Peter Gelb’s new role at the Met

Peter Gelb’s new role at the Met


norman lebrecht

October 25, 2013

The Met manager is the subject of 60 Minutes this Sunday on CBS.

He plays the little Dutch boy with his finger in the dyke. Sample:

The man trying to reinvigorate opera at its American temple in New York, says it’s a battle he wages every day to keep the centuries-old art form from dying a bloody death… “I go in every day to the Met, knowing that…there is a battle to be…fought for the survival of this art form.”



  • Daniel Farber says:

    I recognize, sir, that bashing large American musical institutions is great sport (though not an entirely misplaced effort, to say the least), but you do manage to throw some babies and their caregivers out with the dirty bathwater. I am curious: when was the last time you actually saw–live–a production at the Metropolitan Opera House?

    • oracle says:

      Not in this case. Norman well realizes there are serious problems at the Metropolitan Opera that Gelb is doing his best to cover. It has absolutely nothing to do with his attendance of an opera at the Met. He is not writing production criticism, he is writing managment criticism and elementary business mistakes made by someone who should never have been given the job he now holds. He remains wholly unqualified. If you saw their books, you would understand.

    • sdReader says:

      Who’s bashing? Norman simply raises a hmm. You on the other hand repeatedly attack on this site. It’s a free and large service. Try a thank-you once in a while, “sir.”

      • Daniel Farber says:

        OK: I thank NL for never censoring my criticisms, even those directed at him. So far as I can remember, my only “repeated” criticisms have been directed at the management of the Minnesota Orchestra (for destroying what became, under Maestro Vanska, one of the major orchestras of the world) and the New England Conservatory, especially President Tony Woodcock (for their execrable treatment of Benjamin Zander). I also had a lot of trouble with those who criticized James Levine in the past five years: for his spinal ailments, for his kidney cancer, for being fat, for attempting to work while enduring extreme pain. Kicking the wounded is, at best, dishonorable. I’ll stand by all that “repeated” criticism.

        • MWnyc says:

          I’m with you most of the way, Daniel.

          But people were not criticizing James Levine for being wounded; they were criticizing him for his insistence on attempting to do demanding jobs he was obviously unable to do instead of turning them over to people who could do them and focusing on his own recovery.

          When Jimmy finally did that, the criticism evaporated. And just about everyone really is happy about his return to form this year. I was there for his first night conducting Cosi fan tutte, and the ovations for him were obviously heartfelt.

  • oracle says:

    The PR machine at the MET spins faster than the young girl in the Exorcist’s head. They just came off their worst box office week in Metropolitan Opera history 7 years into Gelb’s tenure. Muhy’s opera has not sold well and there are whispers at the MET that Muhly has been commissioned to write another opera. (Yet another bad business mistake. If Muhly had a large enough following fiune, but he is not at that point yet.) Cart before the horse it would seem as you can now purchase $30 orchestra seats for the rest of the Two Boys run courtesy of the Metropolitan Opera dynamic pricing system. This freshman college drop-out who positions himself as the savior of opera still does not understand who his customer is. (Yes, Gelb took credit for the Titanic soundtrack after he turned it down while he was at Sony and his bosses told him he had to release it.) The sooner that socialite Board Chairperson Ann Ziff gets her head out from where the sun does not shine and fires him, the better. (Some of her board has already figured this out, but like the New York City Opera Board is just a bunch of rubber stamps.

  • What are Mr. Gelb’s musical credentials? Why is he formulating the artistic vision of the Met?

    • oracle says:

      He has none and it’s a mystery….that is unless you call holding Vladimir Horowitz’s drool rag for the last few years of his life musical credentials. Norman ferreted out the situation years ago, Ronald Wilford the CAMI Chairman and Jimmy Levine’s manager called Bubbles Sills after the Met had offered the job to Deborah Borda. The Met reneged and hired poor Peter Gelb who got cut from the Sony/BMG merger as the weaker of the two heads there. He was ill qualified for that job as well, but Wilford had stuck his neck out there. Many unhappy people at Sony during his tenured including a secretary who threw hot coffee at Gelb one day. Gelb’s educational credentials include helping to run the Yale University radio station, rather than attending classes there his freshman year and dropping out after that year. His Father, Arthur Gelb got him a job at CAMI after that and then got him a job as an assistant manager at the BSO for a few years. His musical knowledge is extremely limited.

      • Janey says:

        Your comment seems filled not only with bile but with elitism. I could not care less what Gelb’s education was more than two decades ago. I can now experience the Met without having to travel to the Met. Hundreds of thousands of people throughout the globe can watch one performance together. This innovation is being copied by houses all over. He is overseeing a behemoth filled with individuals like you, and monitored by individuals like you, through one of the trickiest times possible for opera. I dare say I doubt you and your undoubtedly impressive education would do much better.

        I have many problems with Gelb (casting, director choices, arrogance), but I certainly give him enormous credit for the successes he has had – and those successes are many.

        I suggest to you, sir/madam – if you are the mole and work at the Met, you should resign. Reporting private company information is not commendable (and parts of your information has proven incorrect in the past).

  • Reconstructed Modernist says:

    Strangely enough, Gelb is doing a great job killing the “centuries-old art form” by making his house yet another venue for entertainment consumption. What goes on at the Met these days is almost impossible to distinguish from what happens at a Miley Cyrus concert. The audience members look and act differently, to be sure, and the social rituals are certainly far apart. But the bottom line drives both.

    • Martin says:

      But the bottom line drives both. Then he’s doing everything right. Because people want to be entertained.

      No entertainment = art for very educated (yes I’m hinting at those snobbish “no degree, no quality” comments) and snobbish few.

      • Elektra says:

        people want to be entertained and go to the Met because it is the Met…in-fact who would even know if it was a great performance or not.. even the educated don’t have a clue and the uneducated are busy telling the educated ones what is great, new and fantastic….the bottom line is the art form is being ripped to peaces…even in the 60 minute clips they were all old footage and nothing with real stars because they them selves do not want to be involved in the promotion…this 60 minutes cost 60 almost nothing to do and the only new bit was the Geld interview which has him only repeating himself…. when will the americans start to realise what is just arriving to american has in the last 10 years in europe been the same old same old leaving most of the time theatres half empty…. people are tired of this crap.

        Snobbish ? there is no need to turn art into some kind of MTV crap.

  • PK Miller says:

    I don’t think the survival of The Met is in any jeopardy. The folks at City Opera must have envied its endowment and prestige terribly. Peter Gelb does an amazing job wearing many hats including de facto Artistic Director although with Levine back in the saddle that burden should ease. In my NEVER so humble opinion, The Met has come a long way from the era re 25-30 years ago when it seemed they spent buckets of money for superstars like Sutherland, Pavarotti, Domingo and seemed to have little money left to round out the cast. (I’ve listened for years to the Matinee Broadcasts going back to the 50s when they were broadcast on an area AM station because there was no FM!)

    i will watch the 60 Minutes segment even though i usually can’t stand the show!

  • Allan Steckler says:

    Gelb’s achievements at the Met are nothing short of miraculous. He has brought opera to millions of people – both standard repertoire works as well as new commissions. He continues to bring controversy to his actions as do most innovators – so what! The result is what matters and the result is very positive.

    Bravo !!

    • oracle says:

      Mr. Gelb 7 years in is still a blind squirrel to this day gathering an acorn now and then. (See my note from last week, Met had worst week in company history with Two Boys, Midsummer’s Night Dream, Nose and the one Norma performance. He is still running big deficits and has kicked them down the road each year. When he pays back the pension fund he plundered and pays off the JPM-Chase loan on the Chagall paintings then you can crow.

      By the way folks, Mr. Steckler is not a disinterested party, he runs the recording arm of the Toscanini Estate, which includes Vladimir Horowitz’s recorded legacy which Gelb has a vested interest as executor of the Horowitz estate. (See note above.)

      • Allan Steckler says:

        Just to set the record straight (a) I am a very interested party. (b) Mr. Gelb is not an executor of the Horowitz estate – never was. I manage both the Horowitz and the Toscanini Estates.

  • James Forrest says:

    I presume Mr. Farber’s comment is directed to Mr. Lebrecht. While I frequently take issue with the host of this feature, in this instance, I hardly think he can be faulted for calling our attention to Gelb’s appearance on 60 Minutes. As to Gelb . . . well, I am far more concerned about him destroying the Metropolitan Opera Company than I am about the death of opera itself.

  • Vaquero357 says:

    “That was the easy part for Gelb. He knew he had to go even further to save his beloved art form, which a century ago was as popular with audiences as movies are today. So he took one of opera’s classics, Rigoletto, a story of lust and vengeance set in 16th century Italy, and updated it by adapting it to a 1960s Las Vegas milieu.”

    So much wrong-ness in such a short paragraph!!

    Opera as mass entertainment 100 years ago? I don’t think so… And let’s see, didn’t the first 1950s-60s Mafia adaptation of Rigoletto come from….the English National Opera, about 25 years ago? And how does Mr Glib have the time to run the whole opera house AND “adapt” operas for individual productions? Hoo-eee, the man’s a Superman! Wait… That’s it! The shtick for his new adaption of Wagner’s Ring, with, like all our favorite super heros from comic books, sort of an “Avengers Meets Stuffy Old Classical Music.”

    Oh yeah, this is gonna work great…..

  • Elizabeth Owen says:

    Saw the broadcast of Onegin at a local cinema recently. Couldn’t believe the organised chaos back stage as an army of at least 60 men pushed and pulled the scenery no wonder the scene changes were so long. Apparently it is so old fashioned they don’t fly anything as it’s too dangerous. They aim to spend millions modernising but only when they are dark. There are going to be a lot of angry stage hands out of work when they eventually do come up to European standards.

  • Solomon Epstein says:

    There is a practice utterly basic to renewing opera. It was by necessity the practice for renewing the opera repertory from 1600 until about the mid-20th Century. Then, in the face of vastly improved recording technology, this common-sense practice completely disappeared.

    This was the practice of having excellent pianists, such as opera company coaches or assistant conductors read through some or all of new opera composers.

    Ridiculous, you say? How do you suppose, e.g., Mussorgsky got “Boris Godunov”, something thought wildly eccentric at the time, produced? Producers sat down and listened to the composer play through his score, then discussed it with him!

    Nowadays, Peter Gelb and every other opera director on the planet would think this practice a hilarious joke. That’s the reason why nearly every new opera that actually does get produced by MAJOR OPERA COMPANIES in both Europe and the U.S. has b no staying power.

    Nowadays, new operas are produced because the composer is already well-known in other areas, or has “connections”, or because the composer has a talent for influencing wealthy people to throw money at opera companies, or any other totally irrelevant reasons to the actual musical and dramatic quality of the score.

    “We can’t do that!” says Peter Gelb (who is not a musician) and other opera company managers around the world. “We would be flooded with opera scores from around the world! We would drown in opera scores by unknowns!”

    This attitude is called “decadence”. A few fine pianists on the opera company’s staff could look at any new score submitted, look at the composer’s resume for his/her educational background, and then randomly play through a few sections of the score. These highly experienced and sophisticated pianists—- coaches and assistant conductors— could tell within 5 to 10 minutes if the score were worth investigating further.

    This is no different than the process used by publishers’ “readers”. But that’s how they discover the gems among the junk pile.

    Instead of cynically dismissing this time-honored practice, opera companies might try it, refine it, and actually find musically exciting new opera scores far less expensively than the current practice of staging new work by composers whose track record consists of mere publicity and connections.

    • Solomon Epstein says:

      SORRY, TYPO ABOVE! My second paragraph above should have read: “This was the practice of having excellent pianists, such as opera company coaches or assistant conductors, read through some or all of a new opera composer’s work.”

      Apologies for the confusion,

      Solomon Epstein

  • Elektra says:

    Gelb is part of a world wide mafia club which is intent on making opera survive only threw digital media. This is a long term plan that was started at least 20-30 years ago and was intent on making the cd, dvd and HD movie the perfect avenue. This effective plan allowing public consumer to purchase via online by the touch of a button, simple easy and no need to go out to enjoy a performance. Staying home, charging it on the card, easier then getting dressed up.This leaves the live experience less valued and for that mater not needed.

    ( you see where we are going with this )

    Visual comes first, concept which means (no set needed ) because everything will be zoomed in via camera and sound an absolute last because everything is miked meters away. No need for a concept to be understood even from the top ring, sets can be build cheaper ( or in some cases much too expensive, to accommodate a concept). Keep the visual in the forefront. Acoustics to the latter which leads us to mikes which are being used all over the world to compensate not only for the HD recording but for the sound enhancement for the large room.

    (after all, we want it to sound like the recording at home on 5.1 Digital Surround sound system)

    ….Sony. mmmmmmmm?

    We can use the Met Ring as a Great example to what I have mentioned above.

    Which then leads to the musical and singing competence. Conductors must play along or otherwise, get canned. (they, by the way never have a say on the cast, some casting troll has been put in this position, usually someone who was once an extra or a Dramaturg. So that means, don’t dare say anything against the Director or you will be replaced. The competence level drops leaving a push of b or c type conductor to get promoted. A drop of competence comes many times leaving many not knowing the score who then are not able to keep to the written dynamics/tempo/style because in many cases they can’t, don’t care. THIS MAKES orchestras happier. Less demand to be at their best. (PLEASE I AM NOT Speaking TO ALL OF YOU, I KNOW THERE ARE MANY WHO PRACTICE AND ARE INTERESTED IN BEING AT YOUR BEST NOT ONLY AS PLAYERS BUT ALSO AS ONE UNIT.)

    Singing ? screw real voices, ( the smaller the voice the better, they tend not to distort the mikes or balance of the undercast), screw technique all sound can be enhanced and remixed and digitally spliced in on the so called LIVE broadcast. There is no building of voices, only, new, young and cheap so a star can be born and tossed as soon as the voice has given out or a new super model has been found to take the free spot.

    It is not only a problem for the Met. This is a club of buddies (Opera Bosses, Casting Bafoons, Dirty Agents, Flamboyant Directors ) holding ground together to change the live theatre experience. All in the sake of “reinventing Opera”. Sometimes we want NOT to be reminded of what and who we are today however, to escape to the fairy tale place which was intended in the venue it was intended.

    “……. playing the little Dutch boy with his finger in the dyke……….” everyone knows it is easier to keep the holding wall well kept over time, maintaining it so it may be preserved and appreciated by all for years to come .. Artisan comes to mind … hard to find one today.

    There is not enough cement in the world to repair the damage that has been done.

  • Daniel Farber says:

    Gelb is probably more sinned against than sinning: clearly, though, he’s not the greatest thing to hit the opera world since…well, since WHO in a country without government subsidies for the performing arts, but one fact in his track record stands out: he stuck by James Levine during the worst of his various health crises when everyone else was throwing him under the bus and urging Gelb to do the same.

    • oracle says:

      “Gelb’s Brain”, the man whom Gelb owes his entire career, Ronald Wilford, is also Jimmy Levine’s manager. As Wilford is responsible for the fact that Gelb is currently employed at the Metropolitan Opera and still serves as Gelb’s mentor and ideas man, Gelb had no choice but to comply and stand by him. While I am a huge fan of Maestro Levine, there are politics working here that are well beyond Mr. Gelb’s holding the job open for the conductor. If you think this was Gelb’s choice, you are sadly mistaken, he would have opted for a different solution if the choice were his to make. By the way, Mr. Wilford also had a huge hand in the Metropolitan HD program, he is masterful behind the scenes and pulls Mr. Gelb’s strings like he is a marionette. At some point, I hope you have an opportunity to meet Mr. Gelb when he is off script, “duller than dishwater” is putting it mildly. I watched amusingly as several major patrons attempt to have a conversation with him at small dinner party a few years ago, they were quite frustrated at the end of the evening. They are members of the Board and have held their viewpoints as he is beloved by the Metropolitan Opera chairperson Ann Ziff. As she has the power of the purse and is willing to give more and currently champions Gelb, they have kept their mouths shut. She leaves the position, his tenure and position becomes very precarious at best.

  • sdReader says:

    … to whom …

    See where the “education” talk leads?

  • sdReader says: