Wagner diva asks singers to reduce their Met fees

Wagner diva asks singers to reduce their Met fees


norman lebrecht

July 29, 2014

We’ve had sight of a letter sent by an eminent American soprano to a number of her colleagues, asking them to join her in reducing their fees by 12.5 percent in order to help the Metropolitan Opera balance its books.

Hers is an honourable, heartfelt suggestion and one which takes an admirable degree of personal responsibility for the art of opera and one of its leading institutions.

The diva claims that several of her colleagues have already agreed to her suggestion and the tone of her letter indicates that she has bought into the Peter Gelb narrative without benefit of independent assessment.

Admirable as her sense of responsibility may be, it will be seen by colleagues in the orchestra as a rejection of their argument – that the Met’s problems are caused by Gelb’s economic inefficiencies – and a  betrayal of their campaign for a just and sustainable pay deal.

We have withheld the diva’s name in order not to inflame an overheated situation. But we suspect the Met may publish it.

fat singer

fat singer


  • Brian says:

    And then there’s this…

    Very sad to learn the Met union negotiations are not going well. Had hoped my colleagues would meet half way.— Deborah Voigt (@debvoigt) July 24, 2014

  • S.C. says:

    I don’t think you get to call them colleagues anymore Ms. [name redacted]. Now they won’t have your back when you need them and trust me….you’re gonna need them.

  • A lot of talented artists out there looking for work. It’s the show that must go on, not you. This lockout letter might be just a prelude to mass layoff beginning August 1st. Unemployment is rampant in America and sadly, you can be replaced. Debby Voigt is right, you’re making 6 figures now and will continue to do so after the cuts, time to compromise, wake up. The Board will see this intransigence as an opportunity for a purge.

    Even if the budget is being mismanaged by Gelb, you don’t get to tell the boss how to spend money, honey. Your job at the Met is to sing, play, build sets etc. as described in you job description for a specified, negotiated salary. The Metropolitan Opera isn’t a government agency, a charity or a publicly owned company. If you can’t afford to work there for the compensation offered, you don’t have to, you’re free to work someplace else. Get real.

    • william osborne says:

      The disrespectful tone sounds like something said by a factory owning villain in a Charles Dickinson novel. Even if we’re past the nickel a day for child labor era, a fair and harmonious solution at the Met will be found only by *mutual respect from both sides.* Let’s encourage that.

      Voigt’s one-sided gesture smacks of top dog generosity, and isn’t the best approach to leadership regardless of what her views might be. I suspect her attitude might change a bit if she spent a couple years in the pit or chorus salt mines. Let’s hope the talks are productive and a fair resolution for all is found.

      • One-sided gesture? Voigt suggested both sides meet half way, what on earth could possibly be wrong with that statement?

        Chorus, orchestra and stagehands make way, way beyond a nickel a day, your child labor analogy is dishonest.

        And you’re engaging in hypocrisy when you talk about “mutual respect from both sides”. The character assassination of Peter Gelb has been a free for all Met workers on Facebook for at least two months. Give me a break.

        • Charles Papendick says:

          Another thing Ms Marshall, if you haven’t walked the walk, you have no right to talk the talk.
          Musicians and singers have trained their whole lives to EARN a job at the met. It’s not an easily earned position. I suppose after they’ve trained their whole lives to earn a spot on the grandest stage in the opera community, they should be thankful for the new opportunity to wait tables at Olive Garden.
          I’m sure the product the met would put on stage would be of the same quality as your comments.

        • william osborne says:

          12.5% isn’t halfway. And Voigt’s gesture, done without discussion with the musicians, is preemptive and disempowering and thus one-sided. There has been too much disrespect on both sides for negotiations to proceed well. This needs to change, hence the problems with your rant. Gee thanks for telling us the musicians make more than a nickel a day. What a remarkable insight. They are highly paid, but in a city where rent for an apartment can easily run $3000/month, especially if they have a family.

      • CDH says:

        Charles Dickinson? Any relation to Emily Dickens?

      • William Safford says:

        She posted an essentially similar diatribe over on the Song of the Lark blog:


        Check out how Emily handled it.

  • Felipe says:

    As far as I know Deborah Voigt has no upcoming Met engagements so it’s easy for her to suggest that her ‘former’ colleagues take pay cuts. This may endear her to Gelb & Co and get her back on the roster, if the Met survives.

    Ms. Marshall has been drinking the Gelb Kool-Aid, or rather the Gelb Tea.

    • Go ahead Felipe, attack the messenger because you can’t deal with the message. Voigt has the right to express her opinion, which I happen to agree with.

      I don’t drink Koolaid by the way, I prefer champaign. Gelb is just trying to tell workers the company can’t afford to pay the same salaries anymore. If they don’t agree with him, they don’t need to stay. Plenty of talented people all over the world would like to work at the Met. They’re ready.

      • william osborne says:

        Sort of like how the Florida Orchestra was eliminated and replaced by a the Cleveland Orchestra In Miami guest series. Just what we need, more scabs.

        I see you’re from Albuquerque. Not too surprising that the NM Symphony went bankrupt and was replaced by the NM Phil where the musicians are paid solely by the service. I doubt the tutti strings even make $5000 per year in a metro area of 900,000 people. Getting toward a nickel a day. So we see why unions and fair negotiations are necessary.

      • Charles Papendick says:

        Ms Marshall, as I suspect, you don’t have a clue. In the event of the lockout, all unions are not being fired. They all have contracts for the upcoming season. That’s why the unions are being locked out. Gelb never wanted to negotiate. It’s his way or the highway. If I was a performer with the talent to sing or play an instrument, like met singers or orchestra, I’d stand up for myself too. Gelb is making a point to bust unions and that is why the met will be black this season. It’s very obvious if you read the info provided by both sides. There are NO negotiations going on.

  • Charles Papendick says:

    Ms Marshall, I don’t believe you have a clue.

    • Nick says:

      Indeed she doesn’t. If she believes that you can build an opera ensemble of the quality of the Met by getting rid of a whole bunch of staff and then replacing them with others from elsewhere, she is living in some kind of cloud-cuckoo land.

      I have looked at that blog site from @William Stafford’s post. Ms Clark’s views there are even stronger, as in this extract –

      “You don’t get to tell the boss how to spend money. Your job at the Met is to sing, play, build sets etc. as described in you job description for a specified, negotiated salary. The Metropolitan Opera isn’t a government agency or a publicly owned company. It’s a business for profit like any other. Get real.”

      She is clearly back in the master/slave era, alas. Positively Dickensian! That is certainly not how you manage highly talented musicians, choristers, technical and production staff etc. Ms Clark. Or had you not realised that the days of arbitrary hire-and-fire in the music business disappeared quite some decades ago?

      And by the way, whenever did anyone anywhere even think the Met is a profit-making business? If it were, then all on that huge list of donors would have the IRS breathing down their necks for the taxes they deducted on their contributions!

  • Dave T says:

    “She has bought into the Peter Gelb narrative without benefit of independent assessment.”

    That is rather presumptuous, isn’t it? This diva may very well have done just that and yet arrived at just this conclusion. I don’t suppose one is prepared to argue that all the various and downright vile Gelb bashing which can be seen daily on this blog is the result of “independent assessment,” can one?

    It’s pathetic that now even Voigt, and this unnamed diva, are being smeared by the pro-union zealots for merely urging compromise and THEIR OWN sacrifice. Sympathy for the unions is fading faster than a cheap violin.

  • Dave T says:

    Citing a NM musician’s $5000 salary in the context of a Met player’s and his management-union issues is specious, at the very least.

    • Don’t remind them of reality, Dave, they don’t like it.

      These petty bourgeoisie workers prefer to think they’re a real working class, persecuted, exploited and underpaid. When they’re in fact overpaid and overrated. Peter Gelb is correct in bringing these crybabies down to earth.

      I hope the Board and management are making arrangements to layoff these royal highnesses if they don’t come to their senses on August 1 and start hiring new talent for the Met. New York should not stay without an opera season on the account of extortionists.

    • william osborne says:

      The low pay in NM is a clear example of what happens to musicians when they can’t protect themselves. It’s also an illustration of how a system of funding by the wealthy concentrates funding in a few financial centers and leaves the rest of the country culturally impoverished.

      • Dave T says:

        Now if the Met unions, and management for that matter, would be working to improve the lot of workers and the arts in New Mexico I would be truly impressed. Unfortunately, they are just looking out for themselves, on both sides, and that’s that. On the union(s) side, if they truly cared about the well being of other “workers” maybe they wouldn’t be complaining about the high costs of productions. After all, the people who design, build, etc these high-dollar productions live in pricey cities, have student loans to pay off, have disabled children who need good medical care, and blah-blah-blah, too.

  • Not correct William, the low pay reflects the economic reality of the venue and the job market of the region it’s located. Opera companies pay what they can afford. If they can’t afford to pay musicians anymore, they close (what happened to NYCOpera and dozens of other US companies).

    That’s what Peter Gelb is trying to avoid and I applaud him for that, I applaud his courage especially since employees are turning him into the new Hitler. If Pavarotti, Callas, Sutherland even the great Caruso were all replaced at one point or another, and opera survived, don’t think for a second that you can’t be replaced in a New York minute.

    • Charles Papendick says:

      As someone who actually attends many performances at the Met, I can assure you, it’s certainly not Peter Gelb that I went to see.
      It’s not yet obvious what talents he has although managing an opera company, albeit the most famous, isn’t one of them.

      • The Met Board doesn’t agree with you, does it? Or they would’ve gotten rid of him a long time ago.

        Attending many performances of opera doesn’t qualify anyone to be an expert on opera management.

        • Sharon Jones says:

          Are all the salaries and benefits published somewhere? I’d like to have some sense of comparison. I don’t know what a chorus member earns or what benefits they receive compared to other people. So it is hard for me to know if they have a real grievance. Income equality and all that sort of stuff that is being espoused these days, you know. Lots of people train hard for what they do. I would just like to know how this compares. Keeping in mind that everything we do is based on personal choice.

          • Charles Papendick says:

            Sharon, it’s been published that a chorister’s base pay is $104k and that any extra amount they make is overtime, or penalty pay, costume fittings, etc….all of which are scheduled by the met.
            They work six days a week from roughly 9:30am – midnight on the days they have shows. They may get 1.5 hrs free during that time between rehearsal and show time. Of course that doesn’t include commuting time. They can make upwards of $200k but they work their tails off for it and it’s at managements discretion. If you’re not scheduled, you don’t work. They don’t have “real lives” during the season.

        • Charles Papendick says:

          Ms Marshall, you don’t have to be an expert on opera management to read between the lines here and know that something “stinks”. “It” has zero to do with the people who are the performers night after night. It has to do with a guy who shouldn’t have been there in the first place. His counterparts across the globe haven’t taken much time distancing themselves from him either. One last thing…bringing up the met board? You’re really going there? My guess is that the smell starts there.

        • Nick says:

          I am sure the Met Board does not agree with most of the posters on this blog! They will never accept that they have brought this crisis upon themselves.

          But I am glad you brought up the death of the NYCO in an earlier post, because you actually argue against yourself! You conveniently forget that the reason the NYCO died had absolutely nothing to do with the pay for artists and musicians. That was a direct result of the shenanigans of its Board Chairman Susan Baker and her ill-considered choice of her favourite for the post of General Manager. Now please don’t jump in and tell us that Gerard Mortier was eminently qualified to run an opera company. He certainly was. But having been promised an operating budget of $60 million, he arrived in New York to discover that Mrs. Baker and her pals on her Board were able to find only $36 million. So he upped and left! Before he did so, the same Mrs Baker had agreed to Mortier’s request for hugely expensive renovations to the State Theater which resulted in the company being itinerant for a season. Because of these ill-conceived Board decisions, that season the company posted a whopping $19.9 million deficit. The company never recovered! All due to the Board’s incompetence!

    • william osborne says:

      The low pay for the NM Phil reflects the fact that our unique and isolated funding system for the arts based on donations from the wealthy doesn’t work very well. Such a system concentrates funding in a few financial centers where the extremely wealthy live and leaves the rest of the country culturally impoverished. The USA is the only developed country in the world without comprehensive systems of public arts funding. The absurd problems at the Met are a direct reflection of our dysfunctional funding system.

  • JPG says:

    And in whose pockets are the Board members? Ms. Joan, you are an [redacted: abuse]!

  • Sharon Jones says:

    I’m not sure it is the job of the federal government to pay more to artists. I think alot of people who are very talented but chose music as their avocation wouldn’t want to be taxed more to fund very expensive arts organization they might never see or even care about. Let the states decide if they wish to make their state residents pay more to fund their arts groups. After all, if someone goes to a Met performance they are in New York- either as tourists or locals. I would rather use my tax dollars to fund my local arts groups even if the Met thinks my opera company is not as good as they are. If I want to see the Met, I can go to my local movie theater and buy a ticket, which is income that I assume is somewhat shared with the Met. I consider that to be the limit of what should be my contribution. I don’t think the government should take my tax dollars to fund the Met. But I guess we could argue that all day since some people think I would owe them my equally hard earned dollars in the name of cultural enrichment and evidently, very poor management. I hope the Met survives this.

    • William Safford says:

      One of the problems we face with arts in the U.S. is that there is not more government support for the arts.

      There are many things that are done with tax money that I do not like. But that’s part of the fun of being in a democracy.

      I would like to see more government support of arts and arts education, whether in a rural area or the Met.

  • DYB says:

    Come on folks, Joan is obviously David Koch’s drag queen alter ego. Or maybe Mercedes Bass incognito. She’s willing to give the peasants her cake leftovers.

    Met musicians are all highly educated (many with doctorates) and make NYC upper middle class wages (a lot of which comes from OT Gelb demands they work). But middle class is now too greedy for the Tea Party that has infiltrated Met management and its Board.

    Speaking of tax dollars paying the Met (the Met is a non-profit): I want all those trillions of taxes spent on wars reimbursed please. I’d rather they paid for the arts. If we are earmarking how our tax dollars is spent, that is.

    • william osborne says:

      Interesting comments about military vs. arts spending. The military budget is $640 billion per year which comes to $1.2 million per minute. The military thus spends an amount equal to the Met’s yearly budget In 4 hours and 54 minutes.

  • Lloyd Arriola says:

    Amen, Mr. Osborne. And Ms. Marshall, you are sadly in the minority here. Nice of a big singer to act magnanimously, but good wages are for these hard working people who are NOT cry-babies. They work like hell to get the gig and to keep it.

  • Matt says:

    Yes, I have a doctorate degree in voice performance and would LOVE a chance at the met chorus. I have been in the VOA (Van, BC) for years and we make about $12,000 CAN yearly (on four show runs). There are many singers out there with large talent and we are all struggling to get a good gig and keep it. We have similar management issues up here, and our solution is not to offer a pay cut. Or, could pay cuts come from the upper eschelon for once?