here!”

          • Does anyone actually believe that Gelb just woke up one day and decided that he needs to reduce labour costs on a whim?

            To anyone who has been involved with the Met’s finances, this has no doubt been coming for a long time.

            Putting aside the silly suggestion that Gelb just came up with this idea out of nowhere, what about it doesn’t make sense? The books are out of whack, as you say, and the Met’s very well-compensated unionised employees make up 2/3 of the Met’s expenses. So, he decides that he needs to cut back the cost of labour and agrees to cut his own wage and the Met’s administrative costs by the same rate.

            What’s so bizarre about this?

            • Jamie01

              So management succeeds in putting the screws to labor (given the glut of singers and instrumentalists hungry for work, I suspect they will succeed).

              Then what? When Mr. Gelb came in he had all these ideas about marketing, and innovative productions, and HD, etc. He did this, but box office didn’t move in the right direction. So he started blaming us fans for being old. What is management’s game plan for after the labor battle is won?

            • I don’t have the finances in front of me, but what I understand, Gelb’s initiatives did increase box office in the first few seasons. And when box office has slumped, he has been able to make up much of the shortfall through fundraising (no performing arts organisation that I know of raises more money than the Met has under Gelb, something for which he gets zero credit around here).

              The way I see it, Gelb has been doing his job well. Now, he’s run into disappointing box office, despite the fact that the 13-14 season was one of the most interesting the Met has had in years. There are no easy answers or solutions. But Gelb’s strategy --focusing on new productions, expanding the repertoire, relying on big stars, and investing in marketing and PR — strikes me as the right one.

              And considering how well the Met’s unionised employees are compensated, and the fact that their overall compensation has gone up well beyond the rate of inflation during Gelb’s tenure, I don’t think that “putting the screws” accurately describes what he’s proposing.

    • ianw2

      inability to create a compelling power-point presentation somehow invalidates their existence

      Ah yes, being able to clearly and accurately present the data to support a negotiation is clearly beyond the remit of a union. My bad!

      utter irrelevance to the cultural life of new york city

      Cultural relevancy of classical music organisations is a pet interest of mine, so I’d be really interested to know during which epoch you found the Met to be particularly culturally relevant to New York. Or is this one of those ‘reanimate the corpse of Bubbles and see if Carson is available!’ things?

    • operaassport

      I’m willing to bet that the MET Orch members don’t have the skills to work in a coal mine. So what? None of this is relevant to anything currently going on.

    • maddalenadicoigny

      Nicely put and you are not the only reader who has gotten really bored with how one sided this forum has become. It is a shame as there are really good comments and suggestions that have nothing to do with the Met. I would not have appreciated the wonderful Orfeo from Brussels, if not for a suggestion. However, one has to swipe over so many tired rants…

    • Daniel

      Thank you, thirdlady. I wholeheartedly agree. The vitriolic anti-union and, by extension, anti-people-who-actually-work-at-the-MET-and-make-the-opera-we-love-possible tone here is shocking. Peter Gelb has made a series of misjudgments and has spent enormous sums of money on things that haven’t panned out. Why is the consensus here that the musicians are overpaid yet Gelb deserves his 7 figures? Really dismaying.

    • i love the assumption, for example, that members of the met orchestra really don’t deserve to be compensated more than, say, someone who works in an office

      I love your assumption, for example, that nobody is going to challenge you on so obvious a straw man argument.

    • 98rsd

      Am I missing some key fact? Is there a reason an orchestra member SHOULD be paid more “than, say, someone who works in an office?”

      God, the contempt for the ticket buyers is jaw dropping.

  • johns33

    Yes many things which have been posted here are a shame. The moribundity of some comments especially. I wonder if when these musicians retire if we will ever find any of equal accomplishment to replace them.

    • operaobserver

      I understand the argument that the excelence of the orchestra has increased in proportion to the rising pay over the last decades. So is money the only motivating factor for the muscian? I would accept the quality of the 40’s & 50’s if it would salvage Opera. I hear it wasn’t too bad back then. 85% of what you want sounds better than nothing.

  • steveac10

    The cold hard truth, particularly for the chorus, is that there is a massive oversupply of singers qualified for the job they have and there are extremely limited opportunities for them to pursue their craft full time. The leap I’ve seen made here from the current chorus to “church choir” is laughable. If there were an open call to repopulate the chorus there would likely be thousands of highly qualified applicants, with the voice, musical and theatrical skills to more than fulfill their duties. If anything what the musical training system has become in this country it churns out hundreds of viable candidates a year: attractive, stageworthy, musically and technically secure. Bottom line: supply massively outstrips demand.

    Obviously, the situation for the orchestra is different as nearly every major American city has a full time ensemble competing for the best musicians, and unlike singers there are loads of pickup opportunities for them (a situation vocalists have envied for decades). Losing these musicians would be a long term blow for the company.

    • NoelAnn

      very true. unfortunately. but that won’t happen as long as it’s a union house. Which is why there are unions. As long as all three stick together the choristers are safe.

    • warmke

      Have to disagree with you about that cold hard truth. Having trained 10-11 people in that chorus, there will always be a preference towards a strong musician with a powerful voice, endurance and a fair amount of opera chorus rep over young artists who may have superb instruments but not the physical capacity or mental ability to juggle all of that memorized choral cues with little rehearsal under pressure. Glamour of instrument isn’t always the first criterion, although it helps. Psychological stability is also critical, it’s a damned up glamorous job for wannabe stars, despite the incredible pay. The pool of people really qualified is not as large as you think, mostly coming from the theaters just below with experience in the rep and onstage and in ensemble. Most soloists will say they’d love the money, but go the route of college teaching instead, because operatic chorus work is damned grueling work, and they lack the options of using subs that the orchestra system allows. I think AGMa has a more genuine gripe about overwork, but they put a horses ass as their spokesman, which totally undermines their work, which has been very high quality since the arrival of Mo. palumbo.

      • warmke

        Unglamorous. Damned autocorrect.

        • steveac10

          I said nothing about glamour. I also think you are underestimating the pool of talent that would do anything short of kill to have a full time job with platinum benefits, however “grueling” it might be, doing the thing they love most to do in the world. I’m not talking “wannabe stars”. The cold, hard truth is that a truly violinist, flautist or harpist that can’t make a career as a soloist has an infinitely better chance at making performance as a career than a similarly talented singer. Conservatories churn out thousands of very talented singers every year who ultimately end up in careers outside music because high level “ensemble” quality singers in this country are expected to work for free (or if thy’re lucky pull down 50-75 bucks a week as a church soloist and a c-note for the occasional wedding or funeral). Instrumentalists of equal quality get to join a union and actually earn a living doing what they love to do without a day job. I could name at least two to three hundred people I have worked with over the years who would be more than happy to give up those day jobs for a career as a chorister. And they have, to a one, the talent and drive to handle the grueling schedule of a Met chorister -- the ONLY full time job for a vocalist in this country who wants any sort of security. Don’t try to tell me there are only a couple of hundred qualified singers for the position.

    • Daniel

      Gee, steveac10, why don’t we just outsource the chorus to Bangalore why we’re at it?

      • figaroindy

        We all seem to miss the bottom line -- currently, the value placed upon opera, as a whole, by those consumers intested in it (both as donors and subscribers or even single ticket buyers, be they live or HD) is not enough to fund the cost of the product. When that happens, in ANY business (artistic or for-profit), one of two things has to happen, or both….increase the interest of consumers so they raise their value or cut costs of production. A smart manager does both. Unless the unions see their way clear to a cut in their costs, why should all cuts come from the other areas of production? SOME of the customers may well be attending, not because of the caliber of the orchestra and chorus, but because of the visual production and the soloists….cutting costs in those areas, but not in orchestra/chorus salaries isn’t going to increase customers’ perceived value…sorry, it just isn’t. No one is saying these aren’t valuable, talented artists, just that the productions as a whole are not bringing in the necessary funding to pay what they’re asking. I may WANT a Maserati, but if I can’t afford it…I can’t afford it….As someone else posted earlier, if the union succeeds and then later the Met goes bankrupt…these people will take major pay cuts then, anyway, because the salaries/benefits are not comparable anywhere else. It’s time for everyone to tighten their belts…and as it’s been said before…Gelb is taking a pay cut, too….he’s tightening his belt….but it’s still not enough, no matter how much his salary is, because it’s ONE salary….where are the majority of the salaries at the Met….oh wait, we’ve been here before….never mind…don’t have the strength to wade through this again…..

        • Figaro: You make the mistake of actually focussing on the bottom line. If anything has become clear around here is that the Met, by virtue of being a producer of *art*, need not worry about such trivial things like consumer interest or controlling costs. The Met produces *art* and so it should pay its labour force what they are worth, not what it can actually afford. Because focusing on what it can actually afford would be, well, not very arty and entire too business-like. You’d be advised to keep your head in the clouds; the air is much fresher up there.

          • messa di voce

            ‘The Met produces *art*’

            As long as we understand that by “art” what is meant is seasons consisting of nothing but alternating performances of Boheme and Turandot: short operas in old productions that tourists want to see.

      • steveac10

        Who said anything about outsourcing? I said there are innumerable qualified applicants for that job in this country, probably just in New York alone. You completely missed my point. For less that superstar singers, supply outstrips demand by massive amounts in this country. How many singers have you read a glowing review of at some point who are now working as an admin at Chase or Wells Fargo. If it would not embarrass them, I could give you a list (including a more than a few IU, Julliard and Eastman grads).

  • operaghost7

    No lockout for now. Talks continue tomorrow.

  • NoelAnn

    A little progress! Lockout averted for 72 hours, and my friends are going to work tomorrow! Huzzah! Keep at it, negotiators!! ?#?weareopera?

    • NoelAnn

      i was still getting the hang of things when this was posted it was posted without edit i meant to say just lockout averted for 72 hrs. the rest was someone else’s. Just want to be honest if i make an error. apologies i will be more careful

  • Yay! No lockout! Negotiations to continue. That, at least is good news

  • NoelAnn

    This is good for the big 3 unions, but apparently Local 1 (security guards et al) have walked out already & Met has hired a new security co.

  • Satisfied

    I know the major names in mediation on both the State(s) and Federal level, but I’ve never heard of a “federal mediator” (a strange term as the outfit also mediates State court disputes…) nor FMCS. That said, I looked up Allison Beck and her background is very (pro-) labor oriented

    My hypothesis: she will propose a settlement that would require a strong compromise from the unions (but not to degree Gelb is seeking), and should they reject the offer, the unions who do not accept will look incredibly greedy and lose any support they may have.

    …smart strategy.

  • redbear

    This is not about Gelb although he is part of the puzzle. I first heard Gelb speak at a Opera Europa meeting in Paris. This was while he was only the “designated” director. In sharp contrast to the other intendants, who spoke about the art of opera, he noted first the increasing age of his audience and the need to change that. For him it was a marketing problem and, since then, he has given not the slightest hint of an artistic concept.
    He was right about aging audiences. The Met had a long history of finding the easy way to keep conservative audiences happy. When opera does not evolve or challenge, it just becomes part of the wallpaper. Gelb was smart enough to see that, for the last several decades, European opera had given new emphasis to innovative staging and expanded rep and that this had worked. Rather that ask American artists to help him, he simply began importing the more “standard” innovative productions from across the pond.
    His problem was that, by the time he arrived, European audiences were far ahead of New York audiences in experiencing, and adjusting to, this change. A rather standard European rethinking of Tosca, for example, caused a collective heart attack. A Faust, by a director who had a long history of innovative theater in the US, caused similar palputations (American theater and ballet audiences, for instance, were far more used to new ideas that the Met’s regulars.)
    Now add to this mix a decline in interest in the arts in America and particularly in opera. (In the 09/10 season, the US was 32nd in the world in per capita opera with 6.1 performances per million. By 12/13 it was 39th with 5.6.)
    Add in too the economic contraction of the US economy and the shrinking of the middle class. While the top .1 percent has grown dramatically, their donations to opera have nowhere kept pace with giving in other philanthropic areas.
    Another factor was the habit, during the growth of arts in the 1960s and 70s, to say yes to wage demands. Major US orchestras have salaries that are often double what the same musician might make in Europe and yet this trend continued while the curve of support for the arts took a dip starting with the 1980s. The Minnesota Orchestra was only the most visible of the efforts to adjust performing arts costs to the current environment.
    Every performing arts group in America well knows the pain of adjusting to the new reality. Opera America and the League of America Orchestras have endless forums on how to meet these challenges. Yet the Met seemed to click along as if in another world but all the time whittling down their endowment to balance the budget. But the model is not working and, even if they win the concessions they want, they will just put off for another few years the final accounting. Stuck with their aging, conservative audience and a seriously outsized house, it is hard to see a bright future.

    • turings

      Interesting on Gelb and the Met’s audience, redbear.

      Reading these contentious Met threads, there may be another problem as well. I think olliedawg was on to something important when he called himself an ‘opera consumer’ a few days back. A lot of people here seem to see themselves as consumers of a finished product, who are concerned with getting the sort they want for the least cost to them.

      If you’re thinking in those terms, then it’s not surprising that you’d have much the same level of interest in the people who make your opera as the people who make your smartphone. And passive consumerism isn’t a good model for the sort of effort involved in taking artistic chances as an audience member along with a company you follow and trust.

      • armerjacquino


      • Chanterelle

        “passive consumerism isn’t a good model for the sort of effort involved in taking artistic chances as an audience member along with a company you follow and trust.”

        This. European opera companies benefit from engaged audiences who are curious to see what the artistic staff comes up with. With an audience involved in the house’s artistic mission, if one or two productions are less than successful, it’s not the end of the world.

        BUT an engaged audience doesn’t spring up without guidance and development. The house already offers an overpriced scholarly lecture series marketed to guild members, but that assumes a fairly sophisticated and exclusive audience. Many houses have free 20-minute introductions to each show, enough to orient the newcomer plus some factoids for the initiate. List Hall would be ideal for this.

        There’s certainly a cost involved, but without investment in the audience there’s no future.

      • What I’m reading is that just because the Met’s product is art, then somehow its finances should also be viewed in a more fanciful light?

        Gelb’s artistic leadership has been a big improvement over his predecessor’s. Gelb has taken “artistic chances” and many union employees taking part in this discussion are lambasting Gelb precisely for taking those artistic chances, suggesting that if Gelb had only relied on a guaranteed box office formula (as if such a thing exists), no one would be in this mess.

        Volpe did not go after the unions’ wages. In fact, during the last round of negotiations, which he led on behalf of Gelb, he gave the unions pretty much everything they wanted. His artistic vision was seriously lacking but that did not matter because he gave the unions what they wanted. That, apparently, is the recipe for success in running America’s largest performing arts organisations.

        Gelb may not talk a good game when it comes to opera, and I’m sure he’s far less knowledgeable on the subject than many European general directors (never mind, the average parterrian). But the proof is in the pudding and Gelb’s programming has been a vast improvement over Volpe.

        After days and days of this discussion, it has become apparent to me that people hate Gelb because he’s not a nice guy. I don’t work for him, so I don’t know. But yes, I’m quite willing to believe that he’s not a likeable boss, and that he rubs many people the wrong way. Aside from the proposed cuts, his personality and managerial style seems to be the prime motivator for much of the anti-Gelb rhetoric.

        • messa di voce

          Thank you.

        • olliedawg

          Kashania, I agree about the artistic quality of Gelb vs. Volpe. I suspect, too, you’re right about Gelb’s personality/style, and the simmering resentment of it. In addition, there might an extra dollop of anger b/c Gelb removed Volpe from the conversation, a guy who was union-legacy, so to speak.

      • olliedawg

        Actually, turings,that statement was in reaction to one poster’s “diss” of parterrians who’ve written here about exploring changes the Met’s short-and long-term cost structure. IIRC, I think that person characterized us as “fools”. Further, my comment was about treating your customer, of whom there are many (and passionate ones) up here on Parterre, with respect.

        In addition, you are speculating (wrongly) about my personal motivations and methods when it comes to how I “consume” art(s), and passing generalizations about other parterrians’ participation in the arts. I would have to think there are people who don’t give a shit about where their art comes from, who creates it, how much it costs, and worry more about how they can cheat the system and the artists. But, I’ll bet there are many of us up here on Parterre and elsewhere who participate as donors, board members, even as members of amateur opera/theatrical companies, who pay up and show up.

        • turings

          Hi ollie, I thought it was a striking phrase that made sense of a particular way of talking about opera here. Obviously I don’t know your personal motivations, and didn’t intend to imply that I did.

    • Howling in Tune

      People didn’t complain about the new Tosca or Faust because they was particularly Regie-ish. We complained because they were bad.

      As soon as they revived Tosca with a more suitable cast (and cut the most egregious little bits of stage business), people were basically fine with it.

      (The ugly Faust and misguided Sonnambula are less easily redeemable.)

      Nobody complained about the stagings of From the House of the Dead or Satyagraha or The Nose (one of the great opera productions of my experience) or Two Boys. People who didn’t like those works complained about the decision to present them at the Met in the first place, but nobody said the productions were bad -- because they weren’t.

      It took some of the Met’s audience a while to get used to the current Lohengrin, but now it seems very much admired by many people.

      Just because the New York audience doesn’t like the sort of Regie that we make fun of here in the Regie Quizzez doesn’t mean we hate all innovative stagings and expect every production to be like Schenk of Zeffirelli.

      • Howling in Tune

        We just want it to be good.

        Reasonably compelling storytelling and some level of internal coherence and logic in the staging aren’t -- or shouldn’t be -- too much to ask.

      • redbear

        Careful, Howling, because you are giving an example of a typical American audience member. What was bad? The same Tosca appeared in Europe without the same reaction and was a clear example of how wide the gulf was between US and continential audiences. One example: European audiences would understand Scarpia getting head because he was someone in everyone’s news, the Italian prime minister Silvo Berlusconi. Audiences in Europe would not be surprised by references to current news and his scandalous lifestyle was common knowledge. The map above his head of “Italy” -- a country which, at the time the opera was set, did not exist -- would have been a clear reference. In New York, of course, neither the audiences or critics got the reference. Scarpia kissing the virgin Mary? Most Europeans know enough history to appreciate the dismal, cosy history of the church and the conservative monarchy. And I bet you didn’t know that the Tosca set design was done by the same guy, with exactly the same aesthetic, for The House of the Dead. If you can’t be more specific about your problems with Tosca, I am assuming you just missed the tired, cliche-filled old one.
        Also, I was at the ENO first night of Faust, two rows up from Gelb. It was well received in London.

        • Cicciabella
        • Krunoslav

          “The same Tosca appeared in Europe without the same reaction”

          Bullshit. Changes had been made.

          And it’s also bullshit that we New Yorkers are too stupid to know about Berlusconi

          • redbear

            While your eloquence and many examples of what you are talking about was persuasive could you please help me out with details. Can you cite some changes that were seen the first night but not seen at the HD broadcast which I saw a few days later? The Le Monde critic Renaud Machart was at the first night and was astonished at the number of excited comments on the Met web which were by people who could not have been there and were blasting a non-tradiitonal production sight unseen. Our leader here, in a different discussion, could not also identify the specific changes. With you as a witness to both the first night and the Munich and La Scala performances, I would appreciate your help in identifying the specific changes that were made to make this Tosca more “acceptable” after the first night and also the changes made for those European cities.
            As for the “Faust” I thought the production was not among the director’s best work. Des McAnuff was director of the major theater in my hometown for a couple of decades and had made San Diego one of the nations top theater towns. I was totally dumbfounded at the reaction of the critics and audience. Why was there such a hysterical reaction to what would be a “normal” progressive theater production in America when seen at the opera? While the critics were not enthusiastic in the UK, they were far more objective than the audience at the Met or Krunoslav.

            • Krunoslav

              I was speaking of TOSCA not FAUST. I never said I was at Muncih or Milan but it was evident from the reviews I read that it was not what I had seen opening night. in NYC. Sone would be obsessive enough t spend hours chasing down these reviews but I am sorry not me.
              As for the HD-- one example is how Scarpia embraced the Madonna statue-- far, far less of frontal mount and rape than on opening night. Tosca’s attack on the portrait was also different- as I recall, she had mounted the stairs and slashed it rather than hurling the knife through it- maybe it was the other way around, I just don’t care at this juncture, but it was very different. The three ho’s servicing Scarpia were toned down *considerably*. Tosca’s affect at the post-murder sink into the couch was less exaggerated. Theanti-musical army maneuvers at the start of Act Three were curtailed somewhat and made less loud. The dummy at the end failed less visibly. Anyone else recall specifics?

              As to my eloquence, to a claim that Americans attending an opera prima at the Met knew nothing about Berlusconi, again I say: that is absolute bullshit, Put down the Baudrillard.

            • Having seen the Tosca both on opening night and then later that year, I can say that there were some minor touch-ups here and there. Each baritone playing Scarpia seemed to approach the “embrace” of the statue a little differently, and I can’t think of anyone I’ve seen in this production who really committed to it.

              The whores at the beginning of the second act have turned a bit less aggressive, though it’s hard to say how much of that change is sparing the audience’s delicate sensibilities and how much is Bryn Terfel saying, “They’re not going to be doing that during my aria, are they?” Terfel I though made this bit work really brilliantly; he took the idea and made it his own.

              By the time the production returned in the spring, the lighting levels in the first act were raised somewhat, which I thought was all to the good: originally it was not easy to tell what was going on with all these people in black clothes against a dark grey wall. By the second season, the rubble on the floor of the chapel had mostly been swept up.

              The opening of the third act changed some too, though it seems to me that was more likely because tenors don’t like to lie under a dropcloth for ten minutes before their big aria.

              But the changes were very minor, particularly compared to the wholesale restaging that regularly used to go on in Volpe’s productions. (And when you think of how In Pavarotti performances Cavaradossi spent most of the first act seated on a stool downstage center, with a goblet of water in easy reach…)

              The Munich iteration of the show is on YouTube and it’s in almost every detail the same staging that was played a the Met on opening night, with only slight variations I think allowing for the very different physicalities of Marcelo Alvarez and Jonas Kaufmann. There are no major changes.

            • Thank, Cieca. I’ve seen the Met telecast and Munich performance which you’ve posted and I wondered how much had changed. I don’t know if it was my memory or my lowered expectations, but I found Matilla better the second time around with Kaufmann, if still out of her comfort zone.

            • Krunoslav

              Thanks, Cieca-- the Act One lighting ( and use of follow spots) was indeed considerably changed.and to the better.

              But to me all those ‘minor’ changes added up to a majorly different feel, *especially* as filtered through the HD filming. on which so many European critics based their “Dumb American”-bashing indignation. The same filter and deletion of nonsense happened with Sher’s ridiculous CONTES, when a lot of the “Kafka” and “Offenbach as Self Hating Jew” stuff Sher had retailed to the NY TIMES vanished right away, and the HD viewers simply did not see a lot of the crap onstage. And they didn’t in TOSCA either.

              An astute poster above stated in re the TOSCA: “As soon as they revived Tosca with a more suitable cast (and cut the most egregious little bits of stage business), people were basically fine with it.” I don’t agree that they were all ‘little”bits by any means, but in essence that is what happened by the time of the excellent Racette (sorry, Feldie)/Jonas/Terfel performances.

            • That’s the thing about the telecasts (both the Met and BSO). The camera picks and chooses what we see. IIRC, the business with the prostitutes at top of the second act happened mostly off camera in both versions.

            • armerjacquino

              Kruno- couldn’t agree more about the Racette/Kaufmann/Terfel TOSCAs. Even only experienced as audio they were tremendously exciting- nearly melted my radio.

              It’s certainly true that a lot of detail is missed in HD transmissions, but I don’t think it’s done to ‘improve’ or ‘correct’ productions. Some people here said that BALLO was filmed in such a way as to minimise the excesses of the production, but sometimes a cigar is just a cigar- what I saw in the BALLO HD was that the cameras focused on, y’know, whoever was singing.

              Having appeared in (and subsequently seen) 2 NT Lives now, what I would class as the one drawback of the Live in HD thing is the way that little production details, moments and choices get missed all over the place. It’s unfortunate and inevitable but not, I think, deliberate.

            • I will say that the followspot business is something that seems to happen across most productions at the Met: it seems that Peter Gelb really wants to see faces. So revivals of even those stygian Gil Wechsler shows from the 1990s now have the followspots much cranked up.

              As for the motivation for the changes in the Tosca staging, it’s hard to say. I tend to lean toward “this didn’t work” rather than “this was too shocking.” I didn’t think Bondy’s production was particularly wrong-headed: there is a lot to be said for a seamy, unglamorous Tosca especially in reaction to the previous Zeffirelli uncritical splendor. The problem rather was that the direction seemed inept and, if I can be permitted to attempt to read M. Bondy’s mind for a moment, untrusting of the basic theatricality of the piece. It’s a very nicely crafted melodrama, and that is I think the secret of its lasting appeal, i.e., as a thrill ride. I don’t think the piece lends itself to being taken serious as drama or deconstruction either: the material just doesn’t have enough depth to survive close examination.

            • Krunoslav

              Ben detto, Cieca!

            • ML

              Changes (simplifications) were made to Act III last month, vs. other runs from Dec. 2010. Didn’t see the NY or Munich filmed performances (2009 and 2010), so can’t comment.

  • redbear

    This has nothing to do with nothing but when I Googled “Stagehand Salary” these two things came up:
    From the website:
    “Full-time stagehands could earn between £12,000 and £15,000 a year.
    However, many stagehands work on a freelance or casual basis. Pay rates can vary widely. You could negotiate your rate based on the type of production and your own experience and skills.
    Figures are intended as a guideline only.”
    From the Independent in 2012.
    “The most prestigious theatre company in France, the Comédie Française, has been thrown into confusion over a 332-year-old pay agreement…..A junior stage hand earns only €20,000 (£16,500) a year.”

    • armerjacquino

      ‘Stagehand’ means something different in the UK to the US. In the US it’s more of an umbrella term for various skilled and unskilled jobs. Over here it’s used (when it’s used- it’s quite an archaic term and has been largely replaced by ‘show crew’) purely to mean someone employed on a show by show basis to rig, derig and do the odd scene change.

    • Howling in Tune

      Aren’t salary figures in France, as they’re usually quoted, after taxes?

      To Americans, used to quoting salary figures before taxes, €20,000 annually sounds like barely above subsistence level, at least in a big city.

      €20,000 in take-home pay, though modest, doesn’t seem entirely impossible to live on.

      • oedipe

        Aren’t salary figures in France, as they’re usually quoted, after taxes?

        Well, not really. But some confusion may arise from the fact that there are two main types of taxes: “charges sociales”, which are withholding taxes of about 20% of a person’s salary, and “impôt sur le revenu”, which are steeply progressive taxes that are computed and payed at the end of the salary period. In general, low salaries pay almost no “impôt sur le revenu”, so if the quoted salary is understood AFTER “charges sociales”, then it is pretty much equal to the take-home pay.

        • redbear

          And, of course, health-care costs are not an issue in France. There is also a general understanding that a career in the arts is not one to make you wealthy. Members of major orchestras in Europe are agog at the salaries of their friends in America. Government financing of the arts also likely kept a lid on salaries. While the backstage forces at the Paris Opera are unionized and active, none of them are making six figures.

  • Will

    Another difference between American and European audiences and opera companies is that in Europe there is a more flexible attitude toward productions — concepts are routinely tried out and then replaced with a recognition that there is no single, fixed meaning or interpretation of the material; debate over art is a given and controversy is an accepted part of the relationship between the seats and the stage. This approach was very much at the heart of the way Wieland and Wolfgang Wagner set up the post-war Bayreuth Festival. Each opera gets its prescribed run, with some revisions each year, and is then ditched, soon to be brought back completely rethought by somebody else.

    Americans to a great degree still want to see what they’ve always seen, like a child who wants the same bedtime story night after night, or several times in the same night. If a production fails then the general director has failed and (s)he’s condemned as not knowing how to run the company, for hating opera, etc., etc.

    But one major and very difficult problem remains--that “popular culture” does not value the arts, looks on opera and classical music — indeed, sophistication of any kind — as as elitist and, that most damning of put-downs, uncool. And nobody wants to be uncool.

    • Cicciabella

      Undoubtedly, American opera audiences tend to be more conservative. Maybe conservative is what they’ve mostly been offered up to now? But there are many European opera goers who also favour traditional productions. You notice this when they see the rare traditional production: sighs of relief, nods of approval and Cheshire cat grins abound during intermission. Many Europeans hate extreme Regie productions, and are not shy about saying so and blogging about it. Witness the outrage this week in Bayreuth at Castorf’s Ring, frightening poor Lance Ryan out of his wits ( However, what is pelted with tomatoes today can become run-of-the-mill tomorrow. Opera must reinvent itself for every generation, like all the other performing arts.

      A big difference between Europe and America is that European houses, many of which are heavily subsidised by tax money, continue to offer non-traditional productions, booing and protests be damned, whereas the Met and other American houses are more hesitant to do so. In Europe there are also traditional alternatives for people who can’t abide modern productions. Regional theatres often host visiting opera companies from Eastern Europe who put on frills-and-brocade shows. These companies keep returning every year, so the performances must sell. Moreover, the huge distances between big American cities probably mean that audiences have fewer alternatives to the major opera houses. Therefore, the Met has to be all operatic things to all kinds of people: connoisseurs, newbies, occasional visitors, tourists, culture vultures, sophisticates and Bocelli fans. On top of this they must please their donors and keep wining and dining them for renewed support. A very tough mandate.

      I’m afraid classical music, and especially opera, is as uncool in Europe as it is in North America. Its appearance on mainstream media has been reduced to vacuous talent shows, as a musical cue in thrillers ushering in the grisly villain and to underscore news items about tragedies and funerals. Here in Holland, ballet audiences are significantly younger than opera audiences, probably thanks tonthat self-perpetuating phenomenon: the ballet mum. Chamber music audiences are aging and dwindling. Lovers of the lied are passionate but definitely in a minority: even A “name” such as Garanca couldn’t fill the Concertgebouw with a lieder programme. The Dutch National Opera has recently introduced a new pricing scale: subscriptions prices are fixed, but single ticket prices rise if a production proves popular. This means that subscription holders could get a discount for popular productions. I don’t exactly know how this works, or if it’s working: the recent performances I’ve been to, although very well attended, were not completely sold out. This is just one example of a European house trying to stimulate subscription sales. Creative and varied season programming is not enough to fill the house.

      I wish the Met management and employees the best in resolving their dispute and finding ways to increase, renew and rejuvenate their audience.

      • oedipe


        Not so sure about Lance Ryan’s motives. Having just listened to the broadcast, and having read some blogger unflattering opinions about him, it may well be that the audience was angrier at his wobbly, legato-less singing and interruptus high notes than at the production…

        • Cicciabella

          Whatever the reason, Ryan was quaking in his heldenboots. The critics are already milder about Castorf than they were last year. His Ring could become a Regie classic in time. Not having seen it, I can’t comment on its merits.

        • phoenix

          The flat top Lance Ryan & the missing mid-range Catherine Foster. Bad Ring broadcasts this season. In spite of Edith Haller’s Elsa repeatedly searching for the true identity of the pitch at hand, she still has more basic tone left in her voice than the tired-out Foster, who is approaching Susan Bullock territory at the moment.

      • I watched a TV broadcast of Tcherniakov’s highly conceptual Trovatore. I am fan of his work and found the production interesting and well acted, but it was ultimately a very frustrating experience and it just didn’t work. But what really struck me is that when Tcherniakov came out for his solo bow, he was greeted by bravos, not a single boo!

        The performance was from La Monnaie in Brussels. Those Belgians are clearly very sophisticated. :)

        This is not to suggest that some European audiences don’t want traditional productions. And goodness knows, vociferous booing is a regular part of any Bayreuth Festival (just as an example). But I know that, in Toronto, the director of such a heavily conceptual production would not be cheered during curtain calls.

  • BelCantoDiva

    I don’t hear the word “binding” arbitration, so this. Could go off the skids at any point. Unless it IS binding and I somehow missed it.

  • Jamie01

    Has the labor dispute claimed its first victim? The Met’s link to the Summer HD Festival is dead, and the dates don’t show up on its calendar for August.