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.