All that glitters is not Gelb

All that glitters is not Gelb


norman lebrecht

July 06, 2008

A statement by Peter Gelb to the Economist has set alarm bells ringing.

At his former job, as head of Sony Classical, Gelb used to deliver hour-long harangues about how his genius would rescue the label and the recording industry as a whole. By the time he quit, Sony was a shambles and the industry near-dead. For the detail, see here.

Now read Gelb in The Economist: ‘When I took over, the Met was on a declining slope toward extermination…’ He does not finish the sentence, but the implication is that golden man has once more revived a dying goose.

This is pure fantasy. The Met, with an endowment running into hundreds of millions of dollars, was never at death’s door, let alone an emotive threat of ‘extermination’. It just needed a blast of fresh air after a decade of stagnation.

What Gelb has done – introducing new repertoire, new directors, opera at the movies and in the open air – has been highly effective and long overdue, but no more than the start of what needs to be a coherent strategy to make opera meaningful to a wider American public. Let’s hope the strategy is in place, because without it Gelb’s reforms will soon go stale and in a couple of years the Met will be right back in the state he found it.

I, for one, very much hope that there is depth and breadth to the Gelb plan because I like to see success in the arts more than I enjoy criticising failure. But this latest boast, echoing the hollow claims of his Sony years, has me worried. 

Hubris is a sign that a leader has peaked. What follows is nemesis. Peter Gelb needs to take care that he does not let himself believe a myth of his own making.


  • Maxim Gershunoff says:

    Credit is due to Peter Gelb. Yet not to be forgotten is the late great impresario Sol Hurok. Some 35 years ago, when Hurok at the time sold his business to General Electric, the plan was to have performances of the highly prestigious concert artists appearing on the Hurok Carnegie Hall subscription series, as well as Hurok’s imported ballet companies appearing at the Met,all simulcast to movie theaters throughout the USA. Unfortunately,technical advances of that era could not achieve the desired results and the plan was shelved.
    A very young Peter Gelb worked in the Hurok offices at the time in the mail room and publicity department. He most assuredly must have recalled office scuttlebutt during General Electric’s period of ownership. With today’s technical advances and simulcasts farily prevalent with sports events, the process is a success.
    We must thank Peter Gelb for having remembered and then making Metropolitan Opera performances available worldwide through television simulcasting but some credit may also be due to the vision of
    Sol Hurok, an innovator in many aspects of the performing arts and whose byword was: “Music for the Masses!”.