Met latest: Meet the mediator

Met latest: Meet the mediator


norman lebrecht

July 31, 2014

Both sides have now agreed to call in a mediator. It looks as if Allison Beck of the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service will get to work before the day is out. Whether she can avert a lockout tomorrow morning is anyone’s guess. Peter Gelb must be praying she’ll get him off the hook.

Beck was for 20 years General Counsel of the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers, AFL-CIO (IAM).



  • Claudia Menlo says:

    “It seemed entirely likely that Beck might be struck by lightning or hit by a bus on her way to the first negotiating session, rendering Peter Gelb’s schemes moot.”

  • newyorker says:

    It’s not enough for “Claudia” to bark like a rabid dog on this website. She must also lash out defensively when anyone points it out.

  • william osborne says:

    I wonder if her background working for aeronautics unions will help her resolve the conflicts in an opera house.

  • Edie says:

    Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service Director George Cohen is resigning only days after learning he is a target of a congressional inquiry spurred by a Washington Examiner series. Allison Beck-Chernikoff and her sister-in-law, Bonnie Chernikoff, who is Cohen’s administrative assistant, participated in no-bid contracting and spending on luxury items, emails reviewed by the Washington Examiner showed. Scot L. Beckenbaugh is another deputy of Cohen’s.

  • David says:

    Allison Beck is an outstanding labor lawyer and mediator — she was the mediator in the City Opera dispute, so she comes to this negotiation with expertise in this field.
    While the mediators at the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service can come from either labor or management backgrounds, they operate as neutrals as mediators — and they take that role very seriously. This development is very welcome news.

    • william osborne says:

      The NYCO problem ended disastrously. And expertise is not gained by one such effort. The issues at the Met are so incredibly complex that only thoroughly experienced and neutral arts administrators and accountants could really sort out the issues. Still, she will no doubt move the dialog to a more civil discourse, a big step forward.

  • Claudia Menlo says:

    Let’s guess how Lebrecht will spin this one. How about…

    Gelb, Forced into Corner by Unions, Postpones Disastrous Lockout by 72 Hours in Mockery of Gaza Accord

    • John Nemaric, Ph.D. says:

      I am totally, completely sure that Norman can hit a piece of BS (that is you Claudia) from 200 meters away.

      I wanted to say this given all the BS this chick is spreading around here. Go away!

  • Nick says:

    Come! Come! A blog like this surely needs a Claudia Menlo figure. She provides a different perspective. Whilst her attempts at putting forward the Met’s case with figures generally haven’t come off, they do give others an opening to come forward with yet more damning facts.

    There was an interesting article in The Guardian the other day. It summarises Gelb’s argument, and then puts the “abyss” prognosis into proper context – “Yet the main opera houses of London, Milan, Munich, Vienna and Stockholm were all packed to 95% capacity or greater in the past season. Elsewhere in the United States, whose opera companies receive nothing like the same government support as their European counterparts, the art form has had a notable upswing in places.”

    So what’s Gelb’s problem? The writer cites several –

    1. Most of his new production successes have been bought in from outside so Gleb has been able to view them before they arrived in New York. Many of those that he has originated – Tosca, The Barber of Seville, L’Elisir d’Amore, plus Don Giovanni “a show that the Met should be ashamed of – have been far shakier.” The result? “A program that pleases neither traditionalists nor more adventurous audiences, with little to offer newcomers. If the Met’s audience is dying, that is the effect, not the cause, of its woes”

    2. Punishingly high ticket prices.

    3. An unworkably large House – it needs to rent a smaller stage “ideally in New York’s largest borough, Brooklyn, where it could mount its more experimental fare and hook younger and more diverse audiences”

    4. “Marketing is not the house’s strong suit: its slogan ‘You never forget your first time’ sounds more like a birth-control advertisement than an exhortation to high art”

    5. “The sense of occasion that should come with a night at the opera is absent: the lobby is crowded, and the food is unspeakable”

    6. “Some of the unions’ privileges, notably when it comes to overtime pay, could indeed be trimmed – as the unions have conceded”

    The debate continues. Let’s hope the mediator can work the sort of miracles Gelb can not. Ticket sales and donations for the coming season due to open in a few weeks must be looking increasingly dire as patrons and donors hold off until they know if there will be a season or not. The effects of a lockout will be felt for years, as experience at the Met has shown. And if only for that reason, Gelb’s silly ultimatum was always going to work against him.

    • Claudia Menlo says:

      Elsewhere in the United States… the art form has had a notable upswing in places.”

      In a few small places, yes. In the other major US companies, no: they’re all basically in the same doldrums as the Met. Greg Sandow writes:

      [W]hat’s happening at the larger companies is clear. Ever since 2001, they’ve been selling fewer tickets. Maybe the numbers picked up since 2012, but what would that mean? A two-year increase wouldn’t reverse the trend. (Unless, of course, it brought the numbers right back up to where they were in 2001, but as we’ll see in just a moment, even at the Chicago Lyric that’s not close to happening.)


      Let’s look more closely at the Lyric’s reported success. Yes, the company announced what sound like good results for their 2014 fiscal year…. Ticket sales up by 8%, fundraising up.

      But how did they do the year before? Really badly. In their 2012-13 season, ticket sales were only 83% of capacity, down from 88% the season before. That’s a 9.4% drop.

      So now they’re doing better. If, when they talk about their 2014 fiscal year they mean the 2013-14 season, which just ended, their 8% sales increase brings them back up to 89.6% of capacity.But all that does is wipe out the drop from the year before. It doesn’t establish any kind of long-term trend.

      And are you ready for this? Even at 89.6% of capacity they’re down — way down — from a stunning 103% in the 1990s.


  • Nick says:

    Your appreciation of percentages is equally odd in comparison to sales revenues as they are to costs. 2012 -13 “only 83%” down from 88% the year before? And yes I am ready for the return up to 89.6%, this being the dreadful result you imply.

    The above is from The Guardian article I quote above.

    But, dear Claudia, are not both more impressive than the Met’s 79% in 2012 – 13 (the latest available)? Oh, and by the way, due to heavy discounting, the Met’s actual gross was just 69% that season. Just 69%! The Lyric appears to be doing a great deal better, don’t you think?

    You also cite just just one other company. I’ll do the same. How about Houston?

    “I’ve been hearing that the opera audience was dying out for decades now,” says Perryn Leech, managing director of Houston Grand Opera, which launched its first Ring cycle earlier this year . . . and posted record attendance this year. “People came to Houston from all fifty states and twenty-seven different countries to see our performances this season. There is certainly a healthy appetite and demand for quality opera.”

    The fact is we can all pick and choose. Gelb himself elected to make this discussion worldwide. Now prove his point that opera in general worldwide is NOT showing an upswing!

    • Nick says:

      Apologies once again. Para 2 above should in fact be Para 5 and refers to the quote about Houston.

      • Claudia Menlo says:

        Color me surprised that the manager of the Houston Grand Opera should try to put a positive spin on the company’s current standing.

        Look at the graph on Sandow’s page. It shows a clear downward trend since 1998 and especially a sharp decline since 2012. This is a compilation of attendance figures for all the large American opera companies and it shows that as a general trend attendance is down severely.

        Opera is Europe is doing about what it always has done in places where governmental subsidies still hold. If the Met were in Europe or had a massive government subsidy, then the comparison would be valid.

        Or never mind: you’re out to crucify Gelb, and mere facts are never going to sway a mob.

        • norman lebrecht says:

          Who are you – from Atlanta, Georgia – calling a mob? Cool the abuse, or get off the site.

          • Claudia Menlo says:

            I’ll have you know we Atlantans enjoyed a rich and varied cultural life until that dreadful General Sherman passed through town.

          • norman lebrecht says:

            Sure, you had a Met with slaves in it.

          • william osborne says:

            Actually, we even had a White House with slaves in it. Slaves also helped build it. And the tradition of blacks as household servants in the White House continued for almost two centuries. Fortunately, there’s a different sort of black in it today — just as Atlanta has had some notable black mayors.

            Atlanta, a very rich city, ranks only 355th in the world for opera performances per year. Menlo was joking about Sherman, but there really is a horrific truth behind her words. The devastation of war can last for unimaginably long periods. I could not believe the sense of depression that still haunts Richmond when I first visited there. Southern Italy was once the richest region of the country, but after Hannibal’s devastations it never recovered, not even today 2000 years later. It’s hard to imagine.

            Anyway, “Menlo” is generating a lot of interesting discussion here, and taking enormous amounts of abuse in the process. I hope you’ll give her a break.

        • Nick says:

          The problem with your latest graph is that if presents merely one statistic – total attendance. How about putting that into the context of the number of performances for each company? If that total throughout the USA has decreased, then it is a virtual certainty that attendances on average will decrease.

          You spin a lot of figures, but you still have not explained how the numbers you presented in detail for the Met in 2013 are not borne out by the financial statement for 2013 which you posted from the online wsj. There may be a reason, but you have not supplied it.

          • Claudia Menlo says:

            If opera companies are reducing the number of performances they offer, that is a very clear sign that their attendance is in decline. E.g., if Municipal Opera of Podunk 20 years ago offered a season of eight operas and now they are offering a season of five operas, that is a clear sign of the distress of that company. Or, to give a real-life example, Seattle Opera, which faced a large financial shortfall a few seasons ago, responded by reducing each of its future seasons by one opera, and canceled this summer’s “festival” production of Die Meistersinger.

            Abbreviating the season is one effective if rather blunt way for many opera companies to reduce their budgets: obviously presenting four productions is cheaper than presenting five. This sort of reduction is not at the moment a feasible one for the Met, though, because (unlike other US opera companies) the Met has contracts that run year ’round. If the season is made a month shorter, the orchestra, chorus, stagehands and so forth all continue to be paid even though the theater is generating no ticket revenue.

            If you will specify any discrepancies in the numbers I have posted (other than the clumsy division error that produced that faulty percentage, which I’ve already corrected) I’ll be glad to address them.

    • william osborne says:

      Houston is a bit of a specious comparison. It’s budget is only 20 million per year, 1/16th the Met’s, 1/14th the Paris Opera’s, 1/6th the Vienna State Opera. It’s low budget and small number of performances attest to the problems opera in America faces.

      “Claudia Menlo” is providing much needed counter perspectives here and often backed up with some objective numbers and interesting arguments, even if more documentation is needed. We should have a dialog here and not just a unanimous mob calling for Gelb’s head.

      • Amy says:

        okay, “Claudia”…what if your hypothetical Municipal Opera of Podunk is offering five operas instead of eight, but extending their runs, launching successful education programs and selling tickets well? Then you no longer have a clear indicator that fewer productions overall is a “clear sign of distress” but rather a tactical adjustment, and possibly a neutral or even positive outcome.

        • william osborne says:

          More performances and more tickets sold? It would probably mean that opera company isn’t in the United States. And a municipal company would be even more unthinkable. (I don’t say this, however, to defend either “Claudia” or Gelb. Opera faces problems in the States, but the problems at the Met have additional causes related to management.)

          • william osborne says:

            On the other hand, if there were a Municipal Opera offering European style ticket prices, the house would be so full people would be hanging from the chandeliers. This would be especially true at the Met.