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Leaked document: The Met giveth, the Met taketh away

June 16, 2011 by Norman Lebrecht

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It’s good to read in the WSJ today that the Metropolitan Opera is about to present a balanced budget for the first time in seven years. Most companies that spent seven years in the red would no longer be with us, but the Met’s a special case.

At least that’s what it tells its artists, expecting them to drop defences and blow their rights away.

The contract that conductors are expected to sign, a copy of which was slipped into my hand on a Soho street pavement, is an absolute killer.

It stipulates: all audio, visual, audiovisual and other material … embodying Conductor’s work and the copyirhgt and renewals…. are exclusively the property of the Met in perpetuity throughout the universe.

What that means is that artists sign their lives away on entering the Met. A conductor who has put together the ideal cast, rehearsed it to perfection and achieved a highlight of his or her life has no further access to the performance, whether the Met decides to issue it or not. The recording could go into some deep vault and never be seen again, but the conductor has no right to exhibit it.

And there’s more of the same: Conductor waives all rights of ‘droit moral’… The Met shall have the right to use and allow others to use Conductor’s name, likeness and biographical material in any and all media in perpetuity in connection with the rights hereinunder.

The Conductor must obtain a release from any existing record contract in order to perform at the Met.

The Met calls its contract a buyout, agents consider it a sellout. One high-demand conductor has refused to work at the Met in consequence and another, to my knowledge, is quietly pondering his options. Why sign your life away at the Met, when you can get a fair deal in Milan?

Peter Gelb may have to back down on this. James Levine has undergone another bout of surgical treatment (I hear), Fabio Luisi has scorned the succession and the podium is wide open. This is not a good time to offend the top conductors. Mr Gelb needs to bend on this one. Fast.

source: parterre.com


Comments (0)

  1. OperaNow! says:

    Other then the release from a previous recording contract, how is signing your likeness away any different then any other opera company in the United States?

  2. Galen Johnson says:

    Norman, this is the game. It’s all negotiable–a boilerplate contract like this is what the Met lawyers think they want, not necessarily what they expect to get. Any conductor who just signs what’s handed to him or her, is very naive indeed.

    Gelb knows this, he was on other side as an agent.

  3. Rosana Martins says:

    This just means that artists and agents will need to be more alert from now on. I would imagine the MET is not the only institution offering such contracts.

  4. Ben says:

    These sorts of clauses are par for the course, anywhere from pop music to classical, from performance to recording.

    Such things abound even outside the entertainment industry. Have you used the site “FaceBook” recently? It’s terms of service say almost the same thing about any media – text, photo, video, etc. – that you upload – it’s the property of FaceBook.

    This isn’t a scam; it’s not a plot to relieve people of their rights. It’s how contracts work.

    The wording may seem volatile to someone who isn’t familiar with the ins-and-outs of such contracts, but here’s how it basically works:

    A company gives you this agreement not because they are going to take away your rights to your own work, but instead to protect themselves from liability. Without such clauses, a conductor could decide at any point to remove anything connected to himself from circulation. James Levine, without this agreement, could demand on a whim that the Metropolitan Opera cease production on copies of every recording he has ever been involved with and sue them if they don’t agree to comply. Obviously, that’s not something that can or should be allowed to happen. The Met would not, however, be in the business of cutting people out of profit or keeping them around as slaves, and you can bet that the conductors signing these contracts will, in fact, be given rights.

    Some people spend six years in tertiary education for this stuff. Trust me; not everything is just black-and-white here. It is possible to scam people with contracts, but if this contract is a scam, it would be so due to other aspects, because the things that you cited are actually perfectly acceptable.

    So not to worry – Pete Gelb is not yet the Bernie Madoff of classical music.

  5. otello says:

    The MET cannot record wihtout having the exploitation rights, the whole production is too expensive. However, the artist/musician should be otherwise free to engage in other commitments. In the future, artists will not be receiving the same compensation financially as in the past, the money is no there anymore and the industry is noct achieving the suprlus it used to have. Any CD, DVD, TV or streaming deployment is great PR for the artist, many careers have started by being part of a production released on DVD. there is no better promotion than these activities for a musician.

  6. dennis marks says:

    Yes, it’s a standard all rights media buyout and it operates worldwide. However, it does tighten a few screws (pardon the metaphor, but you get the point) and where composers and other less well rewarded creative colleagues are concerned, it’s another diminution of their earning power. What is much worse is the Met’s contract with cinemas. If you want more details drop me a line.

  7. Jeep Gerhard says:

    As a previous comment said, that’s a boilerplate clause, and – like all contract clauses – is negotiable. FURTHERMORE: who, besides James Levine, has been allowed to conduct a video taped performance until very recently. And yes, James Levine was seen by several witnesses checking into NYC’s Hospital for Special Surgery several weeks ago: checkin is not required for, say, physical therapy or a routine exam. He must have had surgery, as the hospital really doesn’t do much else (as its name makes quite clear). Look for him next at the nearby Mary Manning Walsh center for rehabilitation…

    Bravo Luisi – i wouldn’t want to work for Peter Gelb, either, but as a frequent paying visitor to the Met, i would REALLY love to hear motr of Maestro LL’s work, thank you very much.

  8. La Cieca says:

    It would seem that if the contract language were so very heinous that conductors would be shunning the Met like poison, and yet just last season the roster included William Christie, Andrew Davis, Edward Gardner,
    Valery Gergiev, James Levine, Fabio Luisi, Nicola Luisotti, Andris Nelsons, Yannick Nézet-Séguin, Gianandrea Noseda and Simon Rattle.

    The season before that surely the most demanding maestro in the world, Riccardo Muti, not only made his Met debut but offered a very rare chance for us in the U.S. to witness his conducting of staged opera. Are we to think that RIccardo Muti had his arm twisted to sign away his life? Or, more plausibly, is it simply that this sort of contract, however steely its language may appear to the layman, is standard protocol in any international theater offering multimedia presentations of its performances?

    And, in closing, La Cieca wouldn’t mind an acknowledgement that the parody “Vanity Fair” cover above first appeared at parterre.com. Thank you.

  9. Robert Hayes says:

    I don’t think that Luisi would refuse a serious offer from Peter Gelb. In his interview with a swiss newspaper he says that the two Opera houses are kind of complementar to each other…


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