Peter Gelb to Met staff: Prepare to be locked out

Peter Gelb to Met staff: Prepare to be locked out


norman lebrecht

July 23, 2014

The manager has sent a letter his his employees, warning that he may shut the opera house down at the end of next week.

Salient sentence: ‘If we are not able to reach agreements by July 31 that would enable the Met to operate on an economically sound basis, please plan for the likelihood of a work stoppage beginning Aug. 1.’

The lockout would be the first in 34 years. This is a ma n who has learned nothing from Minnesota.




  • Robert Garbolinski says:

    This man is an idiot – why haven’t they fired him for incompetence?

  • Harold Braun says:

    Gelb is nothing but an incompetent,stupid pompous,selfish ass!

  • Robert Garbolinski says:

    Well that is patently obvious alienating the paying audience and the staff. If anyone should be up for instant dismissal because of gross incompetence it is him

  • william osborne says:

    The Met’s operating budget was $209 million when Mr. Gelb took the helm in 2006 and in 8 years rose to $311 million. How can Gelb increase the budget by 48% in only 8 years and still ask the musicians to take huge pay cuts? The unions need to stress this point.

    • Vaquero357 says:

      One does have to ask where the extra $100 million is going. I mean, the MET still does 7 performances a week over a season of about the same length as it was in 2006. OK, artists salaries have probably gone up over that time…..but really, where’s it all going?

      I’m not trying to be a smart aleck here – a business that not only is taking in less (decline in ticket sales) but keeps spending more? That defies all the common sense and logic of running a business, nonprofit or otherwise.

  • Steve says:

    Clearly this guy is the problem.

  • Pamela Brown says:

    If this awful scenario parallels the MO, it doesn’t matter what anyone thinks about Mr. Gelb; the players and supporters need to move quickly to outstrategize him as they ultimately did in Minnesota with MH. They might also want to take up a collection to get SOTL’s Emily Hogstad to NY. I can’t think of a better advocate…

    • sdReader says:

      Yes, she was quite effective.

      If there is a lockout as in Minneapolis, and if it drags on, as seems likely, then Gelb will be vilified by the musicians in the way Michael Henson was, making impossible his continued role as head of the Met.

      In other words, we may now already be at the end of his de facto tenure.

      Of course, the Met board will have to pay out his $18 million contract. But this may have already been planned, and may be considered by the board a good value relative to the systemic cuts they will realize.

      • Nick says:

        I doubt if firing Gelb is even a remote possibility in the mind of any Board member for now. They hired him, despite being aware of his massive lack of knowledge about running any major opera company, let alone the Met. They agreed to his proposals to ‘reinvigorate’ the House and get in a fresh new audience. They agreed to fund his badly-thought-through ideas. They were so entranced they gave him a new 10-year contract. The loss of face and the media frenzy they would have to endure is not something to appeal to rich ‘ladies who lunch’ and CEO’s of corporations who know nothing about running an opera company. Ultimately it may happen. In the meantime, they will back Gelb to the hilt. They have little choice.

        • sdReader says:

          Agreed. I’m imagining developments in 2015, after an extended lockout.

          • Nick says:

            Anyone doubting the backing Gelb has at Board level need only read an article in the New York Times Magazine from little over a year ago. It says that amongst Gelb’s supporters is –

            “the chairwoman, Ann Ziff, who in the last three years has, with her family, given more than $53 million. ‘We were incredibly lucky to find someone like Peter,’ Ziff said when I met her at her office. ‘He brought us a new vision. You don’t know you need a new vision until someone brings it, and it’s made a huge difference in the popularity of opera around the world.'”


            “Incredibly lucky?”
            “New Vision?”
            “Huge Difference in the popularity of opera around the world?” Indeed it has Mrs Ziff, for according to your wunderkind, the popularity of opera worldwide is on a big downward spiral. Or perhaps you don’t read newspapers any more.

          • william osborne says:

            The discussions on SD about Gelb are assuming the character of a lynch mob. This is unfortunate because the problems the Met faces can only be solved with more differentiated views.

            As Ann Ziff notes, Gelb has indeed brought of new vision to the Met which has made good progress in leaving behind its provincial stagings — even if more work is to be done, and the balances between innovation and popularity still need to be adjusted. And the Met broadcasts have been a resounding success, which as Ziff notes, has helped to increase the popularity of opera. Gelb has also done an excellent job with fund-raising.

            All of this is conveniently ignored in the viscous blood-lust of these discussions.

            The problem is, these improvements could all have been accomplished without increasing the budget by 48% in 8 years. And we should face the fact that so much absurdity has been grandfathered into the Met over the decades that fundamental reforms are indeed necessary.

  • Dave T says:

    Mr. Osborne: You appear to know the Met and opera companies and their business pretty well. Perhaps you could tell us how much of that $102 million increase went to members of the unions that are at the center of this?

    • william osborne says:

      The $102 million budget increase in 8 years (48%) was reported in the WSJ. I too would like to know how much of that increase went to personnel, both in terms of salary increases and additional hires. They probably have cost of living increases in their contract, but it should be far below 48%. It seems likely personnel costs remained relatively stable, while production costs rose dramatically. And yet the employees are being asked for dramatic cuts.

  • Nick says:

    I don’t think any of us know because the Met has never issued actual figures for how that increase has really been spent – and the real reasons for the Union overtime being incurred. In the next thread “Gelb’s Proposed Lockout: Stage Unions Respond”, I have given my take on how some of that increase has been incurred with quotes from the Met’s Assistant General Manager for Productions and a chorus member.

    Gelb continually states that much of the increase has gone on contractual agreements with the Unions. What he has never clarified, as far as I am aware, is how much of that is basic pay and how much is overtime. It seems to be generally acknowledged that overtime payments during the Gelb era have spiralled upwards with little control.

    All opera managements must work within given parameters. These include the minimum contracted hours Union members work each week/month and the penalties payable if they are asked to work beyond those hours. That control has to be exercised at the initial planning stage of repertoire and new productions – in the Met’s case probably around 3 – 4 years in advance. There is little you can do to avoid overtime in lengthy productions like Gotterdammerung and Prince Igor. What they should be doing is ensuring with their producers, designers and production staff not only that productions are brought in more or less within budget, but as importantly that the cost of performing them now and reviving them for the rest of their ‘life’ (which could be 20 – 30 years) does not saddle the House with continuing massive additional costs, like overtime and huge nightly changeover costs. Has Gelb’s administration been vigilant in exercising such control? I don’t know, but I suspect not.

    • Save the MET says:

      The accounting department is one huge shell game.

    • william osborne says:

      It may be that over time regulations become prohibitively expensive when the Met tries to do things like the Ring Cycle — four long operas. If this were the case, systemic changes might be necessary if the Met is to be capable of performing the standard rep.

      Complicated stage machinery, such as used in the Met’s Ring production, requiring long set changes would exacerbate the problems.

      Still, we need to know how much of the 48% increase during Gelb’s tenure went to salaries, and how much to increased costs for expensive productions.

      • Nick says:

        I’d suggest to make a meaningful judgement the public should know three figures that have risen over the last 8 years.

        1. the real increase in basic salaries as per agreed Union contracts (not average take home pay);
        2. the real increase in actual overtime payments in accordance with Union contracts;
        3. the real increase in the running costs of new productions since Gelb took over (we know that donors cover the publicly announced physical production costs).

        Gelb may not be fully responsible for the first, but it is all but certain he and his administration will be responsible for most of the other two. Equally certain, the public will sadly not be provided with any of them.

  • Quaecumque sunt vera says:

    Let’s make this simple. The costs of stage productions are MANAGEMENT decisions, not union decisions. Overtime is because of MANAGEMENT decisions, not union decisions. I played in the Met orchestra for 2 seasons. We played many operas with cuts to keep them from going overtime. It’s not complicated. Gelb is blaming the unions for his own mismanagement of the Met’s finances because of expensive stage productions and overtime pay! The same thing happened with the Minnesota Orchestra lockout under Michael Henson, who now is on his way out because of his mismanagement. Gelb apparently has a very short memory!

    • william osborne says:

      If overtime rules regularly require making cuts to operas in the standard rep, or not programming them at all to avoid prohibitive costs, then there are systemic problems that need to be fixed. People need to ask why European houses of equal quality have budgets that are around half as large as the Met’s.

      The Vienna State Opera does even more performances than the Met and at similar quality. It’s budget is $130 million compared to the Met’s $311 million — almost 2 and half times larger.

      The Opéra National de Paris runs TWO houses on a budget of $270 million, the 2700-seat Opéra Bastille and the 1970-seat Palais Garnier. (Small scale and contemporary works are also staged in the 500-seat Amphitheatre under the Opéra Bastille.) So that would come to $135 million for each Paris house compared to $311 million for the Met’s single stage.

      The costs of living in Paris are similar to NYC. The Vienna State Opera even has the VPO in the pit. These comparisons show that something is fundamentally wrong with the cost structures at the Met. Even if the unions prevail, sooner or later the Met is going to collapse if reforms are not made. No amount of lynch mob hysteria against Gelb is going to change that fact.

  • william osborne says:

    The first step in reigning in expenses is to limit production costs to the extent reasonable. It has been suggested this would harm the morale of the production staff, but that isn’t completely true. Those familiar with production staff know they can enjoy the creative challenges of creating good shows within the limits of a specific budget. Lowering their salaries harms morale, but setting *reasonable* limits on their production costs seldom does.

    • Nick says:

      When you say “production staff”, I am assuming you mean those who create the productions – the producer/director, set, costume and lighting designers. In other words, not the in-house Met production department staff who then take the designs and build them for the stage.

      This is an eminently sensible suggestion and would work in many Houses, especially where directors and designers are salaried staff. Unfortunately, the Met engages out-of-House freelance producers and designers. And as Peter Gelb has stated, new productions are paid for by donors and so those costs are not part of the present dispute (other than issues of overtime and possible creative accounting to hide overruns).

      Reducing budgets for new productions, though, could well reduce the cost to donors who might – with some arm-twisting – be persuaded to channel the resultant savings to other costs – e.g. the considerable costs of reviving the production in a later season. It could also be a challenge that some directors might accept. I remember what was supposed to be a revival of an old Peter Grimes production at Covent Garden. It turned out the sets had simply disintegrated in the scene store and the director Elijah Moshinsky was given a very small budget to mount a new production. His austere, evocative staging with a great cast including Jon Vickers was wonderfully effective. Masses of cash are not essential for good productions.