Peter’s Gelb’s last gambit gets low and personal

Peter’s Gelb’s last gambit gets low and personal


norman lebrecht

July 24, 2014

The letter sent by Peter Gelb to every member of Metropolitan Opera staff was ostensibly intended to give advance warning of a lockout that will ensue if their unions do not agree to Gelb’s cuts by the end of next week.

Its real purpose was to make ordinary people think about the personal cost of a lockout to themselves and their families, to drive a wedge of anxiety between individual workers and their union negotiators.

Fear is the oldest tactic in the HR book and Gelb is wielding it because he has nothing else up his sleeve.

The one person who has not considered the personal cost of a lockout is Peter Gelb. With the board rock-solid behind him, he is confident that a lockout will eventually deliver the savings he requires.

He is almost certainly wrong. The 1980 Met lockout ended after six weeks in a management capitulation. The Minnesota Orchestra lockout ended with the dismissal of its manager, Michael Henson, who had enjoyed full board support for more than a whole confrontational year. A lockout would be the worst thing that can possibly happen to Peter Gelb.

Only the unions can now save him from that disaster.

peter gelb1



  • sdReader says:

    Well, it’s only “the worst thing that can possibly happen to Peter Gelb” if he wants to stay as head of the Met.

    He might wish to do something else at this point, especially if he is bought out after a protracted interruption to the Met’s work.

    • Save the MET says:

      Manufactured drama and crisis. Mr. Gelb is not a man of the people, he started the pre-negotiations badly and slips further in a quagmire of his own making each time he speaks to the press. Handled differently, he might have gotten through, but this is par for the course during his tenure at the Metropolitan Opera. It speaks volumes to his lack of business acumen, knowledge of the job before it was “given” to him and six miserable and mostly boring productions. His ego knows no bounds and his bought and paid for past is catching up to him. Someone in the press should ask him about his attempts to be a Hollywood producer. He came back to New York with his tail between his legs.

  • Nick says:

    This man has no clue about negotiations – but then as we know he has never run anything more than a small office before, let alone a large organisation as complex as the Met! His employees clearly have little or no respect for him now and, as Alan Gordon points out in the article, “Once he locks out employees, his relationship with the performers at the Met is over. They will never respect him again.” You’re going to have a pretty tough eight more years on your contract, Mr. Gelb!

    To include with the letter a memo pointing out “that in the event of a work stoppage, unionized workers covered by the Met would lose their health insurance unless they decide to pay for insurance under the federal Cobra law, which would cost $1,255.33 a month for individuals and $2,793.10 a month for families,” a fact all Union employees will know full well, rubs salt into an increasingly ugly wound.

  • Observer says:

    The management and board locked out the Louisville Orchestra for 13 months. Now there is a new executive director, a new board president, and a new music director.

    • Sarah says:

      As with Minnesota’s 16-month lockout – interim director is well-respected former MN Opera CEO (retired), new board president, and beloved “former” music director back.

  • Mark Powell says:

    You know, I seem to remember a very sharp arts writer saying something prescient about this a decade a go. . . .

    “He is, however, spectacularly unqualified to run an opera house. He has no experience of unions, of fund-raising, or of meeting and greeting customers. Aloof and unphysical, he is the antipode of the ebullient Volpe, who once threatened to throw Gelb across the Met Plaza…”

    – Norman Lebrecht, 2004

  • william osborne says:

    It might be a mistake to compare the Met to Minnesota or Louisville. The cost of living in NYC is far higher so the employees will feel more financial pressure. The musician’s salaries are far higher, so the loss of income will represent a more extreme financial loss. The Met’s orchestra is far larger, which will make it difficult for other union orchestras to keep them supplied with enough subbing jobs. Given the high salaries, and extremely high in some cases, the employees might have a more difficult job with PR. And there is a far wider range of cultural activity in NYC, so the loss of the Met’s performances will not be as notable to the public as the loss of the orchestras in Minneapolis and Louisville. Still, I hope a settlement fair to all can be achieved.

    • sdReader says:

      Another difference is that here maybe James Levine could actually do something, given that he hired and loves the players.

      Traditionally the music director sits out a fight silently. But Levine has great security and stature, and is at the end of his career anyway, so could speak publicly to bring the sides together.

  • Brian says:

    Strikes and lockouts rarely end well for either side. Not only the Met’s previous track record, but it harmed the NFL badly and took MLB years to recover its lost fan base.

  • Ks. Christopher Robson says:

    Surely there is now only one way out in all this, and a certain person should metaphorically fall on his sword or be escorted away from his job and office without mercy. What a mess!

  • says:

    It’s no secret that Peter Gelb knows NOTHING about classical music whatever, and he knows even less about theater management. He’s a well-born college drop-out whose forte is media. That he honed his media skills through various jobs in the classical music field doesn’t mean that he acquired any musical expertise, and he was woefully unprepared to run a theater of ANY kind, much less the world’s greatest opera house. Gelb laid all his cards out in Susan Froemke’s documentary “Wagner’s Dream” (about the LePage Ring Cycle production): As the camera fawns over him, Gelb stands on the Met’s Grand Tier balcony, imperiously overseeing Lincoln Center Plaza, as he states something to the effect of “If I don’t tart-up Met productions with outrageous innovations, Opera will die”. Such documented megalomania demonstrates how hopelessly inappropriate he is for his job, and how out of touch he is with reality. Add to this the fact that he has the full support of a board that is stocked with wealthy socialites whose fortunes are hugely disproportionate to their opera knowledge & theater-management expertise, and you have the formula to create the current disaster. Had Gelb’s reasons for labor-compensation cuts been the result of an independent study supported by both sides, he may have had a chance here. But that he arrived at these conclusions himself is highly suspect, and it will most likely be his undoing.

  • David Boxwell says:

    On the other hand, Gordon has been playing hardball just as hyperbolically and ruthlessly.

    Boys, boys, you’re BOTH ugly!

  • Vaquero357 says:

    How and why did Gelb get the job in the first place? Anybody have any links to the *real* back story?

    He seemed a very odd choice at the time….I can’t imagine Joe Volpe having an easy time dealing with him during the transition.

  • Nick says:

    As usual NL had the story – or at least much of it, and the Mark Powell’s post above includes a short quote. Here it the link –

    In a nutshell, the two obvious candidates to succeed Volpe were both hugely experienced. Michael Kaiser who was running the Kennedy Centre had earlier turned around American Ballet Theater and London’s Royal Opera from near bankruptcy. Deborah Borda had worked near-miracles with the New York Philharmonic before moving coasts to take over the LA Phil. Allegedly Kaiser seemed not to want the job. Some on the Search Committee led by Beverly Sills worried Borda did not have opera experience. Others felt a woman could not do the job!

    At that point, Ronald Wilford, head of the once powerful Columba Artists Management, manager of James Levine and former boss of Gelb, contacted Sills and suggested she meet Gelb about the job. The reason? Gelb was about to lose his job at Sony Classical. So it was a favour between friends called in to help an ex-employee. Why that then led to the appointment of the massively inexperienced Gelb over the hugely-experienced Borda is one of opera’s mysteries. But the chickens have come home to roost and the Board is now paying for that humungous mistake.

  • Felipe says:

    From what I have heard, it was Beverly Sills who lobbied to have the Board give Gelb the job. It was one of her ‘dying wishes’ that he get the appointment, despite his other failed endeavors and his having zero experience running an opera house. And so he took over the world’s busiest and most complicated repertory house and has played foul with it ever since.

  • Heather Kelley says:

    The costly “innovative” stagings that have turned out to be a massive waste of funds are not the domain of the Met and the Met should never strive to be innovative. It is classical, based on quality, truth and not innovation. It should not follow fashion. Can’t Gelb be fired? Could the beautiful productions of the past be restored? They are not boring – they are time tested and expertly crafted.

  • Michael Begley says:

    For the last two years, whenever I have received a donation solicitation from the Met, I have returned it with a note: “Not another dime while Gelb is in charge.” I think contributors need to start flooding email boxes of the board, the development staff, and the Finance department with that message until this cretin is gone.