A moral challenge at the Met (updated)

A moral challenge at the Met (updated)


norman lebrecht

December 10, 2011

Forget about James Levine, whose sorrowful drip-drip withdrawal will soon barely make the news.

The big question is how the Met conducts its business. When Fabio Luisi was parachuted in to replace Levine, he was forced to cancel opera engagements in Rome, Genoa and Covent Garden. When those houses protested – if only at the short notice – Peter Gelb told them, in effect, to sod off. His need was greater than theirs. No more Mr Nice Guy.

Now, in an interview with the Guardian‘s Charlotte Higgins, Gelb defends his contentious policy of tying cinemas around the world to an exclusive contract for Met operas, preventing them from showing productions by any national house. Here’s what he says:

There is competition everywhere – including in the world of opera. We compete for singers, we compete for directors, why not compete for cinemas, too?

Oh, really? Competing for conductors and artists is a matter of money and persuasion and casting and other benefits. Tying cinemas to a lockout contract is monopolistic. It is unfair and uncompetitive. It also alienates audiences from the opera houses in their own country.

Gelb is widely (if privately) known as The Ugly American. If he looks in the mirror, he might recognise himself as the counter-type hero of Eugene Burdick and William Lederer’s 1958 political novel of that title, an idealist overwhelmed by the crude US imperialism of his time. It will not help the Met in the long term to be seen around the world as an opportunitic monopolist [amended, after lit. crit. from La Cieca, see below].

Peter Gelb, general manager of the Metropolitan Opera

Photograph: Dario Acosta/Metropolitan Opera

UPDATE here.


  • Tom Moore says:

    The root of the problem is the selfish and unethical behavior of Mr. Levine (and of course, his enablers).

  • Thomas Moser says:

    At the core of the issue is the continuing belief that the MET represents a sort of operatic Olympus. The “Gods” are created there, and one only experiences them in that house. The news that this myth could no longer continue after European recovery following WWII has still not been reported in New York. The fact is : one can find all of today´s “usual suspects” conducting, singing, directing, designing in all of the world´s major houses on a regular basis. Of course the MET position is a further gem in Fabio Luisi´s coronet, but the “stamp” that the MET gives to a performing career is more legendary than anything else. Just like singing a major production or even the opening night at La Scala. Looks great in your bio and cv, but the “cognoscenti” know that things there are on no higher a level than anywhere else.

  • EMil Archambault says:

    Is Peter Gelb afraid that comparison with the ROH or La Scala will demonstrate that his opera house is NOT incomparably better than ROH or La Scala?

    If the Metropolitan Opera broadcasts were so inherently superior to their European counterparts, there would be no need for the MET to hide itself behind exclusive contracts, right? No one would want to go to ROH/Scala operas broadcasts if the MET operas were so much better, right?

    If all the MET has to offer is in style with the boring, unoriginal, confuse, under-rehearsed Faust I saw this afternoon, then I can understand why the MET needs to resort to aggressive market strategies. That does not make them suitable nor good, though.

    Finally, Peter Gelb forgets that it is possible for Jonas Kaufmann (or anyone else) to sing in New York AND in London AND in Milan; why wouldn’t a cinema be able to show operas from more than one source? And to address his argument regarding the two concurrent Faust, I would suggest to him a magical solution: it is called “collaborative planning”, like in “we will collaborate in planning our broadcasts so that we show different stuff with different singers”.

  • ariel says:

    What baloney about Luisi being forced to do anything – he is just as grubby as any other conductor now
    practicing their dreary trade . Luisi could have responded by saying “thank you but I have other signed
    commitments which I will honour as a gentleman ” but being a conductor looking for what he thinks is
    greater exposure he is ” forced” to conduct at the Met . Spare us the hypocrisy. Sleaze is sleaze.

    Is there a photograph of Luisi being dragged to the Met in chains ?? just curious .

  • La Cieca says:

    “The Ugly American” in the book referred to is neither antediluvian nor imperialist; in fact, he is the notable for being unlike the ordinary run of Americans abroad in that he is respectful and helpful to the local people. The title is ironic, for the hero of the book, though physically unattractive, is sympathetic, in contrast to his fellow countrymen, who are high-handed and feckless in the way that Lebrecht is trying to depict Gelb. (Presumably, if Lebrecht had read the novel or even bothered to look up the Wikipedia entry about it, he would realize that he was committing a classic blunder.)

    • La Cieca is quite right. I wrote the entry in a hurry and conflated two ideas. The notion of the ‘ugly American’ originated with Graham Greene, who modified it into The Quiet American, a novel that appeared in 1956, two years ahead of the other title. Like The Ugly American, it centred on a young US idealist whose good intentions are shattered by the crude imperialism of the 1950s. I had the opportunity to discuss the theme at length with Grahame Greene, a significant experience which may help extenuate my confusion. I will amend the article accordingly.

  • Anne S says:

    I detect some gratuitous anti-americanism. Those of us who have the good fortune of living in New York and enjoying the Met’s amazing line-up of productions are quite grateful for its continued success and financial stability. News of the demise of orchestras and opera companies and loss of government funding has been all too common recently. The erratic behavior of conductors or divas is hardly novel or surprising, the “nationality” of the opera company or its director, non-withstanding.

    • I’m an American and I don’t find the commentary anti-American. The Met’s 300M budget for its paltry, seven month season is about twice what comparable European houses spend for 12 months seasons.

      We also see that most European countries have at least one *fulltime* opera house for about every one million people, while the USA only has about 6 real opera houses for 320 million. Chicago and San Francisco have five month seasons, Houston the equivalent of about a three month season in terms of performances, Santa Fe a six week season, and the Washington National Opera about a six week season in terms of number of performances. Most American companies only do a few performances a year with pick-up musicians in rental facilities.

      The USA has only 3 cities in the top 100 for number of opera performances per year: The Met at 7, Chicago at 66, and San Francisco at 81. It’s a national disgrace.

      The Washington National Opera comes in at 129, while little Pforzheim Germany with only 119,000 residents comes in at 68. The WNO is our national joke.

      We see that New York City’s wealthy donors service themselves luxuriously while letting the rest of the country go to hell. It’s only natural the Met’s administrators are working to establish monopolitistic practices in cinemas. It fits their plutocratic character perfectly. There’s nothing more anti-American than our dysfunctional, neo-feudalistic system of arts funding itself.

      • Harold Braun says:

        Don`tell me about Pforzheim”Opera House”.I`ve worked there for a couple of months and i can assure you,
        the level both musically and stage wise is absolutely abominable!

        • It’s a tiny city of 119,000 people and competing for personnel from 82 other fulltime opera houses in Germany. The point is that everyone in Germany has easy access to live opera performances, something the USA can’t even contemplate. I’ve seen performances in Pforzheim, and for a house that size the work is often surprisingly good. I even saw a double bill with Marc Neikrug’s “Through Roses” and Mark Anthony Turnage’s “Blood On the Floor” that even our big houses would not dream of programming.

      • Greg Hlatky says:

        I understand that public arts funding in Germany is done mostly at the local level, with much less from the state and very little from the federal government. So what’s stopping New York, Boston, Chicago, San Francisco or Los Angeles from establishing and funding at the same level that Germany does their own full-time opera house and orchestra? Why can’t one city in this country try it? It could be an interesting experiment. Would these be a source of pride to their cities, delivering art at high standards? Or would they be the musical equivalent of the Department of Motor Vehicles?

        • That’s correct about the local funding in Germany and Europe as a whole. DMV employees with high school educations can’t be compared to college educated artists. The motivation in handing out license plates is also very different from the ecstasy of singing arias. A better comparison might be to our state universities, ranging from modest but still quite good institutions like Oklahoma State to world-class places like UCLA. In all state universities, the professors are generally highly motivated people who set high standards for themselves and each other. That’s more what a state opera house would be like. The communities would inevitably take great pride in their local cultural institutions, so something like the achievement standards of sports teams might also be a valid comparison. That’s what I observe in Europe.

          • Greg Hlatky says:

            Very nice, sir, but it doesn’t answer my question. Any city in the US can establish and fund an orchestra and/or opera company without reference to any other city or the state or the federal government. Why haven’t any?

  • Anne S says:

    Our government is about to stop supporting education altogether, let alone music. And you should expect similar enlightenment when it comes to science and research if certain electorate has its way.. Good luck getting support for opera companies around the country, especially when there is an ever dwindling audience. I think that the numbers you mention would be more relevant if they counted the number of people who are actually interested in music or opera. We lag far behind the Europeans. As for their inflated budget, I am not an expert, but their next door lower budget all but expired recently. Where was the audience?
    . Resolutely a 99er myself, the met opera is one form of feudalism that I have not minded subjugating myself to.

    • Opera is not feudalistic, but rather our method of funding it by donations from the wealthy. In fact, opera is in some respects a popular art form. It can go both ways, but leans toward the elitist in America because of its funding system. With proper management and adequate funding the NYCO could draw good publics.

  • ariel says:

    It is grossly unfair to comment negatively on the likes of Peter Gelb – his dreary history tells all – One cannot but believe he is a business man who trades in the music “commodities market ” . This market has no standard except
    for that which sells and however you dress it( see picture of opening night attire – that’ll give you some pause ) . the
    bottom line is what counts .The majority of the opera audience is an abysmally ignorant music crowd where only
    top notes matter and the rest of the music is filler to these moments and as long as that crowd fills the house it is
    all that matters in varying degree to managers , however they pretend to serve the
    music . Does any one think this latest Faust at the Met was done with any artistic integrity in mind ? the singers
    that took part , the conductor and on down the line , no one thought to say – no ! …it’s business and
    if they can sell 2nd. rate before the dummys’ wise up that they’ve been taken the house will keep selling the
    2nd. rate . You cannot blame Gelb for anything , he reflects his audience .

  • Joe Mathews says:

    The funny thing is that Zürcher Oper don’t really even want Luisi – they would much rather have Gatti on a permanent basis!

  • Harold Braun says:

    Having heard yesterdays glorious broadcast of Gounod`s Faust (Kaufmann.Pape .Poplovskaya in the main roles;Nezet Seguin in the pit) i can only say:MET still IS No.1!!! And how hypocritical is it to blame Mr.Gelb to manage the worlds top opera house also financially sucessful in this difficult times!In contrast to other highly valuable(and some lesser,too) institutions of art he has recognized the signs of time and has responded to these challenges in an appropiate way.

    • Gelb has indeed helped the Met remain financially stable. On the other hand, the American funding system focuses cultural expression in a few financial centers where the wealthy donors live, and leaves the rest of the country culturally impoverished. Gelb and other arts administrators like him, work to reinforce this system of injustice.

      The Met’s monopolistic broadcast practices are just one small aspect of this larger problem. Sadly, it’s a bit typical of New Yorkers to thump their chests about their cultural offerings while jeering at the rest of the country because it does not share the city’s financial resources for cultural institutions. The French once had a similar problem. They found the guillotine an effective solution… Occupy Lincoln Center.

      • Janey says:

        This is simply incorrect. Boston is a thriving cultural city. Chicago is an amazing cultural center. Seattle, San Jose, Houston, San Francisco (despite financial problems), New Orleans, and others have absolutely thriving cultural centers. No one involved in arts communities jeers at any of these cities; they do extremely well. Nothing is easy financially, but US culture is certainly not centered in New York. Opera culture, yes, because the Met has been run exceedingly well. But, that shouldn’t dismiss great work being done by companies all over the country, not the least of which are SF, Chicago, Houston and Seattle.

        • In terms of performances per year by cities, Houston is in the 109th position, Boston 162nd, and Seattle is 172nd. Chicago is only 66th, and San Francisco 81st. And yet these are some of the largest and richest cities in the world. No one can claim there is lively cultural activity in the genre we are discussing, opera, when the performances aren’t even happening. When these cities make their chest thumping claims, we need to tell them to put up or shut up.

          See the numbers here on the Operabase website:

          If you claim other types of culture in regional cities are lively, your argument will only substantiated with concrete, documented numbers. Given American denial on the subject, this is especially important.

          • Janey says:

            I clearly stated that the Met was the opera center of the US. But okay, you tell SFO, LOC and HGO that they don’t have vibrant opera cultures. If I’m a city that puts on twice as many performances as another but my performances are cr*p, I’m still automatically better? Quality means nothing? Casting levels? Production values?

            Have you ever been to Chicago? If so, you would have the temerity to say that this city isn’t a cultural center?

            What sort of numbers are you looking for outside of opera culture? People that call themselves cultured in other cities?

            Your anti-US bias is showing.

            And no, I’m not looking up numbers. I need to get to work.

          • Kit says:

            I wonder where Chicago would rank if theatre performances were included? I suspect right up there. When I lived in Chicago, it had one of the most active theatre cultures I’ve ever experienced. Not to mention the classical musical scene, with the Chicago Symphony leading the way. Blues, anyone?

            Anyone who can suggest that Chicago culturally impoverished must either never have been there, or have some ulterior motive that has nothing to do with the city itself.

            Read on…. is this happening in your city, Mr. Osborne?


  • Janey says:

    What a funny article and even funnier comments. We see here the basic difference between America and Europe regarding arts support. Peter Gelb must rely on revenue from sales and private donations. European houses also receive subsidies. Gelb is a businessman in the business of opera. European opera houses…… not so much.

    He is doing what is necessary for the Met. What is wrong with that? Is he the General Manager of La Scala or ROH? Or better yet – why didn’t La Scala and ROH sign the contracts first? Oh wait… because HD broadcasts they are now embracing were Gelb’s idea, pioneered by the Met. Tell me why exactly the Met should go out on a limb with a brand new and expensive technology and then just let other companies take over without a fight?

    The Met is a New Yorker! Enough said. LOL

    • The answer is that opera is not a for-profit operation, and when forced to be, serious harm is often done. The monopolistic practices of the Met are a perfect example. They end up shutting out more cultural expression than they further. And this is to say nothing of low regard their unadventurous productions and programming have in the international operatic community — a situation necessistated by their excessive business model. In the opera world, New York is almost synonymous with banality.

      • Janey says:

        Anti-US bias again.

        What cultural expression is the Met shutting out? La Scala, ROH? If so, then I’d say the problem is with them, not the Met. The Met is absolutely not “for profit,” but is “self-sustaining” and not requiring of government subsidy because the population idoesn’t support it. Which opera culture is more developed? The culture that supports an opera house with 100% of its budget, or the culture that forces an opera house to go hand out to the government for support?

        • Above you mention you’re not going to look at numbers. This is unfortunate, because we have to approach these questions objectively. You also mention the quality of performances vs. numbers. Here too the Met has serious problems due to its star system. The star’s schedules are tight so they come for a minimum of rehearsals with obvious negative effects manifested in the Met’s simplistic park-and-bark stagings.

          To answer your question, I would say the countries that spend the most on opera and have the most performances are generally speaking those with the most advanced opera cultures. Naturally, from this perspective, the USA rates quite low.

          Small regional houses in Europe do not, of course, have the resources to compete with big houses like the Met, but the view is that opera is one of the most visceral and corporeal of all the performing arts. Live performances made possible by local companies are thus thought to be a much more enriching experience than cinema broadcasts. Americans are being duped if they think the Met’s broadcasts are suitable substitutes for local companies doing live performances. It says something about the low, and even clueless standards of our opera culture.

      • Janey says:

        One final note:

        I wonder, if the Met is synonymous with “banality” – what’s the problem with the Met having its exclusive contracts? Surely, no one will attend the productions and the contracts will become unsustainable. Right? Surely after 5 years of contracts, it must have become clear by now that no one likes or will attend those new, untried HD transmissions. Right? Of course. So now that the whole idea has failed worldwide, (it has, right?) the ROH will simply take over the abandoned theaters. Right? Did someone mention banality?

  • tls says:

    Give me the Met’s “unadventurous” productions over the typical Euro-trash productions any day. Please! I’ve seen such ludicrous, self-important JUNK calling itself enlightened Art in opera houses across Europe, I don’t know whether to laugh or cry. And like in The Emperor’s New Clothes, the cognoscenti nod their heads and rub their chins and murmur “ahhhh…” as though Fidelio set on Mars really plumbs the depths of the human experience and reveals hidden secrets. Meanwhile, stage directors run amok have the poor singers breathless with their antics to the point where they can barely pant out their arias. After all, what matters breaking the phrase when it’s possible to throw in tight-rope walking, cartwheels, ladder-climbing and leaps into and out of a jacuzzi tub?European opera – where music all too often comes last.

    • I think the perspectives you mention regarding Europe’s Regietheater derives from the fact that we Americans see so few opera productions. Since most Americans will only see a few, if any, live opera performances in their lives, they naturally want to see traditional settings. Many Europeans, by contrast, have been seeing the standard opera repertoire all their lives, so the added layers of meaning and interpretation created by new and more adventurous stagings are welcomed. It adds something new to the experience. When Americans rail against Reggietheater, they inadvertently reveal naivety due to a lack of exposure to opera. Of course, this isn’t to say that some productions aren’t indeed ridiculous. The Europeans have so many more productions, they can afford to go out on a limb.

      • Petros Linardos says:

        For all your good insights, I think you go too far in idealizing Europe and ranting about the US in general and the MET in particular. For instance:
        – Underrehearsed performances are not limited to the MET. Try the Vienna State Opera on repertoire performances.
        – The star system has been around for at least four decades and dominates all opera houses. Don’t the usual suspects show up with clockwork regularity at the MET, the ROH, the Paris Opera, Vienna, La Scala etc?
        – I see Regietheater is an acquired taste. I attended many opera performances in Vienna between 1980 and 1986, then at the MET and all over the Europe through the 90s, and always preferred naturalistic stagings. I never warmed up to it. What I find even more regrettable about, yes, Eurotrash, is that directors who are clueless about music direct the singers, often in ways that interfere with singing. (One of my biggest disappointments about Gelb is how he is undoing one Zeffirelli or Schenk production after another.)

        • Yes, Petros, there is much to what you say. I am also not a big fan of Regietheater, for that matter. In essence, it exists because many, if not most opera librettos, are so absurd that they beg for enhancement. This applies to many contemporary operas as well. Unfortunately, Regietheater is a stop-gap method of trying to improve librettos (both new and old.)

          And even more, Regietheater is a largely futile attempt to recreate texts in ways that might give the standard repertoire more modern relevancy. It points to a large weakness in opera as a genre, since the vague goal of integrating words and music has never been fully achieved even after 500 years of development. By the 19th century, the art of the librettist had become so demeaned it was considered hack work. Though this is not to overlook the truly great librettos by authors like Da Ponti or Boito’s adaptations of Shakespeare for Verdi.

          The opera world can be broken into two basic categories, star-houses and ensemble-houses. Most of the houses in Europe are ensemble-houses. They employ a regular staff of singers who work for the house fulltime (or something close to it.) This allows for extensive rehearsal and the creation of more theatrically viable productions. The directors and singers often spend years working together and this allows for the development of true ensemble work.

          Even big houses like Vienna, Zurich, Munich, Paris, Milan, Berlin, Frankfurt, Hamburg and Brussels work more along the ensemble-house model, even if they employ the occasional star. The regional houses of Europe are almost exclusive ensemble oriented, because they can’t afford the stars. It allows for a kind of operatic performance most Americans have never experienced.

    • Harold Braun says:

      Dear tls,
      I couldn`t agree more with you.Having worked in various German Opera Houses for 27 years now,i have to say opera life in Germany has changed beyond recognition.Most opera houses here are run by non musicians,usually theater people.Most so called “directors” not only have no clue about the masterpieces they`re going to mutiliate,they are actually proud of it and often show quiet openly their disregard and contempt for the composers and performers as well.This bunch of fuck -ups abuse these masterpieces for pure self-promotion with a little help from their imbecile friends from the press. The prepousterous,contorted nonsense on stage gets often also in the way of a proper,credible musical performance.Unfortunately,most of the conductors don`t have the balls to tell these suckers they should go to hell.As a result opera lovers stay away in crowds.But since state subsidy also covers empty seats,no one seems to care till some of the money is cut down,people are laid off,etc..The reaction of those responsible for the mess is usually one of self-pity and blame-shifting on the audience,who is considered being to stupid to follow the intentions of the know it all smart ass director.And they really stick together,those hopelessly untalented trying to be clever frauds of German Regietheater.
      I tell you,the whole baloney about the unique operatic landscape in Germany is more myth than truth,more dwelling on the past then reality The whole system is more or less on life support..It reminds me a bit of the situation in east- european countries during the last years under communist rule.Those in power closed their eyes to reality and celebrated themselves.Andif money was in short supply,they just let print new bills.

      • The Musik Information Zentrum notes that about 75% of the seats in German opera houses are sold. This number is reached by design, since the houses try to create a balance between popular and innovative programming. The big houses also often do up to 8 performances a week, which reduces capacity crowds, but allows people more flexibility in attendance. I wish we Americans had the luxury of complaining about all our local, state opera houses.

        • Janey says:

          Which states don’t have at least one opera house?

          • It depends on what you mean by “opera house.” American’s have gotten very flexible about what they call one. In Europe, it is a building used exclusively for opera and is used year-round. It includes a main stage with an orchestral pit, and massive system of stage lighting and stage machinery. It includes buildings used for scene shops, and a number of smaller spaces used for specialists like costumers and prop builders. The backstage areas also include an array of fully-equipped dressing rooms. The houses also own extensive warehouses for stage sets and costumes. The house also contains a host of offices for administrative personnel. They also have a lot of rehearsal rooms for their fulltime chorus, and ballet, as well as smaller practice rooms.

            The big houses in Europe usually employ about 800 people fulltime – like Munich, Vienna, Paris, Stuttgart, Milan, Frankfurt, Hamburg, Brussels, etc. The smallest houses probably go down to around 200, though I’m not certain on that number. Big houses like in Munich, believe it or not, also have fulltime shoe makers and even an armor maker. Even the tiniest houses in Germany, like Pforzheim, have state of the art, on-line ticketing systems.

            So by these standards, I would say America has about six real opera houses, though none of them are used fulltime – the longest season being seven months. They would be the Met, Chicago, San Francisco, Houston, Washington, and Santa Fe. Other real houses might exist in Seattle and Los Angeles, but their seasons are so short I’m not certain they have dedicated houses. Other readers might fill us in about local, if neglected, genuine opera house facilities. Since they are not much used, it is difficult to know of their existence.

            It is amazing that Washington has an actual opera house as part of Kennedy Center, but only does about a six week season in terms of number of performances. (Talk about a very expensive type of facility going to waste!) So that would make about 40 or more states that do not have what would be termed a genuinely functioning, professional opera house.

            The oddest exception would be Indiana University, which has what would be an A-level opera house in Europe, though it is used only for student productions (though the performance quality would also be in the A-level in Europe.) And that defines the American tragedy. It produces more highly trained opera singers than any other country in the world (and often the best trained,) but provides not even 0.1% of them with genuine jobs. It is an extraordinary loss of human potential that could make our country a much better place.

            If you want to follow the American system, and call any multi-purpose rental stage, often without a pit or built-in scenic stage lighting, no scene shops, no rehearsal rooms, no dedicated offices, and no storage facilities an opera house, then you can make-up your own number. And of course, these “houses” do slap-dash productions with pick-up musicians – though these musicians are often extremely well-trained. As I said before, it’s a national disgrace – and a national tragedy.

            I’ve seen so many incredibly good young American singers in Europe who arrive trying to find work. They congregate mostly in Munich because that is where many of the agents have their offices that handle opera singers. The usually don’t have work permits and live utterly wretched existence. I remember an incredible soprano who was cleaning toilets in the hotel of an American army base in Munich, since without a work permit, it was the only place she could be employed.

          • Janey says:

            Oh.My.Lord. Not even worth trying. Yes, we poor, pitiful Americans. Puh-lease.

          • Heh, this is completely not true that most of the Opera Companies in the US perform without proper scenery, lighting, pit etc.. as you say here: “If you want to follow the American system, and call any multi-purpose rental stage, often without a pit or built-in scenic stage lighting, no scene shops, no rehearsal rooms, no dedicated offices, and no storage facilities an opera house, then you can make-up your own number. And of course, these “houses” do slap-dash productions with pick-up musicians – though these musicians are often extremely well-trained. As I said before, it’s a national disgrace – and a national tragedy. ” This simply isn’t true for the most part at all. They make their scenery, do their rehearsal and have offices, all in appropriate places that aren’t part of the building where the stage is. And I’m quite positive that often the semi-professional chorus adds a bit of life with their enthusiasm something that might be missing in the routined more highly paid musicians working for the opera houses. It’s stupid and silly to compare and I don’t even know why I’m doing it except that there’s no need to insult the enthusiasm, hard work and passion of people that produce half decent productions without much government assistance and that depend on volunteer work and working hard to get corporate and private hand outs. According to the statistics from the page you shared, the US still has one third as many opera performances as the country where opera was born: Italy. The US certainly has it’s share of opera singers in the top ranks, so there’s really no excuse that there isn’t more opera here, but this is at least something. Yes, it would be great if all these opera companies had more money, if they had more facilities and if there were more of them. And with the amount of truly fine singers in the US it is a national disgrace. I’m with a lot of people, and I’m assuming you as well, that the world would be a lot happier place if the US government did something different with more than half of it’s budget than fund wars. The will is there!

          • Sorry, I mean the US has a third as many opera performances per capita as Italy.

  • Although it’s seen in movie theaters, I hardly think that the Met represents American “culture.” I’ve yet to see Jim Carrey sing Dulcamara, with Brangelina doing Nemorino and Adina on the screen. Oh! But Pitt’s not a tenor. Golly Gee Gosh, well, you could have someone else sing the role in the Pit…you know, for the money. Having exclusive contracts with theaters, although it’s “American”, is then actually (surprise) not really intelligent, as that it takes away all the other performances from anywhere else that could be shown and which would get people interested in Opera. That way, there would be more theaters and people interested. Hint hint: more ticket sales and more $$$$$$$$$$$$$! And of course, with a country that spends billions on a circus called presidential elections and has more lobbyists in Washington than politicians, this means that when an opera company goes to the same people that keep all this running, they aren’t going to the government for handouts. And this makes them “not for profit” and “self sustaining” in comparison. Whether or not the Met is trying to be as New York as Wall Street, there really is culture in America. Try looking in the places where there is a lack of government and “private” funding. Try looking in the reservations where the people are warehoused who lived here before the conquistadors came. The people that were here before this penal colony called James Town was settled; where just about all orphans, vagrants, widows and criminals the Virginia company could get their hands in on in England were worked to death because they were for sale to be shipped oversees to represent the right to escape “religious persecution.” Good GOD, I get tired of these “discussions.” On the other hand, I’m quite happy that there are these live telecasts, but I don’t believe Mr. Gelb himself designed the technology or that the people who did would have the intelligence they have if they believed that putting themselves on a limb creating the technology had anything to do with ONE company somewhere putting themselves “precariously” on a limb would others be allowed to use it!

  • ariel says:

    As usual when music is discussed most writers run off in all directions and tend to bore one into
    oblivion by rehashed prejudices and second rate insights rather than stick to the premise .
    Mr. Osborne is “park and bark ” your original observation ??? we here who know the field have not stopped
    laughing . If the observation is yours , you are our hero – alas it reflects on most major opera houses .
    Not that what else you write is not insightful – but” park and bark” hits it right on the mark .

    • I would like to claim “park and bark” but my guess would be that others have also used the phrase. I see a post above by La Cieca. If anyone, she might know where it first appeared. And it’s true, the Met is by no means the only house with the problem.

  • I hope that Levine gets better. Even if he doesn’t he’s already given tremendously. I recently happened to pick up at our local library a CD of Richard Strauss’s Tod und Verklarung conducted by Levine. I have to say that it seemed I never really had heard the work before, although I have listened to it with various other conductors. Is this Levine or is this me? This sylphlike theme which introduces itself in the beginning, and it’s working out: It reminds me of Mrs. Dalloway (see book of Virginia Woolf and Movie with Vanessa Redgrave as Mrs. Dalloway). In the tone poem the idea comes back, having moved from a sylphlike intangible quality to something that one can hold in one’s hand and feel through every fiber of one’s body. It made me have to think about what it would be like if Mrs. Dalloway had ever met the poor guy (Warren Septimus Smith) who committed suicide because he was to be institutionalized (same as Virginia Woolf would do later in her life). And in the “fiction” her (Mrs. Dalloway’s) party, she feels is ruined from the gossip of this psychiatrist who wouldn’t know how he effects the lives of others, talking about this death as something so unfortunate (although he drove the poor man too it, as would happen to Virginia Woolf later). Upon listening to Levine’s version of Tod und Verklarung, what I felt is this sylphlike theme I associate with Mrs. Dalloway being taken and metamorphosing into something one can feel and hold in one’s hand; as if Mrs. Dalloway was allowed to give refuge to this poor maimed creature, and the compassion she felt in her rather protected sylph like life was allowed to be there for him (rather than he remain a gossip she hears about). In the book, in the “fiction” she only happened to cross his path once as the sound of a car startled him outside a florest shop reminding him of the horrors of war and death, outside the florist shop Mrs. Dalloway was getting some things). If this sylph like theme was developed as Strauss does then he (Warren Septimus Smith) would have had asylum? I’ve met Mrs. Dalloway, wouldn’t have recognized her if it wasn’t from a “dream” where I was coming out of a theater walking out the incline that’s there for handicapped people in just about every movie theater in the US, and in “my” dark tired state didn’t recognize this light shining for me which was then the actress who became Mrs. Dalloway (who I met and recognized later because of this dream).
    And while I’m at it. What is wrong with you people!? Going on as if this is some war over who is the best and which opera company is the best or which country or countries has the best qualities or system or attitude!?Good GOD! There is no “THE BEST.” It’s your willingness to get to know what art is or not that makes it a resource for your soul or not. And if something is “THE BEST” than what has it done for you rather than what’s wrong with everything else!

  • Yes, we want to know what opera is, and make it a resource for our soul, but in the USA that is difficult because there are so few performances.

  • This is in repsonse to Kit above. The metro area of Chicago has 9.8 million people. As of 2010, Chicago’s metropolitan area has the 4th largest Gross Domestic Product (GDP) among world metropolitan areas, after Tokyo, New York City, and Los Angeles.

    So let’s compare it to similar European cities — though less rich. Berlin has three fulltime opera houses while Chicago has one and with only a five month season. Vienna, Munich, London, and Paris have two fulltime opera houses each. So we see no comparison in opera, the genre under discussion. In terms of number of opera performances, Chicago only ranks 66th in the world. It is far outranked by much smaller European cities.

    As for Emmanuel’s interests in the arts, that’s a positive change. It is taken for granted that the mayors of European cities are deeply involved with the arts and arts funding. In fact, it is a fundamental political necessity for them. For a detailed discussion see:


  • To Greg above. Municipalities in the USA do not own and operate orchestras or opera houses like in Europe because it has not been established as a practice. Even though it will involve decades of advocacy, this is something we need to establish in the USA as well. A good beginning is to do what we are doing in this discussion, and look at the advantages of such a system of local, public funding. We need to initiate this process because our system of private funding cannot be repaired and will always severly disadvantage us.

    • tls says:

      To William – ah but this too can be a dangerous path. Look at what’s happening in Holland, with the world economy in turmoil the Dutch govt has announced draconian cuts in funding and it seems that most of the countries orchestras save two (Concertgebouw of course and also Rotterdam) may be on the brink of oblivion, also many choirs, smaller opera companies, etc and even the radio orchestra and its wonderful recording center at Hilversum. With no culture of giving here – and little to no tax incentive for corps and individuals to do so – there’s no safety net. It’s very very dangerous to put all your eggs in one basket – be careful what you wish for!

      • Of the 35 or so developed countries with public funding systems, all of them have shown more stability in their arts funding than the USA. The few facing difficulties, like Ireland, Greece, and Spain, are not due to changes in arts funding ideology, but rather general economic problems. Unlike in the USA, cuts to the arts in these countries have been proportional with cuts in other sectors of government. Holland and Britain are the only two facing changes due to influence by America’s neo-liberal economics. And in those two countries, the resistance has been very strong.

        It is a well-known general principle that public arts funding budgets are more stable than private ones. European governments invest heavily in cultural infrastructure like concert halls, opera houses, and museums. It is not possible for them to cut off funding to these institutions in the same way private foundations and donors can. The employees usually have permanent contracts as civil servants. And it is rare to the extreme for Europeans to sell off or abandon public cultural institutions. Among many other things, the political and ecomonic consequences would be too strong. We are also seeing this in Holland, which is the most extreme case and not to be taken as a norm.

        We also see that the sums for the private funding system in the USA have dropped considerably since the economic crisis of 2008, while Europe’s public funding systems have, on the whole, remained fairly stable or even increased. In fact, the EU has budgeted a 35% increase in arts funding starting in 2014. And the German Federal government announced a 5.1% increases in next year’s cultural budget. (Both were reported here on Slipped Disk.)

        It is difficult to obtain up-to-date international information because there is usually a 2 to 3 year delay in its collection and publication, but the Council of Europe has published data about European arts funding by country. It shows that up to 2008 funding not only remained stable, but even rose in many countries.
        Meanwhile, funding in the USA was already dropping by 2008, so we see a lack of correspondence. And as mentioned, after the crisis, the differences became even more extreme. Many European countries applied stimulus funds to their public arts funding system and arts funding actually rose while private funding in America dropped precipitously. The NEA also rose by 50 million in TARP funds while private funding fell strongly.

        We should remember that the European funding system is often misrepresented in America. It has become a method for Americans to rationalize their own isolated and dysfunction private funding system. Postmodern populist ideolouges also misrepresent Europe’s system to justify their agendas against arts education and the reduction or elimination of so-called high art forms. These commentators focus on the few European countries that have made cuts due to economic reasons, and ignore the other 30 or so countries that have remained stable or even increased their budgets.

        • tls says:

          I’m not sure I understand your comments about Holland. You write “It is a well-known general principle that public arts funding budgets are more stable than private ones. European governments invest heavily in cultural infrastructure like concert halls, opera houses, and museums. It is not possible for them to cut off funding to these institutions in the same way private foundations and donors can. The employees usually have permanent contracts as civil servants. And it is rare to the extreme for Europeans to sell off or abandon public cultural institutions. Among many other things, the political and ecomonic consequences would be too strong. We are also seeing this in Holland, which is the most extreme case and not to be taken as a norm.”

          Perhaps I’m misreading, but your claims seem contradictory. Although you state “It is not possible for them to cut off funding to these institutions…” citing the heavy investment in cultural infrastructure, that is EXACTLY what is happening in Holland. The magnificent Hilversum studios outside of Amsterdam is among the casualties (and it represents a huge investment), along with radio orchestra and the unique Orchestre Metropole which is struggling to stay alive through privatising. (from a recent Dutch news article: On Monday a majority in the Lower House of the Dutch Parliament asked Minister Van Bijsterveldt to support the Metropole Orchestra during its transition to becoming an autonomous entity. The business plan drawn up by the Metropole Orchestra will be studied in detail by the Minister. She is willing to use the requisite funds earmarked for frictional costs to support the transition during the coming four years, on the condition that the orchestra will not receive any further financial support from the Media budget.) And civil-service contracts are simply being cancelled. I’m not speaking from some ivory tower or through reading occasional press releases – I live and work there. Funding to many institutions has been drastically cut or completely completely cut-off, often with less than a year’s notice. The economy is a convenient excuse – despite the fact that Holland is among Europe’s wealthiest countries.

          From reports by my many friends and contacts within the european arts scene, I would amend your statement that “many” European countries have actually seen a rise in arts funding and change that to “a few”. And even in those – is it spread across the board? Or largess to further enhance “centerpiece” organizations that serve the State as sort of ambassadors, while the regional organizations continue to struggle amid cuts to their budgets?

          • To begin, we need to place your comments in context. The Federal arts budget in Holland is about 700 million Euros (909 million dollars.) That is $58 per capita. In the USA the NEA per capita funding is less than 50 cents. And most astounding is that in Holland the large majority of the arts funding comes from the state and local level, which raises the dichotomies with the USA even more.

            What is happening in Holland, is very much the exception in Europe. A similar case is Italy, which under Berlisconi, eliminated all of its radio orchestras. There are about 35 other countries in the EU. In general, they do not even remotely follow what’s happening in Holland, Italy, and the UK, where ideological policies have motivated cuts more than financial hardship. There is not data to suggest this is a trend for Europe. Cuts have been much smaller and based merely on financial hardship. And the arts have not been singled out for cuts.

            I haven’t seen recent data about whether regional institutions are being cut more than major ones in the few countries where significant cuts are being made. As a general rule, funding is local and not centralized in Europe, so its not possible for Federal governments to strongly control local funding policy. This is also true in Holland, where most of the funding is state and local. Is Hilversum a federally funded program? (I’m pressed today, so my responses might have to be brief and sketchy.)

          • tls says:

            To Mr Osborne: When discussing federal support for the arts in the US and in Europe, it is unfair to discount the tax-deduction US tax-payers receive on their contributions – without which most donations would dry up. To be completely fair, you really must calculate the amount of tax revenues the US federal government doesn’t collect due to those tax deductions, and count that amount as federal support – because that’s exactly what it is. However, in the US tax-deduction model, the person making the donation – be it $50 or $5 million – is determining where and to to what organization their contribution goes. Is this more fair or less-enlightened than allowing a clueless bureaucracy that simply totals up “numbers served” like your local McDonalds, or a panel of cronies doling out grants to their friends, students, or those they want in their debt? I don’t know – I can see benefits and pitfalls in both models. But one thing is for sure – without the tax deduction, most of those donations wouldn’t exist. The situation in The Netherlands would seem to support this premise – limited or no deduction for donations means they are few and far between. Just a couple of years ago, a leading businessman was feted and given an award by his city’s mayor for his “huge” contribution to the orchestra – a whopping 2500 euros!

          • Janey says:

            Tis –
            Wonderful comment. It should have, but I honestly can say, your point has never occurred to me. Of course, the taxes not collected so the money may go to charity must be counted. Thank you.

          • Frank says:

            There was a recent book published in English by two French scholars which compared the culture financing systems of Europe and America and found them both successful. The US government does not collect taxes on most donor contributions so it is a good sort of support for the arts. The European alternative is for the support for the arts to be taken from tax revenue and the decisions about what arts groups get what funds rests with the Minister of Culture, etc.
            In France, a few decades ago, about half of the culture money from tax revenue was given to regional and local (city) governments. France has a rather respectable number of regional opera houses and arts groups are in healthy competition with other arts groups for the attention of the national government, regional governments and local bodies to assure that their group deserves its share.
            I believe that the wealthy in America are still contributing to charitable groups at a reasonable level. Last I heard, they were up 8% over the previous year. (The rich do not experience recessions, etc.) What they have been doing, however, is giving money to the adventurous art museums, to the symphony’s youth outreach programs, to new cancer research institutes at their hospital.
            What they are doing less and less is giving money to fund another La Boheme in a fifteen year old conservative production. And why should they. They often made their money by thinking creatively and the same old stuff, dished out year after year by conservative opera boards, is just not an attractive idea.

          • Janey says:


            I believe you may have hit on the reason Gelb has so aggressively moved to replace productions – and perhaps part of the reason this past season saw record contributions. The old-time subscribers may want another Zeffirelli Traviata, but the donors – and apparently audiences – don’t. (me, I’d take the Zeffirelli version, but it’s not up to me)

            Probably also the reason companies like SF, Houston, Seattle and Chicago are moving so aggressively themselves on new operas. And, whether we like it or not, one of the reasons Gelb thought they’d head into 3D tech for the Ring.

          • Well, although I hadn’t quite grasped this, I knew this because Anne Sophie Mutter mentioned this in an interview I can’t find anymore. She mentioned that, because of the situation in Europe, Germany was going to have to learn to reward private funding to remain the cultural source that it has been. And she complimented the American system. In reality, with all this chit chat of which is the best system (or who is the best artist), as if this is what it’s about or proves true love; I still think that art does more than people could know. And no matter what, it’s worth it.

          • Roelef, Ms. Mutter is misinformed. Germany just raised its arts budget 5.1% for next year. Janey, it isn’t that there aren’t local donors, but that the paucity of regional opera performances demonstrates the inadequacy of private donor systems in comparison to public funding systems – though in the USA other serious factors are at work as well. I agree with Ariel, though, that a 1% sales tax for the arts is unlikely to evolve any time soon. It does, however, make a useful starting point for discussion on several different levels. Petro’s, I have no plans to start a blog. The format doesn’t fit my way of thinking. I have some articles on my site about arts funding that get a lot of readers. (One of them was posted on ArtsJournal for six weeks in 2004 and had thousands of views.) I have a lot of new information, so I’m hoping to post another on my website in the next few months. Still, I will think about your idea. And I apologize to Norman because we did stray off topic, even if funding is related to the moral issue he raised.

            I think Harold Pinter’s speech, “Art, Truth, and Politics” provides insights about some of the forms of denial we have seen in this discussion, but that is yet another off-topic topic I don’t want to go into. The theme is endless.

          • Neither I nor ANYONE ELSE in this discussion ever said that there shouldn’t be more government funding for the arts in the USA. And suggesting that Germany rewards donors with tax breaks wouldn’t hurt the European system. To sit and completely lambaste most opera productions in the US and then maintain that how bad they are shows that they should get more funding is hardly any argument whatsoever. Happily this isn’t the case at all as that the quality of many of the productions and the time and effort and devotion put into them only shows that they are deserving of more money and more attention from whichever source (governmental, private or corporate). And it’s more than just self defeating to psychologically analyze everyone as being in denial who isn’t going along with this lambasting of productions in order to maintain that this proves more money is needed from the government to fund them. And I think that EVERYONE here agrees that more money from the government would be appropriate and helpful. I never said that I didn’t think that the European system in ways was better. Neither did I say that there wasn’t good things in the American system the European system could learn from, despite that things could be a whole lot better. I live on a meager existence which you probably couldn’t imagine. To think that I would have the amount of money an opera ticket in a prime opera house costs, and then indulge in the kind of arrogant epitaphs of what’s wrong with this or that production that’s rampant here is UNIMAGINABLE to me. Instead I BUY DVDs of good productions, the cheapest I can get or I check them out of the public library and listen to them with my old vintage Fisher speakers (which remarkably you can get cheap because they don’t have the modern in your face kind of grainy sounds but are more mellow), and I am transcended, and life makes sense again, and it changes my life soothing over the harsh edges and reminds me that there’s something from forever which is timeless, which my spirit is part of, and which isn’t changed by everything we (I) think we need to defend it from with our excuses for judgment! In fact this whole thing brings me to tears. Acknowledging the value of what you have makes it more valuable.

  • Greg Hlatky says:

    To reply to Mr. Osborne, German opera companies and orchestras are the descendants of court ensembles from the many pricipalities. The US has never had that tradition. However, Mr. Osborne has the kernel of an idea when he says above, “communities would inevitably take great pride in their local cultural institutions, so something like the achievement standards of sports teams might also be a valid comparison.” What if the orchestras and opera companies in American cities were more like sports teams competitively pitted against one another, instead of being the (often mangy) lapdogs of the wealthy? Here, perhaps, is a uniquely American solution to the arts conundrum. The average sports fan is more enthusiastic, more knowledgable and more critical of his team than the average concertgoer is of their local ensemble.

    Just as fans of the Dallas Cowboys, the New York Yankees or the Montreal Canadiens expect nothing but the best from their teams season after season, patrons would be utterly and (afterwords!) vocally intolerant of slovenly, indifferent and mailed-in performances. Performers would be held individually and collectively responsible for success or failure and considered only as good as their last performance. The inadequate and indifferent would be ruthlessly weeded out without a second thought and replaced with the more talented and committed.

    Music directors would not flit about across the world or hold down three jobs simultaneously; they would be dedicated full-time to making their company the best. Assistant conductors wouldn’t be sitting around waiting for the MD to be hit by a bus; they would have actual responsibilites for training and rehearsing singers, orchestra and chorus. Performances would be fewer perhaps, but better prepared and presented. Jobs would be less secure but better paid. And the public would be better served by taking part in a musical experience of the highest standard.

    • That is what happens in Europe. Local communities take great pride in the cultural institutions and want them to stand out for their quality. Every year a prize is granted to “The Best Opera In Europe” by one of the big magazines. (I forget which.) Recent winners have included Brussels, Stuttgart, and Frankfurt.

      This competition also happens within cities. The rivalry between Berlin’s three fulltime opera houses is ferocious. The competition in Munich between the Philharmonic and Bavarian State Radio is also proverbial in Germany. This competition in Munich actually led to a pay raise war among those two orchestras and the Bavarian State Opera Orchestra. All of them wanted to get the best new hires. It also led to competition for famous conductors. At one point the Phil had Sergiu Celibidache, the Radio Orchestra Loren Maazel, and the Opera Zubin Mehta. Each was being paid several million per year. There is a similar situation in London due to its five fulltime symphony orchestras who all try to move up in the pecking order. Artists are seldom complacent types, and communities demand quality and reputation.

      BTW, in Germany far more people attend cultural events than sporting events — though I can’t find the stats at the moment.

  • To Roelof above. Yes, some American companies put on really good productions considering their very inadequate facilities and budgets. Their hearts are really in it and they have impeccable training. Think of what they could do with an effective funding system. In opera and other art forms, America is losing its chance to be the Athens of the modern world.

    • I should also mention that it is this struggle to reach adequate standards with inadequate facilities that causes so many American companies to have such short seasons. Without dedicated opera houses, they simply can’t mount very many productions with professional standards.

  • To TLS about tax deductions. I’ve found the best way to evaluate the effectiveness of funding systems is to go beyond simple monetary counts and compare the number of specifically defined, functioning cultural institutions per capita (e.g. fulltime operas, orchestras, theaters, museums, etc..) That takes us to the bottom line. In the US, its not possible to collect very comprehensive data about what arts tax deductions are doing (how much, how its applied, how its distributed, etc.,) but we can count orchestras and operas per capita and take that as a measure of how well a funding system is working (at least for those genres.) By that measure, the tax deduction system is not working as well as Europe’s locally run, public arts funding.

    And even though every American can make donations, our arts funding system is still very centralized because it becomes dependant on wealthy donors in a few financial centers, while in Europe it is based on local governments. I think that makes it more democratic. I would rather have a panel of peers selected by my local government approve grants than officials in remote, centralized institutions supported by wealthy people and corporations. This decentralization also protects funding, as we see in Holland. The rightwing Federal government can stop the arts funding of the local governments.

    For some reason I trust the Dutch people, and I think they will eventually reverse the cuts that have been made. These attacks on the arts simply don’t fit Holland’s character and traditions.

    • tls says:

      Forgive my ignorance, but I thought the source of federal funding in the US was exactly that – officials plus a panel of national “experts” in a centralized location passing judgement on all applications from across the nation.

      When you make your counts and base them on “full-time” employment of the artists, you exclude many many ensembles in the US that give credible and at times compelling performances but don’t provide full employment. I’m thinking of several chamber orchestras (some of excellent national and even international reputation) and I suspect there are many regional orchestras that while not full-time, still fill a need in a credible manner. In many cities, the members of the symphony orchestra also perform in the pit for the local (or regional) opera company – and some will also perform in the region’s chamber orchestra. Between those engagements they are essentially employed full-time – and it’s often the same players with very few exceptions, so the ensemble built by playing together regularly is intact. Conversely, many of the “full-time” symphony orchestras and opera orchestras in Europe have flexible contracts to give players the opportunity to teach or play chamber music or play in several ensembles; I could name several in Holland and in Germany where the majority of players have 50% contracts or less – and not just a case of double principal winds & brass and concertmaster, but all through the ranks. (and most of them want it that way) This means that there might be 150 to 160 players or more under contract to fill 90 to 100 seats. Nice for the players (who often have the power to decide amongst themselves when they’re rotated in and out) but sometimes not so nice for the conductors who plan a program to play to certain strengths in the orchestra – only to find a different group sitting on stage from his/her last engagement.

      I’m not saying the European model is any better or worse – I’m just saying it’s not quite the utopia you make it out to be. And frankly, once you get very far beyond the top tier of orchestras in Europe, the quality declines markedly. However, certainly cultural life is much richer in most of Europe than in the US. But the populations are so very different, and that accounts for at least part of it. Americans seem to have shorter attention spans (suspiciously tied to the length of television segments between commercial breaks), and a shallower approach: small talk over serious discourse, sound bites over delving to the heart of a matter. Without a long tradition and with little or no education to build one, where will the audience come from? Americans aren’t trained to follow intellectual pursuits for the sheer joy of it; most seem just to want to be entertained. Hence, the elevation of pop culture to the point where it’s confused with “art”.

      One point though in America’s defense in the silly arts organizations per capita numbers game: Europe is of course FAR more densely populated than the US
      . How could one possible expect to field a symphony orchestra or opera company (let alone find the numbers to fill the hall) in the remote regions of Alaska or Montana or even on the vast Great Plains? In most of Europe, one is never very far from an urban center of at least a couple hundred thousand – in much of the US, it can be hundreds of miles before one reaches a community of even 50,000 souls.

      • Yes, population density is an important factor in areas like the mountain states and Alaska. On the other hand, there is no reason the New Mexico Symphony Orchestra had to go bankrupt last year in Albuquerque, a city of 550,000. The tutti strings were paid about 6k a year and the solo chairs about 16k, but they still had to shut down their partial season.

        We should also remember that a very large part of the American population lives in dense urban areas and that they are also lacking in cultural institutions. A prime example is Miami, which has a metro population of 5.5 million but does not have a fulltime professional symphony orchestra. Why should massive cities like Los Angeles, Philadelphia, Boston, Atlanta, Washington, Baltimore, Dallas, Houston, San Diego, etc. not have opera companies with more than six week seasons in terms of number of performances? Population density is no excuse in these areas.

        I use fulltime orchestras as a measure since they can be clearly identified and serve as apples to apples comparisons. Organizations like the ASOL used to claim that America had hundreds of orchestras, while not explaining they were counting student and amateur ensembles, or semi-professional groups that only play a few concerts a year. Fulltime orchestras provide a good measure of what is actually happening in arts support.

        Fulltime employment and regular contracts are also a very important measure for the lives of artists. Look at what the NYCO is doing. The musicians are losing their contracts and are being recategorized as freelancers. Their pay will drop from about 40k a year to 4k – one tenth their former salary. They will also lose their health insurance and pensions. As a result, they are on strike and the issue has been passed to a mediator.

        Fulltime employment is also a strong determinant for artistic quality. Running around and playing in half a dozen groups to make a living lowers ensemble cohesiveness. It also dissipates artists’ lives and lowers their musicianship. That is why European orchestras fill solo positions with two players who each do 50% of the work. It allows them time to practice.

        Partial season orchestras and opera companies define the norm in America, and represent some of its best groups. They also represent a waste of human potential when these musicians are left to sit at home. While the Met is closed down for 4 months a year in a city of 8 million, European houses serving far smaller populations continue on with major summer festivals.

        When Americans say that it is “silly” to compare fulltime ensembles, it is just one more aspect of their denial. It also reflects their disregard for the lives of artists.

        It is true that Americans are less inclined to support the arts and attend performances, but it is largely due to a vicious cycle of our own creation. Our funding system creates a rarity of local performing institutions (in terms ensembles and numbers of concerts,) and it causes ticket and subscription prices to often be very expensive. Attendance is thus lowered and publics are not built. We then we turn this around and use it as a further excuse not to fund the arts.

        Thank you for your thoughts. Very interesting.

    • I have a typo above. I meant to say the rightwing Federal government CAN’T stop the arts funding of local governments.

  • Ariel says:

    As usual this has expanded across the board with the endless same points of view so that one cones away
    with the heavy feeling of just having attended a dreary numbing “feel good ” arts council meeting. Mr. Hlatky
    in referring to Mr. Osbornes’ view adds some pertinent observations but all are forgetting the “topic “.
    One cannot compare the Met to any European opera institution and Mr. Gelb knows this only too well -but the
    endless comparison by writers to how European opera operates and how the Met compares is pointless if not stupid .
    The Met to all intents and purposes is a private institution – the houses of Vienna ,Munich , Warsaw London, Paris
    etc. are not . The European houses after a fashion represent the city in which they are located and also
    the country , the Met does not represent NY or the USA though the broadcasts would have you believe otherwise , nor is any other American city known for its opera house . In the Dec 13/14 Mr.
    Osborne misses the point – ” you don’t have the large informed audience needed for his opera house .
    Mr. Gelb ( and the Met which I believe was the point of the article) is doing what any good business man
    should be doing and if the London Paris etc . houses didn’t think of the idea first to their advantage it
    only means they are incompetent business people . The Met is about business not the art of opera
    or bringing culture to the masses .the singers are about business and a wider audience, how many
    Lucias’ does one sing before taking to drink – there is some truth to Ms. Russells comment on singers having
    resonance where their brains ought to be .Opera is for people who have come to it one way or another ,but
    also unfortunately make the mistake of thinking because they like it everyone else should or if not should at least subsidize it .Most people view opera as in the famous opening of “Night at the Opera ” and
    all the rest . There are millions of people who don’t know of the Met and if they heard some of the goings on
    would think lunatics have taken over ,and there are millions who cannot conceive not liking opera no
    matter how poorly informed they are of the art ., these are Mr. Gelbs’ people . It’s a business , he is a presenter
    hoping to make some money or at least stay in the black . The arts are secondary in America however one
    may wish it were different , but this can apply to any country , the difference being the pretense .

    • The topic of opera broadcasts, naturally leads to creating larger publics for live opera, and the means of doing so. I don’t accept the view that we must simply accept the status quo. European opera audiences didn’t just fall out of thin air, they evolved over time. We Americans can do the same. And in doing so, there are many things we can learn from the international opera community, hence this discussion.

  • I keep thinking Mr. Hlatky’s question about why no communities have started their own arts funding system. Unesco recommends that government’s spend 1% of their resources on the arts. What if a town or city established a 1% sales tax for the arts? It’s astounding how much money a 1% sales tax actually raises. A very good cultural program could be established. Would this add to a city’s creative capital and draw business and investment that would more than pay for the program?

    Perhaps the communities mostly likely to pull this off at first would be college towns with a high ratio of educated people like Cedar Rapids, IA; Ann Arbor MI, Bloomington IN, or Champaign-Urbana IL. Would it set a trend that would be taken up by other communities?

    • Petros Linardos says:

      – You have a lot to say about cultural policies, that may go well beyond the intial scope of this blog entry. Have you thought about starting your own blog? I would happily follow it, and occasionally comment.

      – If 1% of any American town’s budget on the arts, I would hope that priority would go to arts education.

    • Ariel says:

      If these communities were interested in the arts to any great degree this would have already been an on
      going project . If you were to get 30 people from any wealthy community in the US and suggest the 1% sales
      tax and after the laughter died down and they were to think about it you would find that perhaps only 15 might consider the idea , of that 12 would want the money to go for athletics and 3 perhaps would find some
      reason for the arts . Just look into how many communities have scaled back on the so called arts and the
      dozens of community orchestras gone ..but some how there is always money for a soccer field . It should
      tell you what the populace is all about .

      • Janey says:


        I’ve appreciated your perspective on this, but honestly, that is an exaggeration. There is not “always” money for an athletic field. In fact, nowadays there is rarely money for anything, unfortunately.

        Just about every community has fees to participate in sports. Yes, of course, sports are more popular activities than the arts, as they are in Europe. So, more money is paid by the participants in fees. There are also a lot more wealthy athletes that have foundations and sponsorships.

        We have just about every extra-curricular activity being cut from our schools around me, not just full time music (they’re now part time). Even languages have been reduced. Our football and basketball teams are supported by the parents participating and have been merged with the town next door. And our community isn’t one of the poorest, by far. It’s bad out there. Not just for the arts.

        • ariel says:

          Janey ,I stand corrected -your first paragraph is fact — true there isn’t enough money nowadays for
          much BUT—whatever there is I will bet you it will be for athletics first – and then the hand wringing for
          more money to the arts .In Europe the bias against the arts is more of an economic one – “how can my kid make a living from a so unstable profession as the arts ?” in the US the arts are for “sissies” etc. and in one
          not to be forgotten exchange the mother of a prominent family noted the daughter was a cheerleader
          and that was enough arts involvement for her busy life . You may notice how political cats avoid the
          so called sissy arts but show up and comment freely on the football games , they know what
          elects them . It’s not bad out there at all – it is what the public values most – you are the minority —let’s
          say the Met were to close, the only outcry would be from that select audience and the rest of the
          country wouldn’t give a rats’ behind . I repeat Mr. Gelb knows his audience and what he has to do
          to make a comfortable living.

    • Janey says:

      Every major American “community” has an arts funding system. It’s called donors and philanthropists. They support orchestras, drama groups, libraries, museums, opera houses and much more. Funding that goes overall into the billions per year, I’d say – in NY just at the Met it’s 200 million. Philanthropists support their own communities.

      Not being done through the gov’t doesn’t make it non-existent. In today’s world, finding yourself stuck in the box labeled – “gov’t will do it” – is detrimental. Europe’s arts organizations in many countries are heading in the direction of the US funding model. Even La Scala understands that and has been working on a plan to be as self-sufficient as possible.

      Do I like this? No. Do I wish gov’ts paid for more arts and fewer tanks? Of course. Do I vote for candidates that espouse that? You bet. But, reality is reality and we have to live in it.

  • Frank, if both the American and European funding systems are successful, why does America only have three cities in the top 100 for number of opera performances?

  • Roelef, Ms. Mutter is misinformed. Germany just raised its arts budget 5.1% for next year. Janey, it isn’t that there aren’t local donors, but that the paucity of regional opera performances demonstrates the inadequacy of private donor systems in comparison to public funding systems – though in the USA other serious factors are at work as well. I agree with Ariel, though, that a 1% sales tax for the arts is unlikely to evolve any time soon. It does, however, make a useful starting point for discussion on several different levels. Petro’s, I have no plans to start a blog. The format doesn’t fit my way of thinking. I have some articles on my site about arts funding that get a lot of readers. I have a lot of new information, so I’m hoping to post another one in the next few months. Still, I will think about your idea. And I apologize to Norman because we did stray off topic, even if funding is related to the moral issue he raised.

    For me, the main value of this particular discussion (which as Ariel notes has run its course) has been to see the many different forms of American denial that take place when public arts funding is discussed. Factual evidence is contravened to the point of collective delusion. I think that Harold Pinter’s speech, “Art, Truth, and Politics” is one of the best discussions of this kind of denial, though in the larger context of US foreign policy. He examines how denial leads to a subversion of language that lulls people into the acceptance of unreality. (And of course, this is by no means something limited to America.)

  • Are things really that bad? From what’s reported here, one would almost believe things in America (apart from 6 professional opera houses) go something like this: “Tonight in Hootersville we bring our opera to you with a special feature, being as we couldn’t afford a soprano, our church organist will hum her part with her kazoo; we also couldn’t afford an oboe player but farmer Ned has brought his pig who he will make squeal at appropriate places. He and the rest of the orchestra is outside the door to your left which is being left open, as we have no pit. Mrs. Conchita has donated 3 umbrellas for them in case it rains. And in Europe it would go something like this: Tonights production of La Nozze Di Figaro, to highlight the need for humanity to come together in one cause, is portraying the Count and the Countess as aliens. Instead of trying to resurrect the right to the first marriage night, the Count wants to take over the earth. The Count is the one with 5 eyes and the Countess has 7. Each have 5 limb like appendages. At the end, after the Count thought he would make military strategy with Suzanne for taking over the earth and is foiled, when the Countess forgives him, the black slimey thing you see her handing to her husband is one of her eyes. This symbolizes the transfer of compassion from the feminine to the male (something Universal to all living creatures alien or human). If things are really that bad, let me know and I will join the now already non-violent aliens…

  • ariel says:

    It is the discerning cultivated musical . audience that has gone and Mr. Gelb knows this only too well . and plays
    to what is left . I do recall that a major US opera house in a program insert reminded the audience how to behave
    during the performance – especially reminding the ladies not to rattle their jewelry ( i suppose because it would
    cause a dissonant sound with other ladies rattling their jewelry ,imagine advising an audience on manners .
    This same opera house hired the services of a famous tenor to put in a guest appearance in a famous
    German opera (one well known music lesson )the ticket prices sky rocketed the house packed (I don’t recall
    if he had his trade mark table cloth ) he finished his bit and when his audience of “music lovers” found
    out to their dismay that’s all they were to see of him , and there would be no Nessun dorma , they left ,- by the time
    the opera was over you could drive a truck through the house and not hit anyone . Now some idiot group
    has set aside a texting section at symphony concerts — soon a c phone section. Gelb is doing what the
    old Hollywood producers did- treat all as a business – people have other interests and in time those
    that like “classical music” will be much in the same boat as the Christians during Roman times and if
    caught will be forced to watch endless PBS reruns on how the English rich folk lived in bygone days .

  • Frank, I just wanted to apologize if I was too harsh in criticizing in this other discussion thread about the celebrity thing. I got too caught up in the whole debate. With my little life, the things I’ve seen in how this effects celebrity musicians and then beyond in the extreme range of Hollywood stars, people I “happened” to encounter in my life; it’s quite something. Upon inspection, not only are the whole rules of chance completely laid to the side, but issues that people want to deal with are turned inside out while their own good intentions backfire and rightly so because one learns it’s not about this celebrity thing, even though they were trying to help the issue they consequently can’t reach with their extreme good intentions. And the arts are this whole connection with what’s invisible and what isn’t. If what’s said to influence life truly did – all these visible things – just imagine what a chaos if everyone with their designs and intentions for bettering life actually were able to control things to such an extent. On the other hand one can’t really with such belief or science explain why music carries emotion the way it does, and one certainly can’t control that emotion. Something else takes over and I think this actually is what keeps life going for everyone. So, all your devotion to the arts are greatly appreciated and does more than anyone could know. If you could measure that that again would end up too tangible to truly help, so it remains priceless. About Gelb and his being “The Quiet American” and being too swayed by certain tendencies: His argument that they are competing for singers and directors so why not compete for which theaters they are allowed to use, I don’t see as a fair comparison. No one hires a singer or a director exclusively that I know of and then says he can not perform at any other opera house. People may have exclusive recording contracts but that’s not at a consumer level, since the product still is available at any store. I’m assuming that Gelb thinks this brings in more money or prestige for the Met, but I question that because if there were no exclusive contracts then maybe there could be more opportunity to get people interested in opera from all opera houses; and in the end, more sales and more interest. I don’t pretend to know how all of this works and am only submitting my honest opinion, which to me seems logical. It also seems that that would also share the good will towards creating interest in opera with all opera houses.