Slipped Disc editorial: What is wrong with Pereira, Gelb and Campbell?

Three heads of opera are facing the consequences of their recent conduct. What the three have in common is their look of bewilderment.

Alexander Pereira does not understand why the La Scala board has slashed his contract to a humiliating 18 months.

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Peter Gelb at the Met cannot begin to understand why his musicians and crafts unions are winning the public opinion war.

And Ian Campbell, having worked 30 years to put San Diego Opera on the map hasn’t a clue why people won’t let him shut it down.

Pereira thinks he’s perfectly within his rights to shift loss-making productions from his last job, in Salzburg, onto his new post in Milan. Gelb sees nothing wrong in sharing information with media that he won’t release to the unions. Campbell could not grasp there might be a problem in hiring his then-wife on an inflated six-digit salary.

What the three men have in common is hubris.

In charge of a house of illusions, an opera manager can quickly lose touch with reality. An inflated self-worth takes over, accompanied by a sense of siege. Gelb sees the world in terms of allies and enemies. Pereira likes to enjoy life on a grand scale among oligarchs. Campbell in San Diego saw the opera as himself: if he was ready to retire, the opera might as well shut down.

Few people have spoken up in their defence because none of the three is what you might call a people person. Their problems are not so much operatic as isolationist. Each of them has walled himself in.

Now there are opera chiefs in Vienna, London, Munich, Amsterdam and multiple festivals who go about their business without making public proclamations or seeking attention, without imagining that the real opera takes place in their office, rather than on stage. In a bad week for opera, it is worth reminding ourselves that there are some outstanding managers out there.

Having written one book about Covent Garden and another about the music industry, I have no doubt that opera houses can be run honestly, openly and with an absence of hysteria. What is certain is that when the manager hits the headlines, management has failed.

And that’s a sign that neither Pereira, nor Gelb, nor Campbell is psychologically equipped to recognise.

 

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  • With respect, I am not sure there is any evidence to support several of your claims.
    Pereira ran successfully the Koncerthaus in Vienna and the Zurich Opera and is unlikely to have undergone a personality change. The politics of Salzburg and Milan are very different to those of Zurich and Vienna and he may have misjudged some situations but to accuse him of hubris or enjoying a high life is unjust.
    Furthermore what do you mean ‘loss making productions’ ? Selling productions is a time honoured practice. All productions are loss making if only mounted for 1 season and that has been the tradition in Salzburg for many seasons, starting in the Mortier period.
    As for Peter Gelb, there is no evidence of any one side winning a public opinion war.
    Your accusation that Mr Campbell wanted to shut the San Diego Opera down is equally unfounded.
    All these situations are far more complex than personality issues !

  • And this look of bewilderment that binds these three also binds them to to the looks we’ve been seeing recently from Donald Sterling.

  • Norman, do you think your editorial could be published in Opera News, the MET’s in house magazine? If it would appear there, THAT would be an enormous step forward indeed! Of course, Mr. Gelb might intervene and forbid both the publication and the magazine altogether (he tried to do the latter once already). In which case your editorial would prove to be spot on. I cannot say anything to San Diego or La Scala, as I have not attended performances at either house. For La Scala, the situation looks like a scenario perfect for an opera (“Un Ballo alla Scala”?).

  • Better stick to the facts: Riccardo Chailly, Zubin Mehta and Jonas Kaufmann, amongst others, have strongly and publicly supported Alexander Pereira in the recent weeks…and this was reported on Slipped Disc, too. How could the “isolationist” Pereira convince Abbado, Pappano and others to conduct again in Salzburg – whilst others did not succeed to engage them for years? And how did the “isolationist” Pereira manage to attract new sponsors? Certainly not by “walling himself in”…

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