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Peter Gelb clears out wigs and makeup

November 9, 2017 by norman lebrecht

51 comments.


The head of wigs and makeup at the Metropolitan Opera, Tom Watson, has gone in Peter Gelb’s latest cull, along with most members of his department, some of whom quit in disgust at the way Tom was treated.

There are rumours of more staff cuts ahead.

The season opened with exceptionally poor sales for Tales of Hoffman, and the best hyping efforts of the New York Times cannot make a hit of The Exterminating Angel.

Cash flow is starting to be a problem again.


Comments (51)

  1. John says:

    Why does Gelb have a job? He seems to bring down everything he touches.

    1. Cynical Bystander. says:

      Maybe those asking the question and those gleefully reporting every anti Gelb item they can dredge up might wish to say what they would do to stop the rot. If Gelb goes who could or would want to turn it round and, again, how?

      1. Olassus says:

        Cynical, hundreds of more talented people would clamor for the job at ¼ the salary.

        1. Cynical Bystander says:

          But could they do what increasingly looks likes the impossible?

          1. Olassus says:

            Not impossible. Just needs a capable manager, and a tough one given the extent of the decay and length of misguidance.

            *Slash admin by a third
            *End all non-core activities
            *Cut programming by 20%
            *Simplify and lower pricing
            *Focus totally on subscriptions
            *Halve the Board

          2. John Kelly says:

            Not quite that straightforward, but along the right lines. Halving the Board would not save money and might diminish donations and fundraising…………….mind you, some new faces might be a good idea.

            Not sure anyone would do this, in NY for 25% of the salary though………not anyone competent anyway.

            I say bring in Renee Fleming a la Beverly Sills together with a COO who knows how to run a P&L

      2. SAM says:

        Tales of Hoffman production was crap when it premiered, why should it be different this time around? No one cares about the MET opera anymore because it doesn’t look like the MET opera anymore. the “modern” productions are trash. No sets, no costumes, no wigs, no make up plots. I was in several operas toward the end of my time there when the make up plot for the men was “no make up”. A perfect example: the old Zeffirelli production of La Traviata is in a dumpster somewhere, and the new one is a sea of cheap polyester black suits from the men’s warehouse (for the women too!). the ballet doesn’t exist anymore. the new productions are a snooze fest. toward the end of my career there I would stand onstage in my street clothes costume, usually with no staging except the direction “stand there til the curtain comes in, and watch the audience sleep in the first 10-15 rows. NO WONDER no one wants to go!

        1. Cynical Bystander says:

          Much of what you say is true but can be said for all houses throughout the world, the ‘production’ of Aida in Salzburg this summer shows that even the plushest festivals are prone to non productions nowadays. The days of humming the sets are gone. No longer productions in the gift of, and to the taste of, the Mrs Harringtons of a long gone world.

          Director’s Opera seems to be a dirty word, unless of course the director is Franco Z. The MET is struggling because it’s audience is ageing and every performance is measured, and in most cases found wanting, by memories of the glories of decades ago.

          Gelb is trying, non too successfully it seems, to generate a new audience for a slowly dying art form. Correction, generate a new audience to replace the slowly dying old audience. Whether he succeeds is a problem he shares with many Intendants in houses beyond Lincoln Centre.

          1. Mike Schachter says:

            I would query that it is a dying form. Most productions are dreary but one gets used to that. In Europe the houses still seem pretty full and not all geriatrics like me. Very importantly there are lots of very good young singers around, many from the old Soviet Empire.

      3. SAVE THE MET says:

        You are too funny. Gelb came into that job a spectacular failure, he was a videographer who babysat the senile Vladimir Horowitz for a few years. He was a spectacular failure at Sony and easily kicked to the curb with the BMG merger. He got his MET job because Levine’s manager Ronnie Wilford begged Bubbles Sills who owed him a favor. He’s been a spectacular failure at every level. He’s reviled at the MET, the morale sucks and the only reason he stays is he must have dirt on key member of the Board. In a public company he would have been shown the door with a boot in his posterior years ago. He’s a waste of time at this point, was wholly unfit for the position to begin with and continues to drag the company down. Now as far as replacements are concerned, Deborah Borda is now right next door. A smart and savvy ex musician, she has been a rousing success in everything she’s done. That’s an easy fix. She was the choice before Ronnie went a begging for ‘Lil Petey” and she’s the obvious candidate for that job. She’s a terrific marketer, she fund raises like nobody’s business and she knows repertoire and has a taste level; all the things Gelb lacks. There are also other candidates who could breathe new life into the MET, Patrick Summers in Houston is an example of a conductor who thinks out of the box, fund raises like nobodies business and has clear administrative skills. Renee Fleming is another person who has shown that she can raise money, has a great taste level and has a bent for building opera via Chicago. David Gockley might come out of retirement for that job and he certainly is well qualified. Cressida Pollack is breathing new life into the ENO and has degrees from both sides of the pond. Dominique Meyer, whose leaving Vienna has proven to be everything one would want in an Opera GM and has consistently filled that house. There are more, but that’s a start. For those that think ?Gelb is irreplaceable, my one statement is ROFLOL!

        1. Cynical Bystander says:

          Cannot speak about any of the names you mention except Cressida Pollock who has done no such thing at the out of town tryout theatre for the MET. ENO is far from out of the woods, either financially and artistically, and given that many of the co productions are with the Gelb fronted MET it seems unlikely that the problems you place squarely at his door would be solved by appointing someone who is in effect a bean counter tasked with balancing the books irrespective of what appears, or at the moment, doesn’t appear on the stage.

          1. SAVE THE MET says:

            From the NY Times, 9-22-17

            Ms. Pollock’s measures appear to have improved the company’s financial situation. The Arts Council has said it no longer has serious concerns about English National Opera’s finances, and Harry Brunjes, the chairman of the company, which performs in English, said in a statement that Ms. Pollock’s tenure had “turned around our fortunes to deliver financial security.”

          2. norman lebrecht says:

            The NY Times reporter knows nothing. ENO has been reduced to a marginal operation, a shell of its designated self.

        2. OldSchool says:

          “Has dirt on….” etc.

          He is a scion of a newspaper family.

          Who could more easily have utile information on others than he?

          It would take something like this, short of someone sponsoring him fiscally, even to get that dialogue rolling in the first place.

    2. Ungeheuer says:

      @John Kelly: Bring in Renée Fleming? One only has to look at her misguided cross-pollination and outreach nonsense in Chicago to quickly realize this is not a good idea at all. Not to mention her embarrassing pursuit of cross-over trash. But that’s a topic for another day.

      1. John Kelly says:

        She knows how to get rear ends on seats, which, as I am sure you appreciate is as much a factor in running an opera house as an airline…………….

        1. Ungeheuer says:

          Yes, agree Renée would make an excellent stewardess.

          1. Sixtus says:

            Coffee, tea or Mimi?

    3. OldSchool says:

      Correctly connected, for several generations. The perfect job for him, and without jest, would have been public relations manager

  2. MacroV says:

    So is the issue with Exterminating Angel that it’s a bad opera, or that it’s a fine opera that the MET hasn’t been able to persuade New Yorkers to see? If the latter, it would seem that Norman is engaging in a little “damned if you do, damned if you don’t,” since if they’d done La Boheme instead we’d probably be hearing about Gelb’s tired, unimaginative programming.

    1. Brian says:

      I see it as such: most opera-goers attend the opera only on rare occasions, such as a special date or anniversary. If you’re going to spend a couple hundred dollars or more on tickets and dinner, you’ll want to hear a Boheme or Aida – not a prickly modernist work where you don’t know exactly what you’re going to get. Exterminating Angel may be a fine opera but it’s niche work and probably a big money-loser for the company.

    2. Una says:

      Exterminating Angel is certainly no bad opera and I shall see the relay from the Met on Saturday and see what I think of that specific production. More to do with the bland operatic diet of New Yorkers! In London the place would be full a few times over, even though our opera houses are much smaller as you all know.

    3. Petros Linardos says:

      If you call this “a little” damn if you do damn if you don’t, I don’t know what “a lot” is.

      Disclosure: I am no Peter Gelb fan. Quite the opposite

      1. MacroV says:

        I was being polite.

    4. William Safford says:

      I plan to attend and find out for myself. I’m delighted that the Met is presenting an opera written in the 21st century.

    5. SAVE THE MET says:

      The title should have been “exterminating an Opera”.

    6. Nardo Poy says:

      I’m not sure where Norman gets his figures regarding The Exterminating Angel. It is selling very well now, and The NY Times is not the only publication which has given it a good review. How do I know? I play in the orchestra and see it plainly. Also, the first couple of performances hadn’t sold as well as they had hoped, but now it’s close to sold out for the rest of the run.

  3. Ungeheuer says:

    Poor Gelb. Wigs and makeup are the least of it. It isn’t his fault that charismatic and important artists and voices have disappeared. As I have written before: The elephant in the room no one wants to recognize let alone bring out in the open. Little to nothing the man can do to contain the aforementioned plague or sit enough butts to witness less than mediocrity night after night. Good luck to him. Good luck to the Met. Good luck to the artform. Good luck to us.

    1. Relan says:

      Re: Charismatic and important artists and voices…. One wonders if someone like Callas with her un-cookie cutter sound could make it today. Too much attention to spectographs and the like in today’s conservatories and not enough attention to individuality. This push toward uniformity through science has created a world where “you’ve heard one, you’ve heard ’em all.”

      1. Ungeheuer says:

        Exactly

      2. Sanity says:

        Modern singing techniques actually run against the laws of physics. The ‘science’ is so misguided, it’s laughable.

      3. Tim says:

        Amen! You want to put people on seats? Have artists that creat and even and excitement. “Lovely” does get people excited. Up until 10 years ago, I would plan how many trip I would take to
        NYC based on great singing. Today, no way! Yes, are some excellent singers, but exciting? NO! People used to save their money just to hear Pavarotti, Freni, Scotto, Domingo, young Carreras, Lorengar, Behrens, vonStade, Batltle, etc. there are tons more. Now the singing is generally polite and clean…. no unique or individual (even when. It perfect) are allowed. They have some bad singers as well. Gelb wouldn’t know a grea artist if one fell on him. Opera is not about crazy productions, iits about drama through sound and sensation.

        1. John Kelly says:

          100% agree. And you didn’t mention Franco Corelli or Del Monaco, the likes of which I have long given up hope of hearing…………..

        2. OldSchool says:

          “opera is not about” etc., well put by Tim

        3. MacroV says:

          I loved all those singers, but I tend to think there’s a bit of nostalgia at work. When it comes to instrumentalists, the standard of play has never been higher, and there are more great orchestras today than ever before; any orchestra that pays a living wage (or even less) these days is excellent.

          With opera, the orchestras are better than ever before, as are the production capabilities. I have a hard time believing that the singers aren’t also better trained (and better actors) as well; the main problem is that today’s singers aren’t yet dead or retired. I suspect that anywhere in the world, if you walk into an opera house, on average you’ll see a better-played, produced, conducted and sung show than than ever before. A lot of opera is always bad. But a lot of people like to harken back to that mythical day of yore when Toscanini conducted Tosca with Callas, Pavarotti, and Chaliapin, directed by David Lean, with tickets costing only 50 cents.

          1. Sanity says:

            I’m sorry; but with regards to singing you have absolutely no idea what you’re talking about. The technical standard of singing now, at the Met and elsewhere, is abysmal.

      4. OldSchool says:

        Not just Callas but anyone would and can make it with the right sponsorship backing them, and the opera houses hiring.

        We are long bereft of the days of merit-based promotion, at Met level houses, of artists.

    2. JohnBoy Walton says:

      As a young singer, who was told by several companies “we don’t know what to do with you,” I saw this coming. Excitement is frowned upon now. So many houses and schools are so quick to want to fach a singer, they frown upon singers that can sing across several types of repertoire. I was told once that my “voice was too big to sing that high” when I was auditioning with Credeasi misera from Puritani. The problem is these houses started hiring looks and stopped focusing on voices. They also all turned into factories that used young singers up and spit them out with vocal folds that were ripped to shreds. In the words of Julia Sugarbaker “I pray that people with power will get good sense and people with good sense will get power and that the rest of us will be blessed with the patience and the strength to survive…” How do we have non-singers running and making decisions about companies that focus on singing?

    3. SAVE THE MET says:

      Gelb could use a wig, he looks like Voldemort.

  4. Helene Kamioner says:

    Doe anyone know what happened to Victor Calegari?

    1. JohnR says:

      Victor is happily retired. Still very interesting to talk Opera with, IMO.

  5. Ed Golterman says:

    Experimentation, modernization and trying to be all things to all people don’t work in a sustaining basis. Catching up also with Symphony orchestras.

  6. einSänger says:

    one lowly, working singer’s rambling perspective:

    casting (and ‘charisma’, apparently) in any given house, has gone the way of most hollywood film casting: stereotypical looks over talent, Ausstrahlung, or ability to truly communicate something important. this seems to be directly correlated to how much money said house spends on their marketing. somewhere along the way, more and more weight has been given to looks or ‘acting’ and has gotten people cast (and hence a career) who don’t have the voice for it. this happened less 30 years ago, and even less 30 years before that. what were the social, media influences then?

    the best dramatic (and lyric – though, to a lesser extent) singers i know are not all that good looking, because – unsurprisingly – the genetics of our beautiful, brutal art don’t necessarily coincide with photoshop-perfect figures, or with tall people having ‘big’ or dramatic voices and tiny people having ‘small’ or lyric instruments. the voices are still there, dammit; they’re just not getting cast (or even getting into conservatory) because they don’t fit our social ideals.

    there are only few good examples of careers in the past that had everything – who would have had even a snowball’s chance in hell of getting hired today: all together the (modern) good looks, instrument, musicality, connections, timing, etc. Those historical examples are so few and far between, that i think we probably have a similar number/percentage now, as compared to any time in history. that being said – the average of what you hear on any given night in any given house and the variety of artists has been negatively impacted by hollywood/magazine ideals of beauty and charisma (whatever charisma is other than good looks, nowadays). the top one percent hasn’t changed all that much perhaps, but the top 10 to 20 percent has been drastically altered.

    we’re being robbed of amazing talent in our theaters, and it’s not because the voices aren’t there any more. it’s because our priorities have shifted. singing used to be all that got you in the door. now, a slew of other talents and genetic quirks (just being pretty) will get you in the door; being overwieght will get you sidelined and told to lose weight if you want to work. I’ve even seen it happen to colleagues in extremely rare Fächer: Verdi baritones, dramatic sopranos, counter tenors! Also, voices that have potential to become great artists and are working, are not encouraged/forced to become exellent singers. so much else counts too much.

    there are also the effects of recordings on our aesthetic, but i don’t think those are as detrimental at a basic level to the art. there are some few singers that i’ve heard on recordings and loved and then heard them in houses (or stood on stage with them), and thought ‘huh, where’s their voice?’, but this seems to be less of a problem to me than the visual side of media.

    teaching also plays a role, though the effects are slower: mostly, the retiring generation of top singers get the ‘top’ teaching jobs. the less they know what they are doing when they get tenure, the less worthwhile information the best talents going into college get from their ‘best’ teachers. luckily, we (singers) are not (all) idiots, and college only gets you so far anyhow, so plenty of singers still find other singers who know what the hell it is that they’re doing to help them along. i’m not sure to what extent this is different than any time in history. there have always been harmful teachers. for proof, all you have to do is look at a survey of historical vocal literature.

    opera was always seen as exclusive. i’m not sure that that’s bad; exclusive or oppressive cultures have always made the best art. let’s get back to being an exclusive culture of the acoustic human voice accompanied live by accoustic instruments, and let’s try to disclude all the rest of the modern hogwash that is diluting what we’re trying to accomplish. instead of finding a way to use all of our amazing modern media to show what it is that special and amazing about opera, we’ve let it poison the very heart of it: the beautiful voice

    1. Nik says:

      We’re about to move to the next stage: ethnically correct casting.
      The SJW brigade will not rest until every role is taken by a singer whose heritage is 100% matched with that of the character, or else they will attempt to shut down every production that doesn’t meet their standards. This is what will finally kill opera stone dead.

  7. Harry Lanches says:

    Would be interesting to know what Gelb’s T&E expenses total – whilst at Sony, he was known as a lavish spender and a set of both expenses and corporate accounts.

    1. SAVE THE MET says:

      I’m waiting to hear about the sexual harassment charges coming out against him…..oh, wait, he’s a castrated eunuch.

  8. Jane Morgan says:

    I cannot enter in to the discussion about voice etc however vital it is to opera! I worked at the Met several years ago, a “visiting” British costume designer! It is within virtually every department a “closed shop”. Inpenatrable to any outsider. Almost untouchable- then along comes Mr Gelb and woosh – no more wigs and make up!! So who exactly is going to do this job when the next period piece requires it? Freelancers charging more per performance than the entire department budget for the season ……..how does that save money???

  9. George says:

    How about bringing in Pereira?

  10. OldSchool says:

    There are no administrators at Met level that can do better than what this administration has done, because there is no sense of artistic musical integrity, craft nor tradition among the general sensibility.

    Also to echo another point: ENOnis in a trough. there has been no reversal of fortune there l, at least as yet. The sample set of timeframe has no chance to bear any evidence; and even Still, there is no recovery as yet at even the most minuscule scale.

    Anyone can pay for publicity, however the facts bely any untrue account of the state of matters at ENO.

  11. Richard Ferris says:

    WOZZECK SAYS The reality of the opera “crisis” has apparently evaded all of the authors of the comments I have read. At the time of labor negotiations on new contracts for orchestra, chorus, etc. Met management claimed that average annual salaries and benefits of orchestral members ($280,000) and chorus members ($300,000) were unsustainable. (Figures were reported in the New York Times). The Met and other classical music and opera companies will never survive until they pay their hired hands what they can afford. I am not blind to the talents of the subject individuals and the effort that goes into performing. However, I truly believe that 70% or more of the opera house’s audience would not know the difference if a $200,000 (or less) orchestra member was playing instead of a $300,000 one. The same goes for chorus members. You cannot pay people what they think they should receive. Management must make the difficult decision and face up to the financial realities and reduce salaries and benefits. I can already hear the pleas: “They work hard and deserve these financial rewards.”. That’s pure “bull-feathers” and continuing down the present path will result in every last one of them losing their jobs eventually and result in the demise of the company they are working for.

    1. OldSchool says:

      Salary issues don’t evade the commentary so much as evade relevance to the core of what is being discussed.

      Managerial issues of any kind are to be handled by competent management (optimally)


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