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Blood and Sandow

Friend and friend-in-law of parterre box Greg Sandow pours the oil of calm and rational analysis upon the troubled waters of the Met’s current labor negotiations (Oh heav’ns, can I make it out of this metaphor alive?) in the most recent installment of his always excellent (not to mention eponymous) blog.

243 comments

  • 1
    m. croche says:

    Sandow’s description of “cost disease” with regard to the universities strikes me as a combination of incomplete, misleading, and just plain wrong. The metastasizing growth of administrative costs goes unremarked, the increasing use of low-paid, non-tenure track, adjunct faculty to do the bulk of the instruction, the growth of MOOCs, the financial effects of student loan programs. The introduction of MBAs into the university environment looking for “productivity gains” has, by most accounts, led to a degradation of American universities. This gives me little confidence in the rest of his financial analysis.

    This is an issue that often comes up with Sandow: a self-proclaimed “thought-leader”, he’s an easy mark for the ideas of other “thought leaders” -- see, for example, this cringe-inducing essay on race and audiences.

    I wonder, though, whether he might be able to identify a UFO angle on the subject, though.

    • 1.1
      operaassport says:

      As a tenured professor at a major American university, Sandow is spot on and you’re dead wrong. He correctly identifies all the problems I encounter on a daily basis.

      It’s the most brilliant blog post on the subject I’ve ever read.

      • 1.1.1
        armerjacquino says:

        Manou, over here! Some grammar for you.

      • 1.1.2
        m. croche says:

        Yeah, I have to say that I’ve never been impressed with your opinions on economics either. I pointed out fairly obvious lacunae in Sandow-cum-Flanagan’s treatment of academic finances, ones that have been well-discussed in the literature for the past few years. Sandow’s blog post may the most brilliant thing you’ve ever read about the subject, but that may not say all that much about the quality of his post.

      • 1.1.3
        warmke says:

        Ooh. He’s a tenured professor at a major American University. So am I. Big deal. I think his analysis misses the point, as there is a hierarchical, elitist system that shields the chosen few from academic realities, and he seems to fall into that blissfully unaware category (or perhaps too politic to say it openly). Large universities are simply Byzantine in their structure and funding in comparison with major arts institutions, and have virtually no commonalities. I’ve worked in upper level administration in both. Stop writing like a fanboy. M.croche at least gives a reasoned dissent, which I agree with.

        • 1.1.3.1
          warmke says:

          Damn you are good at getting people off he point. If only there were a block function.

        • 1.1.3.2
          armerjacquino says:

          I think- and I apologise if I’m wrong- that it’s operassport who’s the professor, not Sandow. If that’s the case, he needs to undangle his modifiers.

          • operaassport says:

            Patriotism, grammar, hobgoblins, little minds. Yeah, we get it.

            • armerjacquino says:

              I just think it’s funny to boast about tenure and make such a howler in the same sentence.

              Don’t know what your random list of nouns means but I’m sure it’s very scathing and clever and professorial.

          • oedipe says:

            “The chickens are ready to eat.”

            • armerjacquino says:

              Heh! ‘Travelling at hundreds of miles per hour, I had no chance of catching the train.’

            • Batty Masetto says:

              “Being full of curves, she found it difficult to stay on the road.”

      • 1.1.4
        whatever says:

        WAIT!!!

        You’ve spent weeks on this site bashing unions with the verbal equivalent of a blunt instrument, and now we come to learn that you are a scholar, and privileged with tenure???

        • 1.1.4.1
          philomel says:

          Oh ‘whatever’, you dreamer, they aren’t the same at all! I should know, as after 9 years as adjunct faculty (as were all my colleagues-it’s how drama schools work) at a really, really(!) major American University, I am pleased to be a blood-sucking, knuckle-dragging union goon at the Met. “Debout les damnés de la terre…debout les forçats de la faim…

          • Dabrowski says:

            philomel: This is one of those times when I wish I could “like” posts here.

          • Dabrowski says:

            Fun fact, philomel: There is some contention about whether the music to the International is still protected by copyright in Europe.

            • philomel says:

              That’s a hoot Dabrowski! Good thing I’m not humming it live over the intertubes. Irony, not just the opposite of wrinkly.

        • 1.1.4.2
          ML says:

          The subject, after the “as a tenured professor” clause, is SANDOW, not m. croche or operaassport.

          Separately, I think Sandow is all over the map and doesn’t make any case at all.

          Cost disease is a buzz phrase that has nothing to do with classical music.

          • armerjacquino says:

            The subject, after the “as a tenured professor” clause, is SANDOW, not m. croche or operaassport.

            Yes, but it wasn’t intended to be, is the point.

      • 1.1.5
        Dabrowski says:

        operaassport writes: “As a tenured professor at a major American university…”

        This little revelation explains a lot for for me about operaassport‘s interventions here, because tenured professors are actually the last people I’d expect to understand the economics of the contemporary university, since they are the last holdouts of a system that has been systematically dismantled by administrations enamored of the corporate way of doing things. Tenured professors by and large do not understand the plight of their younger colleagues, who are stuck with contingent and adjunct faculty work, etc. — exactly the trends m. croche describes. Even the supposedly left-leaning ones do not fully understand this fact, and do not grasp just how desperate the academic job market actually is. I write all this as someone who’s in favor of restoring the old system of tenure so that we have universities staffed by full professors who actually teach and do research, instead of the bloated administrative staffs that m. croche also talks about.

        The linked blog post is also off about the “cost disease” in health care. Understaffing at hospitals is a serious problem, and the likely explanation for the rampant problem of hospital-acquired infections in the USA. Absent countervailing power by UNIONS (those cost-raising bogeymen), hospitals do, in fact, reduce the number of workers at the bedside, including nurses — and often dangerously so.

        I do recognize that health care and education are industries that are difficult to automate, however. Music, done correctly, is impossible to automate. What Marx called the “organic composition of capital” is impossible to increase in music, the way capitalists want to do in other industries. Though you wouldn’t know that from some of the commenters on this blog, who — when they discuss the people actually responsible for making music — have had a recent tendency to sound like a pack of loutish commenters on, say, the website of The Wall Street Journal, snarling about how the people who work for a living think too much of themselves, should be happy with whatever they have, and should accept whatever they’re given and “shut up and sing [or play, or whatever]”… And yet recorded music is not the real thing, and never will be, hence the need for people.

      • 1.1.6
        Stendhal says:

        If that’s the most brilliant blog post you’ve ever read on the subject (sorry but that actually made me chuckle out loud…are you actually serious?), I would make an educated guess that you were hired during the old days (1970s- 85?), when getting tenure was extremely easy, and that you’re now enjoying your guaranteed salary, job security, and benefits, serving on a few committees, not doing any really relevant research, and helping prepare the younger the generation for what will be a violently different future via a light teaching load. Perhaps I’m wrong?

        Greg Sandow seems to be in the Tom Friedman category of trying to explain large scale, highly complex transformations via clumsily simplistic principles, broadly and carelessly applied.

        Do the concepts “cost disease” and “productivity gains” really apply to the work of hospitals and non-profit arts?

        • 1.1.6.1
          ianw2 says:

          To the arts yes, because you have Baumol Effect which Sandow alludes to with the Mahler example. Over the past hundred years, nearly all manufacturing has seen productivity gains in that it takes less people to make a car in 2014 than it did in 1914. A performance of Beethoven 9 takes the same number people (give or take a few choir singers and strings) and the same amount of time permanently- so the cost naturally increases with inflation without any associated gains in productivity.

          Basically Baumol was pointing out that there are whole sectors of the economy- and he focused on performing arts- that don’t follow the expected economic dogma around productivity and labour costs.

          • Stendhal says:

            Thanks -- I’d like to follow your logic through. “the cost naturally increases with inflation” -- of course, this is easily understood, “without any associated gains in productivity” -- what would be an example of a gain in productivity in the performance of Beethoven 9?

            • ianw2 says:

              That’s exactly the point- there isn’t one.

              You could possibly claim a cut in rehearsal time, but that also leads to an inferior result (unlike, say, automation of assembly lines). That Beethoven symphony or string quartet takes just as many hands and just as much time as it did when it was written; but the cost of those hands and time has risen over time without any associated productivity gains that other industries have in parallel with inflation.

              Baumol also explored that in the performing arts, the labour is the product, as opposed to manufacturing, which makes productivity gains even more difficult.

            • DellaCasaFan says:

              ianw2:
              you do not mention that Baumol’s theory is based on the quality-nonadjusted productivity which was criticized and he tried to address it in his 2012 book. I believe this is what Stendhal is puzzled about, that is, not taking into account the quality of a final “product” when discussing the productivity in performing arts. And, contra to the operassport’s comment, one may easily add the university education to it.

            • DellaCasaFan says:

              It sounds from his subsequent response to ianw2 that the quality-adjusted productivity was not what Stendhal was interested in this discussion. Regardless, Baumol himself thought of it as the only criticism worthy of a lengthier discussion in his updated book, while quickly dismissing other criticisms,.

              But this is the opera blog, so just for the record, right or wrong, Baumol used this concept only to explain why there are exponentially increased costs in the areas such as performance arts, education and health care, and NOT to suggest that it in itself contains the solution. I presume ianw2 read his most recent book and probably knows that, in fact, Baumol suggests that there is ultimately no fundamental “cure” to this “cost disease” problem. Rather, as he argues, the productivity in other areas will always offset the increasing costs in the arts, education and health care. In plain English, because of a greater purchasing power, people will always be able to afford to buy concert/opera tickets. And then qualifies it -- UNLESS there is a recession when his “cost disease” theory with all its implications is not applicable.

            • ianw2 says:

              I hadn’t responded as I haven’t read the 2012 book- I’m drawing on what I know about Baumol from doing post-grad about a decade ago.

              The concept that the productivity gains in other areas provides the disposable income to spend on the performing arts for consumers is almost certainly accurate in itself; but comes back to the issue that consumers will want to spend that money on classical music (where the stats are pretty universally suggesting this isn’t the case).

          • Stendhal says:

            “That’s exactly the point- there isn’t one.”

            Which is what I was hinting at. The language and logic of corporate economics hits a wall when it comes to certain sectors -- such as hospitals and non-profit arts -- in their idealized form. It is pure ideology to think that the imperatives of the free market apply to every human activity.

            You cannot attempt to quantify the impact of a single rich person, a major donor, such as Paul Sacher, upon an art form, using the logic of free market economics.

            If the point of this kind of thinking is to demonstrate cost of performing Beethoven 9 will naturally increase over time, this must be combined with ample evidence that clearly shows an increased concentration of wealth -- both in terms of labor and capital income -- in the top deciles of our society, allowing for much more effective (theoretically) fundraising to allow non-profits to deal with higher costs.

            • ianw2 says:

              But isn’t that the whole point of the Baumol Effect- that standard market economics don’t apply to certain sectors (although the original study was on performing arts, I think he then followed it up on hospitals)? Baumol was proposing exactly what you’ve said.

              Baumol wasn’t studying fundraising (or any solutions really for the problem he had identified), and if he was his results would likely have not been super applicable to 2014 as he was working in the 1960s, when classical music had a much different status in fundraising than it does now.

              There’s a certain amount of magical thinking around the arts that they’re somehow immune to broader economics (a certain amount of which has been lurking through recent Parterre threads) but the root is that costs have continued, and will continue, to rise with inflation for a product that is largely unchanged in labour since it was first created (unlike widgets).

              The pickle many, particularly American without the government subsidy safety net, companies are now facing is that fundraising is increasingly struggling to keep pace with this continual rise in cost.

            • Stendhal says:

              Sorry Ian -- wish I could reply directly to you. Thanks for your response.

              So if we keep following the argument -- costs will inevitably rise, and productivity gains are an irrelevant concept for the performing arts, placing a great (perhaps impossible?) onus on fundraising in the future to cover this gap.

              In this kind of performing arts future, what qualities are most important in the leader of an arts organization? I ask this because it seems to me that, in an world in which Bill Gates criticizes arts philanthropy as a decadent, immoral luxury when there are so many basic health challenges to be addressed in the world, an arts leader must have tremendous vision and fanatical conviction. And that the quality of the leadership has perhaps never mattered more. There is more fund raising capital out there -- of that there is no question, but there is much more competition for it. This “irrational element” now exists even in health sciences, as the NIH’s grants get cut and more and more private philanthropy determines which diseases get research priority. It’s ironic in a way -- in the age of data mining, cost benefit analyses, and management speak, personal preferences of a small group of people seem to have more and more sway on outcomes.

              To some extent, this is nothing really new. The history of classical music in particular is filled with charismatic lunatics who convinced people to part with immense chunks of cash, or who themselves parted with immense chunks of cash.

              You’re right that it’s very dangerous to believe in a kind of arts economic magic (“somehow immune to broader economics”). Increased costs related to greater technological requirements (e.g., HD broadcasts and turning the Met into a motion picture studio) must be incurred and the numbers have to balance out.

              If we acknowledge the critical importance of visionary leadership and fundraising acumen, can we agree -- you should never denigrate your art form, or predict its demise, its downfall, its decline, irrelevance, and the death of your audience.

            • ianw2 says:

              Since you brought it up, the HDs could be argued as a way of increasing productivity with a fixed product since you can sell far more tickets than the 3800 in the house. This is also why so many orchestras now also have a recording label (and somehow escape the backhanded digs at turning into EMI).

              Your last paragraph however is skating dangerously close to the return of the old ‘Gelb secretly hates opera’ meme. It’s true he’s perhaps not the most effective cheerleader for the Met (witness how Philly- an orchestra with no shortage of recent financial and labour troubles- has so successfully deployed YNS), and what a pity they don’t have a music director who could fill this role.

            • ianw2 says:

              I should’ve added ‘public’ to the description of ‘cheerleader’. He’s obviously a superb cheerleader in private fundraising.

      • 1.1.7
        CwbyLA says:

        I thought you didn’t care much about the tenure system in universities.

  • 2
    kashania says:

    This article is dead-on about the unsustainable financial state of most N. American orchestras and opera companies. I don’t agree with him that Gelb’s new productions have been a failure on the whole. Gelb definitely had more than his share of disappointments after his first season, but things have turned around in the last couple of seasons and the Met seems to have found its stride. Still, Sandow is correct in suggesting that, had Gelb’s new productions been more successful on the whole, he would have a stronger hand in the negotiations.

    • 2.1
      Uncle Kvetch says:

      I don’t agree with him that Gelb’s new productions have been a failure on the whole.

      I didn’t think La Cieca did either, so I’m rather surprised to see her advocating Sandow’s take on the situation.

      • 2.1.1
        La Cieca says:

        I don’t necessarily agree with everything Greg writes, but I appreciate that he is, you know, using evidence and logic and stuff. Honestly, at this point, I’m happy to read anything that isn’t IN ALL CAPS!

        • 2.1.1.1
          redbear says:

          “Like button”

        • 2.1.1.2
          operaassport says:

          Lol. La Cieca, you are an unbelievable treasure!

          I also don’t agree with all he said but it was a brilliant analysis. And unlike most of colleagues in academia I can appreciate something well done that I don’t completely agree with.

      • 2.1.2
        Jamie01 says:

        There’s a lot of middle ground between a failure and a triumph. Unfortunately for the Met, consistently hitting this middle ground isn’t enough to get people into the house.

        I think management needs to say to the unions ‘we need cost control now to enable us to do A, B, and C. If A, B, and C are both compelling and plausible, I would hope the unions would be willing to buy in. Credible leaders with a vision of where they’re going usually have a better chance of being followed.

        • 2.1.2.1
          kashania says:

          I agree that the Met’s productions have occupied that middle ground more than either extreme. But I still think that they’ve been moving more towards the positive end of the scale in the last couple of seasons. Parsifal, Prince Igor, Falstaff and Maria Stuarda were all successes, with a couple of those even qualifying as triumphs.

          Full disclosure. I haven’t seen Prince Igor or Falstaff myself and am basing my comments on a number of reviews and comments by people here and elsewhere, including some people whose opinion I trust greatly.

        • 2.1.2.2
          liza says:

          I admire your concluding sentence. I’ve begun wondering if Mr. Gelb is trying to save face with his board or if they are giving him the opp to commit Hari Kari in public. I thought his Zahn interview was a disaster. I was sympathetic to him and disliked her ruthless style until he uttered that fatuous “quid pro quo” labor concessions for a promise to double the endowment. That’s not even quid pro nada. It’s quid pro some hyperbolic, hypothetical value in an unspecified future, and presuming it is in the realm of possibility, something a GM should have focused on some years ago instead of spending down the endowment. Then there was his ‘the lockout is so I have clout’. You don’t public statements like that in bargaining because you’re revealing some point of vulnerability. Like, ‘as the public face of the Met I can’t afford to be seen as mean’. So Mr. Union man says ‘oh really?’, rubs his hands with glee and issues a diatribe, to wit, Mr. Gelb is not a mean man he is evil! Hope the board sidelines him for the rest of negotiations. Oh for the days of Beverly ‘of the Muppets and chairing for Johnny’ Sills. Was opera more mainstream or did she (and others) make it mainstream? As a pragmatic
          manager she had that Peoples Princess thing, able to communicate vision with a wave of her magic wand.

          • liza says:

            PS I was referring to Jamie’s conclusion.

          • armerjacquino says:

            Opera certainly was more mainstream in Sills’ time, but you still get the odd personality slipping through. Villazon has done primetime TV over here, and Lesley Garrett- who although she may not be the greatest singer of all time was at least a real opera singer, not a crossover type- is a regular panellist on the UK equivalent of The View and was a competitor on our precursor to Dancing With The Stars.

          • La Cieca says:

            I don’t know if you were around during the “Sills Era,” but that was some mighty mediocre opera going on night after night at the State Theater. She talked an amazingly good game and had the world’s richest Rolodex, but when it came to actually, you know, putting on opera, she was basically an intelligent, well-meaning amateur.

            • liza says:

              But one who inspired interest in opera and made her bottom line?

            • messa di voce says:

              “some mighty mediocre opera going on night after night”

              “Song of Norway” and “Student Prince” excepted, of course.

            • operaassport says:

              I remember those days well. I’m not sure there’s ever been more mediocre dreck put on than during the Bubbles years.

            • liza says:

              Well, no, I wasn’t around. But I have a question and one that is not meant to be rhetorical. Didn’t Sills pretty much manage a farm team? In other words, don’t you think it might be the case that we need lots more mediocrity to develop the artists and the audiences to support the top tier of artistic performance? Just a thought.

            • No Expert says:

              Well at least it was going on, as opposed to now.

            • kashania says:

              From what I understand, part of the NYCO’s success was securing major talents before they had their big breakthroughs. So, it was about young, undiscovered talent rather than “mediocrity”.

        • 2.1.2.3
          oedipe says:

          When it comes to opera productions, I would be curious to see some definitions of what constitutes a failure and what constitutes a triumph that are slightly more objective than “I liked/hated it”, or “critics generally liked/hated it”.

          Is a triumph defined by its box office success? If so, the triumphs are what someone referred to (on another thread) as “seasons consisting of nothing but alternating performances of Boheme and Turandot: short operas in old productions that tourists want to see”.

          More generally, are there differentiated audiences for opera, with different expectations and different definitions of triumphs and failures? If so, shouldn’t an opera house take their respective audiences into account when making decisions about programming and production styles?

          The thread about repertory Options A and Options B was lots of fun, but not very relevant to an actual opera house. If you have to fill a 4000 seat house, in financial trouble, whose audience may flee at the mere mention of some of those Option B titles/composers, you wouldn’t take the risk of programming those Options B, no?

          • liza says:

            Well it seems at this point the Met is defining success as keeping the doors open. So to borrow from others’ vulgate, if you know you can sell out x number of houses with dreck for tourists, then you could estimate the windfall that would allow for….what? The danger is presuming a critical success will not be popular. Over time, all critical success is popular success. (Yes, some never live to see their work succeed). Opera was never written for the expert
            nor did Shakespeare write for literature majors. Both were written for the ‘masses’. If I can compare the history of the string quartet to opera: the string quartet was conceived as an esoteric discussion among instruments while opera was designed as an entertaining social event..and not just for the 1%. (I was introduced to live opera in Italy as a great public festival and it was wonderful). The human voice and storytelling, what is unique about it and why do we need it? At the last string quartet I attended the audience looked like the local chapter of Mensa who had all biked over from their physics labs. The guy next to me read a book the whole time. String quartets have their audience. But what is it in opera, and the way it employs the human voice, that makes it indispensable to culture? Or is it?

          • olliedawg says:

            Oedipe, I, too, wonder what constitutes failure vs success. What made Enchanted a Island a big winner in 2012 & a loser in 2014? Was it hot because it was a novelty then? It’s the same script and just about the same music as it was in the original production. The only cast change was Didonato vs Graham, at least in the leads. I know you and others here can think of dozens of ” meh” then/fabulous now & vice versa productions since 2006-7. Is it star power! Great conducting? Planetary alignment?

            Sad to say, but box office is usually the yardstick, but are there other ways/means of measuring a new production’s worth in the ” marketplace”?

          • Cicciabella says:

            A triumph is a sell-out production. If the critics hate it, it doesn’t really matter, although the singers/conductor/director/designer who bears the brunt of the criticism might not be invited back. A failure is a production which does not sell. It could be a huge critical success, but it’s still a failure because very few people want to see it.

            Re audience: the composition, tastes and motivation of its audience is probably one of of the most difficult things for an opera house to pinpoint. The audience is hybrid and very difficult to map. I’d be very interested to read a study called: “Who goes to the opera these days?”, with graphs, pie charts and case studies. Is there such a thing?

          • kashania says:

            Oedipe: I don’t think there’s a formula but I do think it’s a combination of factors. I would say there are two types of a triumphs — a production can be one or both (or neither). It can a box office triumph or a critical triumph, or both.

            But if a production doesn’t quite get to that extreme of a triumph (i.e. it doesn’t sell out or it gets mostly good buzz and reviews but isn’t universally praised) which I think is the case with most productions, then one is looking a combination of factors.

            Did it get mostly good reviews? What about word of mouth? What about the blogosphere? Are people are websites such as this raving or dissing the production? Did it sell well, even if it didn’t sell out?

            It also depends on perspective and context. If one is judging a GM based on his/her artistic decisions alone, then I think the success of the productions are seen through the prism of critical acclaim and online buzz.

            If one is judging a GM from a box office perspective (like the overall capacity for the season), then ticket receipts are what would determine whether the production is a success — even if the critics hate it.

            • liza says:

              A question I hope some one can answer. I think someone alluded to this earlier. Why, with an org the size of the MET, would you not have the GM position divided into two jobs, CFO and let’s call the other Chief Production Officer (CPO). So when the CPO comes up with some really great idea, like shooting all the Valkyries out of a canon to crash
              through the roof of the Met (at the cost of 3 trillion dollars) the CFO can say “nope”. I don’t really understand how one person can be focused on artistic innovation and cost containment at the same time. It really seems like a GM is doing two, opposing, jobs. Especially given the size of the MET.

            • kashania says:

              Gelb has a number of deputy, or assistant, GMs who oversee various departments. But you still need to have one person making the ultimate decisions.

  • 3
    Quanto Painy Fakor says:

    Respighi used to favor operas performed by large marionettes because at the end of the show you could just pack them in a suitcase. To save money on the orchestra, here’s a special little opera composed for voices and piano by Pauline Viardot

    • 3.1
      NoelAnn says:

      is this a you tube vid? how can i get it on youtube so i can save the link?

      • 3.1.1
        Batty Masetto says:

        NoelAnn, click the YouTube label in the upper right hand corner.

        • 3.1.1.1
          NoelAnn says:

          I don’t see anything in my upper right hand corner of the vid i know usually it’s there but not now.

          • Batty Masetto says:

            What about trying a different browser? It’s right there in both Safari and Firefox for me.

  • 4
    Constantine A. Papas says:

    Sound commentary. His analogy, using “cost disease” in hospitals and healthcare to Met’s problems, is dead on. If you’re interested, go and read my commentary on the article’s blog.

  • 5
    grimoaldo says:

    “failure to look at things other than productions to make the Met lively”

    That is an interesting observation.What “things other than productions” might he have in mind that might make an opera house lively?

    • 5.1
      La Cieca says:

      Well, let’s see. Inviting Riccardo Muti to make his Met debut?

      • 5.1.1
        operaassport says:

        And having Barenboim conduct Tristan and getting Meier for one performance when Voigt canceled.

      • 5.1.2
        ML says:

        … but saddling him with a shit staging built around incompetent big names and convincing him never to return.

        • 5.1.2.1
          ianw2 says:

          but saddling him with a shit staging built around incompetent big names and convincing him never to return.

          Ah yes, the infamously laidback and forgiving Muti had absolutely nothing to say about the production nor the casting.

          As I recall, Muti and the production were entwined and inseparable. No Audi, no Muti.

          • ML says:

            @ LaC and Ian: Audi has done good work. It was a disaster to ask architects to design a theater set and a bag maker to create theater costumes. Prada and half of the architecture team stayed away at the opening to avoid being booed. Gelb has responsibility.

            • oedipe says:

              Audi is not the only opera director who has done good work elsewhere but has failed at the Met. Are there examples of directors who have excelled at the Met but have been generally mediocre elsewhere?

            • ML says:

              Zeffirelli? :-)

            • oedipe says:

              You are probably right.

            • La Cieca says:

              You’re right, of course. If Gelb only had your detailed knowledge of future events, he could have easily averted this debacle.

            • ML says:

              Oh, come on! The Intendant’s job *is* to look ahead to identify problems and weaknesses before he signs off. If the Swiss idiots and Miuccia looked good at first, and then didn’t when their sketches came in, the Intendant has to *do* that job.

            • oedipe says:

              Swiss idiots? Are you serious, ML? Herzog & de Meuron are two of the very greatest architects of the post WW2 period, assured already of a place in posterity, and this has nothing to do with opera! They are just NOT opera set designers, and the Met, Muti, Audi and everybody else should have had the wisdom to foresee it. Just because someone is a genius in one area doesn’t mean (s)he will be a genius in something else, even related. Armani designs beautiful clothes and hotel furniture; I cringe at the idea of him being hired by some opera house to design sets and costumes. On the other hand, Christian Lacroix (unlike Miuccia Prada) does nothing but opera costume design nowadays. Why take the risk of hiring big names for high profile jobs for which their skills are unproven, when there are many talented people out there with the proven competence?

            • ML says:

              No, Oedipe, it is better as you have it. But I find their arrogance annoying (if invited, say no or study and do it properly) and the chickening out for bows doesn’t speak well either.

              We missed France again this summer. It used to ba a firm tradition. Next year definitely! Hollande was wonderful for the Normandy beach event, I thought.

        • 5.1.2.2
          La Cieca says:

          Muti chose the cast and put forward Audi’s name as director.

    • 5.2
      steveac10 says:

      I hate to speak the unspeakable, but the word crossover comes to mind. Part of Pavarotti’s unbelievable success was pairing with pop stars like Sting (to their credit Sills and Domingo did a fair amount of this as well). Does anyone remember the Look-ins or Sills and Burnett at the Met? Sure, the iconoclasts would howl -- but it brought new people in. Why not pair up a media friendly singer with a pop star for an event or two? It just might get some new eyes investigating opera.

      • 5.2.1
        olliedawg says:

        Crossovers generally fail b/c the opera singer just naturally goes into the opera crouch while the pop singer either unconsciously mimics the opera star, or tries to ride over the opera star with histrionics. That’s been my experience. I have, however, heard some successful solo crossovers. One that springs to mind is von Stades fine work with Rodgers & Hart songs. She generally keeps the opera-ness out of her voice, you can hear her smile in several songs, and she comes across as charming and fun. But, those are show tunes. Renee doing indie rock was painful for me, not b/c she doesn’t have a great chest voice, but it felt to me as if she was/is a woman of a certain age wearing her daughters ‘ clothes and trying to be “chill”. Besides the amazing Eileen Farrell, can anyone name a crossover project that really popped for you in the past, say, 5 years?

        • 5.2.1.1
          armerjacquino says:

          Von Otter routinely sings Dylan, Baez, Paul Simon etc in her concerts. I think that’ll happen more and more as prominent singers now were born in the pop era, and significantly *after* the golden age of the Broadway musical.

          And the extraordinary Ernmann, of course, who played Sally Bowles and won Melodifestivalen.

          • armerjacquino says:

            • NoelAnn says:

              I have to figure out how to save these vids on youtube or my computer… how do i find the link… this reminds me of lawrence welk.

          • olliedawg says:

            OK, I forgot Hampson and Upshaw — they can actually “sell” show tunes: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lyvwa67dpKA
            (crappy sound)

            • steveac10 says:

              This is what’s being lost. If this were Renee and Nathan last week, Parterre would be giving birth to a cow! Granted Upshaw has always been one who was supremely able to slip back and forth (like Stratas, von Stade and a few others), but who today besides Racette even tries.

            • armerjacquino says:

              Well, um, Mattei, Von Otter and Ernmann, for starters.

            • Krunoslav says:

              With Upshaw: once she crossed over, I felt her pop approach infected much of her classical singing, although she could still pull off things like AINADAMAR.

              Let’s not forget Stephanie Blythe, very convincing in pop material.

        • 5.2.1.2
          Jamie01 says:

          I’ve spent just enough time in Brighton Beach nightclubs to get a kick out of this

          • armerjacquino says:

            That’s a cover of Ernmann’s Eurovision/Melodifestivalen song, of course (the original is better!)

            • Jamie01 says:

              The original doesn’t have exploding chandeliers.

            • armerjacquino says:

              Hah, true.

              It does have a six foot mezzo doing above the stave staccati while being carried by dancing boys, though, so swings and roundabouts.

            • Chanterelle says:

              Don’t forget that Ernmann sang the whole thing!

        • 5.2.1.3
          ianw2 says:

          I tend to think that crossovers only are successful when both parties approach it from a position of mutual respect.

          It’s critical that classical musician isn’t seen to be ‘slumming it with the kids, yo’; and that the pop (or jazz or country or whatever) musician isn’t over-awed by classical music (a transaction that is often curiously one-way). One upcoming project that may be worth looking out for, because it seems to have adopted the respect position, is the Bennett/Gaga album. I didn’t particularly like the Fleming album, but I do think she approached the music with the same rigour and respect she does opera.

          I also tend not to think crossover as it’s generally marketed (oh hai Gelb at Sony) is a valid audience development tool it’s sometimes mooted as- Il Divo & Andre Rieu have been top o’pops for how long now? So why are audiences still falling?

          • steveac10 says:

            Because Il Divo, Rieu, Bocelli et al are crossover artists, they are “light classical” artists, for lack of a better term. I’m thinking more of the truly successful collaborations where mutual respect was evident and the result was commercially successful. Sills & Burnett, Domingo and Denver etc. It’s a matter of really trying to bring at least a hint of the artform to those who have never been exposed to it or misunderstand it. David Letterman is the only current mass media host who has at least tried to book the occasional classical artist. If the Met’s PR department can’t even get a Media friendly artist like Fleming, Kaufmann or Gunn on The View or other daytime chat fests that have to book 2 or 3 guests 5 days a week, they can’t be trying very hard. Just imagine. Jonas on The Chew with his favorite schnitzel recipe and the fraus go wild. If even a few ultimately buy a ticket, it’s worth it. From what I’ve seen in the last couple of decades, as opera fades from the popular culture, the true believers circle the wagons even tighter. It’s not helping the cause.

          • steveac10 says:

            This is mutually respect (and delightfully camp all at once!

        • 5.2.1.4
          DeepSouthSenior says:

          Stephanie Blythe singing (and channeling) Kate Smith was a winner for me. The irony is that this successful crossover project appeals to the same demographic (aging or aged baby boomers) who are already among the rapidly fading base of opera fans. Singing to the choir pleases the choristers but won’t recruit new members.

      • 5.2.2
        oedipe says:

        Out of curiosity: are there recent examples of crossover opera singers who have done successful crossover concert tours (in large venues of a few thousand seats) and have sold over half a million copies of DVDs/CDs of such concerts?

    • 5.3
      Krunoslav says:

      “What “things other than productions” might he have in mind that might make an opera house lively?”

      http://tinyurl.com/7sd33x4

  • 6
    grimoaldo says:

    So is Sandow wrong when he says there has been a “failure to look at things other than productions to make the Met lively”? If so, what accounts for his mistaken perception?

    • 6.1
      La Cieca says:

      I’m no mindreader (“A lady’s purse! A lady’s purse with the initial G!”) but it’s possible that Gelb just doesn’t blow his horn loudly enough about certain informal innovations, e.g., the “star replacement” for certain high-profile performances, instead of simply sending on the cover.

      • 6.1.1
        olliedawg says:

        I agree. Gelb’s public face can be diffident, even professorial. Every once in a while he exhibits a sense of humor & a genuine enjoyment of the art form and its artists. But, he isn’t the best communicator. He doesn’t exude passion, warmth, or style. Sills was a walking advertisement for herself (& had a reputation for being a right asshole behind closed doors), but she also connected with people in ways Gelb cannot and will not. It’s a shame that a place as visible as The Met Opera has as it’s public face a man who needs a small charisma transplant.

        • 6.1.1.1
          operaassport says:

          I’ve had lunch with Gelb 4 or 5 times in the last few years and one-on-one I found him engaging and very enthusiastic about the art form and what he’s doing. I don’t think that comes across in public.

          He also expressed — early on — a frustration with the “system” of opera in general. He mentioned how he saw things and singers and wanted them immediately but was hamstrung by the “system” on many levels.

          • Cicciabella says:

            If Peter Gelb is frustrated with the slowness of the system, he is in the best position to start changing it, at least regarding singers. If he spots an exciting new singer, he can easily buy them out of their contracts because almost no young singer will say no to the Met. He can get together with the intendants of the other A list houses to sign a covenant not to book opera stars and directors further than two years ahead. If the Met keeps planning five years ahead, everyone else will too. He, Peter Gelb, can stop this. The Met audience and singers will thank him, the intendants of less illustrious and rich houses, who rely on spotting and engaging new talent for the quality of their productions, will not. But that’s life: the fattest cat gets the cream.

            • Jamie01 says:

              Agree it’s a little late in the game to be complaining about the system. He’s been General Manager of the friggin’ Metropolitan Opera for eight years! By now it’s his system as much as anyone’s.

            • operaassport says:

              Late in the game? Read what I write. He expressed this “early on.”

              And if you think he can change the system single handedly you live in a fool’s paradise.

              But outs? Where do you people think all this money is going to come from? Trees?

            • kashania says:

              By now it’s his system as much as anyone’s

              What does this mean, exactly? I assume that a big part of Gelb’s frustration is the five-year-advance-booking system which everyone on this site derides. Guess what? He agrees with everyone!! But are you suggesting that the Met can singlehandedly change this is system? Is he to blame for this practise (which began in the 80s) as well?

            • Jamie01 says:

              The Met is the biggest opera house in the world, with the biggest budget and the biggest audience, especially with HD broadcasts. They’re the most important player in the field. If, despite all that clout, Mr. Gelb is helpless in the face of the ‘system,’ then that doesn’t speak well of his effectiveness.

            • kashania says:

              Aside from the generalised blather, do you anything specific to say?

            • Cicciabella says:

              I’m not blaming Peter Gelb for the damnable five-year planning system introduced by Joan Ingpen. I’m saying that the lesser houses have no chance in hell of changing the system if the major houses do not start the ball rolling, and the Met is as major as you get. Of course Peter Gelb can’t do it alone. He can do it together with London, Berlin, Paris, Vienna, Milan and the other houses who can afford to hire the big stars. If they don’t try to change the system, who will? Re buying out singers: opera houses have to do that anyway, for example, when singers get pregnant, or when they hire singers four years ahead whose voices then prove to be unsuitable for the roles they were hired for. If the planning time is reduced, the latter would happen less frequently. Almost everyone’s unhappy with the five-year planning. Are we now saying that it’s set in stone and can’t be changed?

            • steveac10 says:

              I don’t really think he can change the “system” without 1. completely replacing the artistic administration in the house and getting the board AND Levine to accept those changes (some “friends” have friends in high places) and 2. Getting the vast majority of other A and B level houses in North America and Europe to change as well.

              On the other hand, the opera world still operates as though Deutsche Grammophon, Decca and EMI are the omniscient mussel. Gelb could change that. Much of the opera world sill bows before the old school record labels, when in reality they have no real power today. The Fiends minions should be scouring You Tube and the blogosphere rather than calling Askonas-Holt to see who DG or EMI just signed. I mean who wouldn’t rather hear Oropesa in anything rather than Erdman.

            • Cicciabella says:

              Kashania, you seem to feel very strongly about the five-year plan. Since you work at an opera house, please explain any advantages it may have. From where I’m standing as a simple ticket-buyer I see only one: savvy opera houses with little money can hire excellent singers before they make the big time and become too expensive, provided they are not bought out once they catch the attention of the important houses. The draw backs: young talented singers take too long to achieve the recognition they deserve and established stars keep singing roles that they should abandon for too long;, with the result that casts at major houses are not always optimal. Five years is a long time in a singer’s career and casting so far ahead must involve some guessing about how an artist will develop (or not). What am I missing?

            • kashania says:

              Cicciabella: No, no. I’m not saying a fan of the five-year system. I just don’t see it changing. The way I see it, the current system gives a leg up to the major companies because smaller companies just can’t plan and budget that far in advance.

              But among the top-tier companies, there’s no real advantage because they all have their hands tied by it. The only time an advantage would be created is if some companies made a point of abandoning the system, thereby freeing up the singers for other companies to book.

              The realities of running a company present so many problem and someone in Gelb’s position has to put out so many fires on a weekly basis, that getting together with all the leaders of all the major companies and coming up with a “gentlemen’s agreement” to abandon the five-year casting system would be waaaaaaay down the priority list.

              Besides, I’m a fundraiser and don’t really get to use any of my knowledge about music or singers in my job, other than when speaking to donors/sponsors.

            • Cicciabella says:

              Thank you for giving us your take on the matter, Kashania. I understand why you are pessimistic about things changing, but I keep hoping they can be changed.

          • olliedawg says:

            Someone’s got to balk, and squawk. The system is only a system when everyone plays along. The disruptor might not always win, but the artificial rules and regulations begin to show cracks. Look at T-Mobile — no contracts, bring your own phone, we’ll pay you for your contract cancellation fee, etc. Yes, there are caveats attached to T-Mobie’s offer, and the service area is nowhere near as extensive as Verizon. But, notice how one carrier, and one of the smallest at that, shook Verizon’s complacency. Gelb has the power to wake ’em and shake ’em. He needs to use his power for good ;-)

            • kashania says:

              I think the equivalent of the T-mobile example would be how a company sells its tickets (subscription, single, or rush), or how easy it makes ticket exchanges for its patrons, transactional things like that. From what I’ve read here about New Yorkers’ frustrations with ticket at the Met, it sounds like there could be much done on that front.

              But when we are talking about something like the five-year casting system, it becomes far more tricky.

              The Met could stop booking singers five years in advance. First, no one but the most knowledgeable fan (like parterrians) and business insiders would notice. Second, all that would happen is that other companies would just take advantage of the singers’ availability and the Met would be left with no stars on its roster except singers who would make a conscious choice to leave large chunks of their calendar open in the hopes that their availability meshes with the Met’s plans.

              Perhaps I’m not thinking enough outside of the box…

            • olliedawg says:

              kashania: I agree with you about taking the T-Mobile example to the box office model. But, that is also a disruption of the SOP/SOS.

              The 5-year plan…sigh…puts me in mind of my days working with Russian programmers. Simon said to me, “You know about 5-year plan here in America?” Yes, says I. Simon: “Here’s how it work — do all work in 3 years, 2 years look busy.”

      • 6.1.2
        Krunoslav says:

        I think he blows his horn every time this happens-- the family newspaper ( and I trust the recent Dowd piece will put paid to the idea that they are not hot-wired to be sentimental and favoritist towards him) arranges publicity, and he is actually there to announces the change and bask in the applause-- as opposed to when they are sending on a NOT good cover, when he lets Friend or some unnamed functionary make the announcement, or indeed make no announcement at all, as happened when Mescheriakova went on at no notice for Guleghina in Norma. NO ONE made an annoucement, they merely put paper strips in some ( not all ) of the programs.

        I have seen that happen several times ( even if the results onstage were not always that catastrophic). Gelb only comes out when there is glamor and acclaim to be reaped-- as with Dancin’ Danielle’s bogus “surprise” replacement of Dessay as Cleopatra-- but he does not take responsibility when they are sending out Salvatore Cordella as Alfredo.

        • 6.1.2.1
          operaassport says:

          You’re nuts if you think The Times is Gelb’s “family” newspaper. Repeating it endlessly over the past 8 years doesn’t make it so.

          • Krunoslav says:

            operaassport says:
            “You’re nuts if you think The Times is Gelb’s “family” newspaper. ”

            You’re nuts if you don’t.

    • 6.2
      thirdlady says:

      and, you know, in order to make the met “lively,” maybe there could be more than one or two compelling new productions per season?

      personally, i would rather poke my eyes out with a stick than see another richard (“never-met-an-overture-i-couldn’t-stage”) eyre banality, or a deborah (“other commitments”) warner replacement of a perfectly serviceable production. or anything by bartlett (“oooh, they mentioned an anvil and now a gigantic anvil is going to descend from the flies”) sher.

      it’s the utter mediocrity of most of the new productions under the gelb regime that, for me, is the most damning indictment of his tenure. it seems like an utter waste of resources and of an opportunity to make the met relevant. last season, in terms of new productions, only “prince igor” and “falstaff” were remotely interesting.

      and, this season, there isn’t much more. that’s not a great organizational track record for gelb.

      • 6.2.1
        armerjacquino says:

        Describing cancer as ‘other commitments’ is pretty low.

        • 6.2.1.1
          thirdlady says:

          yes, true, and sorry!

          but regardless of the personal issues, i still don’t understand why gelb found it necessary to replace robert carsen’s perfectly serviceable and visually elegant production of “onegin” with warner’s drab and incoherent production.

          • kashania says:

            As a fan of the Carsen production, it wasn’t exactly at the top of my list of productions to replace. But just a production is good, it doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be replaced. And I’m sure Netrebko wanted a new production for the occasion of her first Met Tatiana (which was hihgly anticipated).

            But the problem with you statement is that it assumes that Gelb purposely changed one production with a drab and incoherent replacement, which is nonsense of course. Perhaps, the production will be improved in its revival when the proper directorial attention is paid to it.

            Personally, I thought it was a handsome production lacking in a strong directorial hand. And apparently, Mattei and Poplavskaya had much better chemistry than Kwiecen and Netrebko (very odd considering their history of success together in both comedy and drama).

            • thirdlady says:

              i am not sure what you mean by “handsome,” in terms of the visual aspects of the warner production. for me, it alternated between clutter and kitsch.

              i do not see how further directorial attention could possibly improve its visual coherence…and, if, as you say, netrebko’s desire to have a new production to showcase her not-entirely-convincing tatiana was a driving factor in replacing the carsen production, that seems like another indictment of gelb’s judgment in terms of allocating resources to new productions.

            • kashania says:

              Clearly, I think more highly of the look of production than you did. And by direction, I’m talking more about how the drama is portrayed rather than how the sets and costumes look. And I consider Netrebko’s Tatiana a success.

          • oedipe says:

            But see, I am not sure that in terms of box office the Carsen production was more successful than Warner’s “drab and incoherent” one. And if the Warner production was a box office success (and I believe it did pretty well), then Gelb was right to replace the Carsen with it, even if some of us prefer the Carsen production.

          • La Cieca says:

            Perhaps because Warner kept it a secret from Gelb that she intended intentionally to create a production that was drab and incoherent: he was under the impression that this experienced director would do her best. What a joke on Gelb that Warner so cleverly sabotaged his opening night!

            Or perhaps because Ms. Gelb has the ridiculously unrealistic idea that the greatest opera house in the world for its opening night should aspire to offering something a bit better than a “serviceable” production. I mean, what a loon, right?

      • 6.2.2
        Howling in Tune says:

        last season, in terms of new productions, only “prince igor” and “falstaff” were remotely interesting.

        I know not everyone agrees with this, but I would absolutely add Two Boys to that list.

        • 6.2.2.1
          ianw2 says:

          You’re right. I didn’t particularly like the piece, but that it was there in the first place is worthy of celebration.

  • 7
    • 7.1
      olliedawg says:

      AAh, dispassionate reporting. Thanks, kashania, for posting the link.

    • 7.2
      manou says:

      Conjugal bliss?

    • 7.3
      steveac10 says:

      Mostly dead on and fairly dispassionate. On a second note -- UNION USHERS?!!! In my college days ushering is how I saw the Met tour and the Minnesota Opera without skipping meals. No wonder they’re going broke.

      • 7.3.1
        quoth the maven says:

        Um, there’s a bit of a difference between the operations of the Minnesota Opera and the Met.

        • 7.3.1.1
          kashania says:

          Yes, the companies are much different but what does that have to do with unionised ushers. Are they supposed to be better? We have non-unionised ushers in Toronto and they do an excellent job.

        • 7.3.1.2
          steveac10 says:

          Not just Minnesota. Poll the country. The vast majority of ushers at classical music events are volunteers who do it to see a free performance. And as I said -- the Met as well. I saw six years of Met tour performances as compensation for passing out programs. Never got a cent, but saw 42 opera performances for he bus fare it cost me to get to the theatre (and most from either the orchestra or fist tier after I put on my galley year in the second balcony). There was a lengthy waiting list to usher with no compensation.

          • kashania says:

            I’m surprised to hear that the majority of ushers in the U.S. are volunteers. Volunteers are nice but if you’re running top-tier operation (especially with the number of performances the Met puts on), you need paid ushers, not volunteers, if you want quality job performance. But I don’t see why they have to be unionised.

            • m. croche says:

              But I don’t see why they have to be unionised.

              Um, because they want to be unionized?

            • armerjacquino says:

              Bang on, croche. I was a theatre usher for years in my teens and twenties and we were all members of BECTU. Why shouldn’t we have been?

          • operaassport says:

            Unionzed ushers and ticket takers. And people wonder why the place is going broke. Unionized coal miners? Absolutely. But this is ridiculous.

            • aulus agerius says:

              Back in the day the ushers for San Francisco Opera and Symphony and Ballet were volunteers, as well as the Shorenstein Broadway musical operation at the Orpheum Theater. I know because my BBF was one at the opera for years. Under Adler no one could say this was not a ‘top tier operation.’ IIRC there was one paid ‘head usher.’ Volunteers did not have to attend every performance as there was a large backlog of youngsters jostling with the vets of many years. One actually had to commit to a single regular performance a week, but you could attend/work as many as you wished. I do not know what the situation is now.

            • armerjacquino says:

              But this is ridiculous

              Why? Because employers should be able to treat ushers however they want? ANYONE can be in a union. That’s kind of the point.

            • Krunoslav says:

              Next they’ll be tenuring professors!

      • 7.3.2
        philomel says:

        A full time (every performance) usher makes about 30k a year. No one is living off this, they do it for …well you ask them, I’ll not put words in their mouths. Like airline attendants (a fair parallel) they are responsible for audience safety and put up with a fair amount of abuse (some physical) from of the public. Your experience in not-New-York during your salad days not withstanding, I find your comment ignorant and mean-spirited. Many people are making a good living at the Met, but ushers are not among them.

        • 7.3.2.1
          steveac10 says:

          And a part time job that is not a livelihood probably does not need a union. I was not being mean spirited, merely realistic. If 99% of the ushers in the country are doing it to see a free show, why should the Met’s ushers make more than a first year teacher in a red state? You need a reality check, per the US government $30k is more than triple the poverty level for a single person in this country.

      • 7.3.3
        ianw2 says:

        I don’t think Australia has any full-time ushers, so I find the idea fairly strange (surely of almost any position, this is one that benefits most from part-time, contractual or casual employment?); but also very few Australian music companies are also running their own venue.

        The stability of full-time FOH staff when you know exactly what’s happening inside your own venue (as opposed to a venue-for-hire which has a constantly changing roster) may be the big benefit.

        • 7.3.3.1
          philomel says:

          Yes ianw2, I would think so. I have worked in Regional theaters were the ushers were volunteers, and they were for the most part good, but it wasn’t their job, it was a hobby.

          • ianw2 says:

            I should probably add that even though the vast majority of ushers in Australia are on casual employment, they’re also largely unionised (though how active they are in the union, being mainly students or semi-retirees, is debatable).

      • 7.3.4
        liza says:

        I agree. In DC our top museums and art galleries have unremunerated guides who are expected to pass an intensive course to qualify. I like the idea of volunteers because some can see performances without cost, and I’m all for that. And you build a diverse group of boosters. Since you were in MN during the days of the Met tours do you remember Summerfest? Why not give the chorus a chance to sing roles and have a summer season including light fare. Its the height of the tourist season. I would think your average chorus member would be happy to extend his contract at no additional pay if promised some roles. Then turn the courtyard into a moveable feast and add some omp-path bands etc so crowds can dance. Loved SummerFest!

        • 7.3.4.1
          liza says:

          That building is an albatross and is going to be one of the biggest challenges in the future. At least use that space for something.

    • 7.4
      wladek says:

      Anne Midgette -- touches on everything and says nothing of import .
      The same old baloney only finally cut to give impression of thinking .

      • 7.4.1
        liza says:

        Have to agree with you. And the thought that young audiences want something relevant to contemporary life always makes me cringe a little. Young people crave the authentic and have laser like detection when it comes to derivative material…which is why Reggie as some sort of marketing ploy to a younger audience is a weak idea. What’s relevant is the same thing that’s always been relevant..music that’s beautifully scored for the voice and instruments and a compelling plot. A further challenge is how many new composers really know how to write for the voice? But without new composition the art form may seem a museum piece.

        • 7.4.1.1
          liza says:

          Whenever an auteur is being purposely relevant I want to cover my ears and yell “stop lecturing me!” Always feel its so effin condescending.

        • 7.4.1.2
        • 7.4.1.3
          La Cieca says:

          Don’t you think you ought to at least put on some vestments before speaking ex cathedra?

        • 7.4.1.4
          La Cieca says:

          Nobody seriously puts forward the argument that “young people” will be attracted to “relevant” opera production in the much-feared “Reggie” style. That argument is pure straw man.

          What does seem to be true is that new audiences for opera (not just “young people” but people of all ages who have so far attended opera either rarely or not at all) don’t have the exaggerated respect for “tradition” that the hard-core opera fogeys do. Reasonably enough, they are looking for excitement and emotional involvement in the theater, they same as they do when they go to a film or a play. That kind of vivid excitement is not so easy to conjure up in a production that to the newcomer not only looks objectively old (faded and worn) but also aesthetically old, i.e., reflecting the ideas and artistic values of a generation before.

          A production doesn’t have to be “Reggie,” as you put it, to grab a neophyte, but it does have to be vivid, which generally means it need to be new or last least renewed. A show the director last saw when Reagan was in the White House, and has been at best traffic-directed by an assistant following literally directions in production book, is going to look dull to anyone with the expectation of theater being exciting and vital. That group includes not just “young people” but a sizable group of more experienced operagoers whose tastes have broadened beyond “the C in the Pira.”

          But it’s all about the music, right? So why bother staging opera at all?

          • steveac10 says:

            The most ardent converts I’ve made to the cause over the years were all initiated with either a non-standard opera or a production that might have given Sibyl Harrington an aneurism. The most die hard fan I created was hooked by the Dexter Carmelites when the Met toured it way back when. The second by a 1980’s regional Lucia set in an insane asylum, and the last by the New York Phil’s Grand Macabre (and that was the 60 something mother of my late partner). When I would take someone to a pretty good performance of one of the ABC’s in postcard sets they would be polite and than force me to hit the friend pool for another novice.

            • Henry Holland says:

              Lucky you, steveac10, you’ve had better luck taking newcomers to operas than I have. My friends I took were all arts lovers, one was a painter. I took him to Madama Butterfly and his first comment after was “Everything moves so slowly, I could tell what was going to happen 5 minutes before it did”. Um…..

              One found the operatic style of singing absurd, he brought up this great Bugs Bunny cartoon:

              https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6jDcWAWRRHo

              Another thought that the opera I took him to (Le Nozze di Figaro) was interminable, he wanted to leave after the second act. “You mean there’s still two more acts?!?!”. *sigh*

  • 8
    PokeyGascon says:

    I was curious what exactly is the job description for a Bill Poster union member? I saw reference to it as one of the 15 unions. I think anyone that it able to get a union in place should do so, just curious what they do.

    • 8.1
      La Cieca says:

      Bill posters, to but it simply, put up posters and other advertising materials. There are a number of locations around Lincoln Center where posters advertising the Met are placed. The bill poster is the person who goes to these various locastions (showcases and the like), neatly removes the old poster, and then affixes the new poster in place. Presumably the bill posters also place the various posters in the cases directly in front of the Met, and these change fairly frequently during the season. As “Boheme” goes out of the repertory, that poster is taken down and “Lohengrin” or whatever goes in its place.

      I don’t know what the details of the bill poster’s contract are, but presumably it’s not a nine-to-five, Monday through Friday sort of job. Maybe it’s part-time and the poster also works another contract for another of the Lincoln Center component members, e.g., Lincoln Center Theater.

      I think Gelb said they have one bill poster and one “house painter” on contract.

  • 9
    Constantine A. Papas says:

    To change the subject: did anyone watch Verdi’s Requiem with LA Philharmonic on PBS tonight? Michelle de Young was on fire, literally, with her frizzy read hair!

    1

    • 9.1
      Clita del Toro says:

      I watched about half of The Requiem
      as I didn’t know it was on. I did enjoy it.

    • 9.2
      kashania says:

      Who were the bass and soprano?

    • 9.3
      DeepSouthSenior says:

      I have last night’s PBS broadcast on my DVR for viewing sometime next week.

      My admiration for Dudamel continues to grow. He’s a lot more than just another pretty head of hair who’s “media savvy.” His recent Mahler 3rd with the Berlin Philharmonic (available through Digital Concert Hall) was spectacular. Dudamel negotiated that monster of a work with ease, and without a score. Orchestras and conductors can easily lose their grip in the long, slow, passionate finale. Under Dudamel, the BPO’s legendary discipline held to the very end.

      Once you look past the surface glitz and all the media hype, Dudamel reveals himself as a serious musician with great gifts. I’ve often wondered if he might be a worthy successor to Simon Rattle at Berlin after 2018.

      All seriousness aside, Dudamel wasn’t above a little shameless flirting in his interview with the lovely and talented Sarah Willis last December(free on Digital Concert Hall). It was kind of cute, really, and fun.

      • 9.3.1
        Henry Holland says:

        I’ve often wondered if he might be a worthy successor to Simon Rattle at Berlin after 2018

        Deborah Borda and the LAP are going to throw huge piles of money to get him to stay. Plus, why would he leave, he has a great situation here. He made $1.5 million for the last reported season, he’s not stuck conducting routine subscription concerts for the most part, can learn rep he’s not used to on the job (similar to what Salonen did), has a sycophant at the one major media outlet here and has a receptive audience for the Latin American stuff he likes to.

        I’m not a big fan because he’s not nearly as interested in 20th century/non-tonal stuff as Salonen was, but he’s very popular here and could stay as long as he wants.

        • 9.3.1.1
          ML says:

          And he’s a bore in Mozart, Schubert, even Haydn.

        • 9.3.1.2
          wladek says:

          Dudamel would be a more likely successor to Liberace , He at best
          seems to be at that level. He knows his audience and what they
          are about as does Borda .His European success for whatever it is worth
          is for his being a novelty more than anything else. Borda would be a fool
          to let him out of her clutches , knowing it is all smoke and mirrors. You
          don’t think that for one minute his base audience supports him for
          the reason that he is a great insightful conductor ? Give them fireworks
          along with the music and they are happy..It is Hollywood ……..
          He is popular , so was Liberace .

  • 10
    Constantine A. Papas says:

    So did I, except for Grigolo.

    • 10.1
      Krunoslav says:

      Grigolo (Sony artist, notice Gelb’s commitment t him) was quite silly and self-conscious and was the least good of the quartet.

  • 11
    Cicciabella says:

    OT: medici.tv is broadcasting the following live operas and concerts from the Salzburg Festival. See the footnotes re unavailability in certain countries:

    SUNDAY 3 AUGUST AT 12.30PM****
    Mozart’s Don Giovanni
    Conducted by Christoph Eschenbach, directed by Sven-Eric Bechtolf – With Ildebrando D’Arcangelo (Don Giovanni) and Luca Pisaroni (Leporello)

    FRIDAY 15 AUGUST AT 12PM
    Verdi’s Il Trovatore*
    Conducted by Daniele Gatti, directed by Alvis Hermanis – With Anna Netrebko (Leonora) and Plácido Domingo (Comte di Luna)

    FRIDAY 22 AUGUST AT 12PM
    OPERA RECORDED ON AUGUST 14
    Strauss’s Der Rosenkavalier
    Conducted by Franz Welser-Möst, directed by Harry Kupfer – With Krassimira Stoyanova (Die Feldmarschallin), Sophie Koch (Octavian)

    SUNDAY 24 AUGUST AT 4AM
    Gustavo Dudamel conducts Staar and R. Strauss**
    With the Wiener Philharmoniker

    MONDAY 25 AUGUST AT 12PM
    Schubert’s Fierrabras***
    Conducted by Ingo Metzmacher, directed by Peter Stein – With Michael Schade (Fierrabras)

    * This program will not be available in France, Germany and Austria.
    ** This program will not be available in France and Germany.
    *** This program will not be available in Germany and Austria.
    **** All times mentioned are EST.

    Presumably, these webcasts will also be available on demand for a limited time afterwards.

    • 11.1
      DellaCasaFan says:

      Ciccia,

      Do you know if any of these webcasts will be available in the US?

    • 11.2
      DeepSouthSenior says:

      I may have to subscribe to Medici TV. Current offer is $151.20 for a year of Classic+ subscription. The app works just fine on my iPad. I can mirror from iPad through Apple TV device to my plasma TV and home theater system.

      QUESTION: Does Medici provide English subtitles for opera live broadcasts and archives?

      • 11.2.1
        laddie says:

        I have tried mirroring Medici TV which does work well on i-phone, etc. but the television is locked in a portrait orientation.

      • 11.2.2
        Cicciabella says:

        No subtitles without a subscription. Don’t know if they’re available to subscribers.

  • 12
    Quanto Painy Fakor says:

    Meanwhile, behind the scenes, plans for new Netrebko Met ADRIANA LECOUVREUR are taking shape.

    • 12.1
      Cicciabella says:

      Domingo’d better be the Michonnet.

    • 12.2
      oedipe says:

      IMHO, Netrebko’s “L’umile ancella” was the best moment in a strong Puccini/verismo second half program in her recent recital at the Théâtre des Champs Elysées. The first half was an all Verdi program. Like other people here, I increasingly find her verismo singing superior to her Verdi singing. She will be a great Adriana.

    • 12.3
      kashania says:

      Interesting that she’d take on such a low-lying role now considering that her top is in such good shape. Then again, Gheorghiu’s Adriana is wonderful so it shouldn’t just be aging divas doing the part. Still, I’d rather have Netrebko in that other diva role.

    • 12.4
      CwbyLA says:

      I think this will be a great role for her. The first time I saw this opera was with Gheorghiu and she was fabulous in it. I am sure Netrebko will be similar. What if there will be an alternate cast with Netrebko and Gheorghiu taking turns as Adriana? :-)

      • 12.4.1
        Cicciabella says:

        Nobody can sing the words “Io son l’umile ancella” with such winsome, blushing modesty like Gheorghiu. But Netrebko as Adriana: Hurrah!

        • 12.4.1.1
          kashania says:

          Gheorghiu’s “Poveri Fiori” is magnificent. The ROH Adriana with Kaufmann/Borodina/Corbelli is one of the greatest opera performances of recent times that I’ve heard.

          • Cicciabella says:

            Absoultely, Kashania. Angela IS the Adriana of our times. It’s just that the words “humility” and “Gheorghiu” are polar opposites, fluttering eyelids notwithstanding. That RO Adriana is perfectly cast, and the production just the thing for a diva vehicle. The Met has a high contemporary standard to live up to if it’s putting on Adriana for Netrebko, but it promises to be a great role for her. Jamie Barton or Ekaterina Semenchuk as the Principessa de Bouillon although it’ll probably be Anita Rachvelishvili.

            • kashania says:

              It’s just that the words “humility” and “Gheorghiu” are polar opposites, fluttering eyelids notwithstanding.

              :) My sentiments exactly. But if that’s price we pay for having a good old-fashioned diva in our mix in the age of the Diva Nextdoor, I don’t mind. Based on her Marina, I’d love to both see and hear Semenchuk dig into the Principessa.

            • armerjacquino says:

              The ‘umile ancella’ aria has always struck me as, in the best possible way, pretty disingenuous anyway…

            • kashania says:

              AJ: What, you mean she’s not but a mere humble servant of art?!

            • Cicciabella says:

              That precisely why Gheorghiu’s perfect for the part, and that aria in particular, AJ. And, of course, she sings it gheorghiusly.

      • 12.4.2
        Lady Abbado says:

        SFO was a co-producer of the ROH Adriana, so Angie’s more likely to sing it in “her” production, in San Francisco rather than the MET (same goes for Liceu, maybe soon after Paris 2015).

        On the other hand, she and Anna alternated as Mimi at La Scala in 2012, so they don’t seem to have an issue with sharing a role.

        • 12.4.2.1
          oedipe says:

          same goes for Liceu, maybe soon after Paris 2015

          Liceu has already premiered that same Adriana co-production a couple of years ago, with Frittoli and a sensational Alagna as Maurizio (a perfect role for him).

          • Lady Abbado says:

            Interesting, since at the time she was still with him…

            • oedipe says:

              I think plans for the Liceu production were made before they got back together, so Liceu offered the part to Frittoli. On the other hand, I believe Vienna last season was supposed to have Bob & Ange. That didn’t work out, as we know.

    • 12.5
      Lohengrin says:

      Who is suspected to sing Maurizio?

    • 12.6
      Krunoslav says:

      “plans for new Netrebko Met ADRIANA LECOUVREUR are taking shape.”

      Yay! Broadway’s Betsy Wolfe as Duclos!!!

  • 13
    Cicciabella says:

    I love it how medici.tv doesn’t even announce who’s singing the title role in Il Trovatore. Abuelo Domingo is the alpha male.

  • 14
    Clita del Toro says:

    I am torn between Nabucco now on WETA and Rosenkavalier in ten minutes. I love both operas.

  • 15
    Cicciabella says:

    For lovers of American musicals: Live in a little over half an hour on BBC Radio 3 (19:30 hrs GMT) Prom 21: Kiss Me, Kate.

  • 16
    La Cieca says:

    “They are not performers,” said Alan Gordon, executive director of the American Guild of Musical Artists, which represents chorus members, referring to 32BJ. “I don’t want to be derogatory but nobody cares who the usher is.”

    http://www.crainsnewyork.com/article/20140801/ARTS/140809998/met-opera-makes-small-progress-in-labor-dispute

    • 16.1
      blansac says:

      Could Gordon be a bigger jackass? Just show some decency for the people who work on the same side as the ones he represents. Gordon is a clown and he’s toxic. It’s crazy that this idiot may have the power to take down the Met.

      There are some really, really great people working as ushers at the Met. Funny, kind, creative, and smart. Some with incredible knowledge of opera and singers. Others maybe not so much but who will gladly -- often bluntly and amusingly -- tell one their opinions of productions. They all deserve respect.

      All Gordon had to say was the ushers were a different situation than the chorus. Instead he goes out of his way to demean them.

      • 16.1.1
        jackoh says:

        Let me offer a defense(of sorts) of Alan Gordon [ducks and runs for cover]. In the union negotiations with which I am familiar, there is always one person on the union side of the table who behaves like a junkyard dog- snarling, snapping, teeth bared, looking very dangerous(if not slightly deranged). This is all done by design, to make the others on that side of the table look reasonable and accommodating by comparison even when they are making very little in the way of concessions. This part is usually carefully cast and scripted and allows for some improvisation since it is almost always typecast. I only know Gordon through his public pronouncements and through fourth and fifth hand impressions relayed by people that I am acquainted with. So I am only guessing in suggesting that he may be playing a role that he was assigned or that he chose himself, and is probably, by nature, very good at. If you have never been in one of these negotiating sessions, let me assure you that it is theater at its most extreme.

        • 16.1.1.1
          ML says:

          @ Jackoh: Agreed. Of course, it is theater with a purpose, which in this case built a “campaign that successfully undermined the Met’s obduracy” (Lebrecht).

          • ML says:

            Sorry. Didn’t mean to place this twice in same thread.

            Still, credit where credit is due to Alan Gordon, and to Lebrecht for accurately summing up what happened.

            Frankly, I was certain of the lockout.

    • 16.2
      armerjacquino says:

      So this is where he loses me. I am instinctively pro-union and I think the unions have a decent argument in this fight, but this is not something anyone involved in a union should say.

      I was, as mentioned in a previous thread, an usher for years. That was fifteen years ago. Two of my ushering colleagues are now two of the best known comedians in the UK. Another writes a prime-time TV series. Another has a Perrier Award. More recently, I was in a production at the National Theatre where one of the principals had been an usher three months before rehearsals started.

      Not that any of that matters, of course. Ushers don’t deserve decent treatment just because they may be prominent at some future date. They deserve it because they work for the Met. They have a duty of care to the audience. They have a right to negotiate the terms and conditions of their employment. And ‘not to be derogatory’ is as pathetic a disclaimer as ‘I’m not racist, but…’. Shame on Mr Gordon. His members deserve better.

      • 16.2.1
        steveac10 says:

        Despite my seemingly pro-management posts (and my union ushers, really? thoughts) I am pro union as well. I am a child of a steamfitter (who later in life moved on to management) and a high school teacher. My upbringing makes me reflexively pro union. That’s why Alan Gordon (and the powers that be at the musicians union) make my stomach churn. They make the unions look bad with their mud slinging, innuendo and vitriol (and that was before negotiations even started in Gordon’s case). There were reasons when I quit performing and moved on to the business world AGMA was the first membership I let lapse, because over 20 plus years of membership I received less than nothing. Alan Gordon was high on that list as well. He’s a bully, a blowhard and gives less than a shit about opera. He just wants the dues to keep flowing so he can collect his check.

        • 16.2.1.1
          kashania says:

          It will surprise many that I’m pro-union on the whole. But my union sympathies are much stronger in a for-profit scenario. For me, things become more tricky in a non-profit context. Not that unions shouldn’t exist at non-profits. Of course they should. But some of the cornerstones of union thinking are detrimental to non-profits.

          Specifically in a performing arts organisation, when the company is losing money and its audience is dwindling, I think it’s wrong for the union to fight for every penny as if it’s dealing with a profitable corporation and try to get pay increases that well beyond what the company can afford.

          Another part of the union mind-set that doesn’t work for me in an arts setting is the rigidity of overtime pay. If a performance goes overtime by a single minute, orchestra, chorus and stage hands all get paid for am entire unit of overtime. That is just not reasonable, in my view. It’s socking it to “the man”, when the “the man” is a struggling not-for-profit organisation running deficits.

          BTW, I agree that Gordon could’ve easily said that ushers and performers are different without putting one group down.

          • armerjacquino says:

            Kash: Very reasonably put. But I am going to put a word in for overtime pay. Overtime in the arts is the reason that tech rehearsals don’t go on until 5am and restart at 9. You know what production weeks are like. Nobody is going to be the one to disagree if a director suggests working through the night. Overtime pay protects artistic standards by preventing willing people from working into the ground. It’s always a huge relief in a tech when the stage manager says ‘It’s 11pm, we have to stop’, and you know that you can get home and have your mandatory 11 hours away from the building before starting at ten the next morning. Overtime pay doesn’t empty pockets, if your SM crew knows what it’s doing: it enhances efficiency.

            • kashania says:

              Agree with all of this. It’s specifically the not-a-minute-more thinking. Or things like the rigidity of union halls where a non-unionised employee literally cannot plug a in light. Setting up a mic for talk requires a minimum four-hour call, and that marketing staff member who is there working that night anyway can’t possibly do it. It’s that rigidity that I was pointing to in my second point above.

            • ianw2 says:

              I’m unionised myself and am about to go through a what is predicted to be a brutal bargaining period due to ideological (i.e not financial) reasons and I totally sit on the fence with the ‘not a minute more’ stance.

              On one hand, it is hilarious and infuriating when the bows go down the second the mandated break starts. On the other hand, it’s a common tactic to make it seem small by saying “it’s just an extra two minutes a day!” which adds up over the course of a year to actually volunteering a full day’s worth of work.

            • steveac10 says:

              AJ- I understand the preventing abuse aspect of musicians unions, but I remember more than one oratorio and opera final rehearsal ending because the orchestra literally started packing up their bags at the three hour mark and walking out of the hall. To them the work rule trumped the final product. As an AGMA soloist with few rehearsal protections it pissed me off no end (most of the time I was doing them for nothing. Something a professional violinist or cellist would never understand -- but expected of a professional opera singer). The fact these guys couldn’t give us 5 or 10 minutes to ensure the opening would go well was infuriating and disheartening.

            • m. croche says:

              Sounds like your conductor did a poor job managing rehearsal time.

      • 16.2.2
        NoelAnn says:

        yes they deserve better.

      • 16.2.3
        manou says:

        The Rise Of The House Of Ushers.

    • 16.3
      NoelAnn says:

      nobody cares who the choristers are either. Usually just the soprano or tenor…

      • 16.3.1
        kashania says:

        We may not know individual choristers, but many of us do care about the chorus. I, for one, care very much in works like Aida, Troyens and Parsifal, just to name a few.

        I care about ushers too. They contribute to the overall experience of a performance. Some of the ushers at the Met have a lot of personality and clearly have a lot of institutional knowledge.

        • 16.3.1.1
          overstimmelated says:

          Ha! Maybe it’s one last dig at Gelb -- who began his Met career as an usher.

  • 17
    La Cieca says:

    The Met Announces One-Week Extension of Contracts
    To Allow For Independent Financial Review

    New York, NY (August 2, 2014) – The Metropolitan Opera, AGMA, and Local 802 announced today in collaboration with the U.S. Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service that they have agreed to allow an independent financial analyst, Eugene Keilin, to conduct a confidential and independent study of the Met’s finances in an effort to help all parties reach new contractual agreements.

    The study commenced today and as a consequence, there will be a further extension of union contracts for approximately one week. Discussions with other unions, including Local One, Local 4, Local 751, Local 764, Local 794, Local 798, Local 829, Local 829BP, Local 1456, and Directors Guild of America, are temporarily on hold.
    Earlier this week, the Met announced that it had reached new contract agreements with three unions: Local 32BJ, Local 210, and Local 30.

    {Met Press Release]

    • 17.1
      m. croche says:

      Three cheers.

    • 17.2
      Chanterelle says:

      “Due to the highly sensitive nature of these discussions, FMCS has requested and the parties have agreed to honor the confidentiality of this process.”

      Finally!!!

      • 17.2.1
        steveac10 says:

        Lordy, What’s Gordon going to do with himself for a week without his usual bloviation. I would suggest some pilates.

        • 17.2.1.1
          m. croche says:

          A more urgent question: what are Parterrians going to do without Alan Gordon to bitch about?

        • 17.2.1.2
          ML says:

          Or, as Lebrecht correctly has it, the “unions agreed to observe social media silence after a campaign that successfully undermined the Met’s obduracy.”

    • 17.3
      luvtennis says:

      And they waited so long to take this step because … why?

  • 18
    Constantine A. Papas says:

    laddie,

    I watched all opera webcasts on my TV. But the setup is not wireless. Images or videos from my PC are transferred to my HD TV, which in the same room. There is a special cable that connects your hard drive to the TV. The video is sharp and sound is excellent.