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New Yorker ‘won’t publish’ letter from Metropolitan Opera

March 26, 2015 by norman lebrecht

18 comments.


We hear from a very well-placed source that the New Yorker is refusing to publish a letter from the Metropolitan Opera that claims alleged inaccuracies in its recent feature on the company. The New Yorker is backing its reporter, as it should. The letter is signed by officers of the Board, but its language belongs identifiably to Gelb.

Since some readers couldn’t read the small print in our original offprint of the letter, here’s the full text:

Wagners Das Rheingold Metropolitan Opera 2010

 

To the Editor:

Although the New Yorker is highly regarded for the integrity of its reporting, James Stewart’s piece about the Met is seriously lacking in a number of ways. In the 72 hours prior to the closing of the piece, several hundred facts were checked for accuracy with the Met’s staff. Most were wrong. While many mistakes were corrected, the article still has numerous errors and misleading statements.

For example, Stewart cites various sources to confirm that opera ticket sales are generally up, except at the Met, which is denying reality. There have been numerous surveys, such as the 2014 LaPlaca Cohen study, that show tickets sales for opera and classical music have been flagging across the United States in recent years.

Stewart says the FY13 salary figures the Met cited during union negotiations for the orchestra were inflated by a season with unusually long operas when in fact average orchestra pay was at basically the same level as in the prior season: $196,000 in FY12 and $133,000 (sic) in FY13. While the unions and the Met struggled during last summer’s negotiations, they ultimately reached an agreement that have (sic) significantly lowered costs and that will enable the Met to wipe out its previous $22 million deficit. Stewart fails to make this connection.

Stewart’s article inaccurately states that the unions now have “oversight” over the Met, which is not the case. Rather, there is a contractual mechanism for verification that cost cutting and equality of sacrifice between unionised employees and administrative staff has been achieved.

Stewart quotes an honorary Met Board member who says that at Board meetings, ‘Now you just listen to Mr Gelb.’ Since the honorary Board member in question hasn’t attended a Board meeting in person since Mr Gelb became General Manager nine years ago, it seems unlikely that he would know.

Stewart attempts to give the impression that the Board is divided. In fact, the Board solidly supports Gelb and is united in its commitment to securing the future of grand opera, the Met and its employees.

Sincerely

Kevin Kennedy

President

Ann Ziff

Chairman

William G. Morris

Chairman, Executive Committee

JudithAnn Corrente

Secretary


Comments (18)

  1. Simon S. says:

    OT: A rather famous French composer and conductor is supposed to celebrate his 90th birthday today. No mention on Slipped disc?

  2. Curious in Cleveland says:

    Can you explain how you can tell the letter’s “language belongs identifiably to Gelb?” It sounds very much like a letter created by committee, with little sense of personal style, to me.

    1. Pamela Brown says:

      My impression as well…

  3. Mark says:

    ==A rather famous French composer and conductor is supposed to celebrate his 90th ==birthday today. No mention on Slipped disc?

    Yes, I’ve dipped into SD 3 or 4 times today expecting to see something.

    1. Simon S. says:

      Actually, I especially expected the bashing by John Borstlap. 😀

    2. Daniel Farber says:

      I thought I detected some shadow of animus in the blog-keeper’s attitude toward the 90 year-old’s winning of a cash award a couple of weeks ago, but he denied it. I do wonder, though, at the absence of even a reference to the famous 90th birthday in a blog that recognizes, sometimes very touchingly, the landmarks of even the very obscure.

  4. Save the MET says:

    If you had read other Gelb letters when he is hot and bothered, this fits right in with his boring style. Time to move on to another administrator who has experience and can fix the mess. Opera is not dead World wide, only in Peter’s imagination.

  5. Daniel Farber says:

    Considering the length of Stewart’s article, these “errors of fact”—some are rather differences of emphasis or interpretation—are really a drop or two in the bucket. It does seem, however, both from the article and from the fact that they signed on to this letter (assuming it was composed by Gelb), that the Trustees are determined to go with their Captain Queeg until the ship finally sinks.

    1. SDReader says:

      I’m amazed that he (or the board) responded at all. Don’t they see that doing so just draws attention to the article?

      And yes, if only these small things are wrong, then the vast majority of it must be accurate.

    2. Edgar Brenninkmeyer says:

      If, or better, when, it sinks, let it be with Lepage’s ridiculous Goetterdaemmerung. When the heads of the gods pop off and fall down, let these be the images of the Met bigwigs. Then let the entire cast and orchestra flee so as to safely blow up, or at least collapse, the Machine. Perhaps silly fantasy, but I am content with it. Gut the entire house (and rebuild the outer structure) and start over. First production: a new commission, a tragicomic opera about the Met itself.

    3. Sixtus says:

      Queeg? I should think Melville’s Captain Ahab would be a more apposite simile. Spoiler alert: The ship sinks in the end, destroying all but one of the crew, including Ahab.

  6. Brian B says:

    Not a Gelb fan here, but the New Yorker should print the letter. At one time, that would have been a given. Print it and offer an editorial rebuttal from the author. But journalistic ethics have undergone a seachange in the last 30-40 years.

    1. Edgar Brenninkmeyer says:

      New York Review of Books still practices this virtue. Sad The New Yorker won’t.

      1. marguerite foxon says:

        I agree. It seems churlish to refuse to print the letter.

  7. Brian b says:

    Not a Gelb fan here, but I am a fan of journalistic ethics and responsibility. The New Yorker should print the letter and offer a rebuttal from Stewart. At one time that would have been a given but journalism has undergone a seachange in the last 30-40 years.

    1. Daniel Farber says:

      A small quibble perhaps but 40 years ago or at least through the Shawn era, The New Yorker did not print ANY letters, save for a feature they called “Department of Amplification”, which appeared perhaps once or twice a year and were sometimes written by pretty famous people. And they have NEVER printed replies to letters by the original authors, a common practice in, say, The New York Review of Books and Commentary.

  8. MacroV says:

    The New Yorker doesn’t print a lot of letters to the editor, and most are pretty short. The Atlantic is the place to see long letters about articles, with rebuttals from the author. But I agree this is a pretty weak letter, and if that’s all they have in response to such a long article, they really shouldn’t have bothered.

  9. Save the MET says:

    From within the MET, Mr. Gelb did in fact write the letter and the Board is pissed off, as he circulated it without showing it to them for editorial review. They are not happy with the content of the letter and are attempting to write a softer letter. Keep in mind the original story was fact checked by the Metropolitan Opera staff before publication.


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