Met latest: Talks drag on with 10 unions, Gelb shackled

Met latest: Talks drag on with 10 unions, Gelb shackled


norman lebrecht

August 20, 2014

Another day, another deadline passed, another sign of Peter Gelb’s failed strategy. Ten stage unions continued talks through the night.  Moments after midnight, a Met spokesmen told the media there was ‘nothing to report’.

A source close to the musicians points out the wider implications of the financial oversight that Gelb has conceded is likely to work. Gelb, he says, will be managing in handcuffs. ‘Every time the financial analyst points out what has to change to save money, the board will ask themselves, “Why wasn’t Peter doing this before?”’

peter gelb tv


  • sdReader says:

    The board can “ask themselves” whatever they want. PG has a 10-contract.

    • Save the MET says:

      The contract has loopholes to move him on for cause. The Metropolitan Opera has written them since 1882. They have long experience in tossing General Manangers. Schyler Chapin left with very little when shown the door. Gelb’s savior, the current Chairperson Ann Ziff will now have to answer to many on the Board who do not beleive keeping Gelb is in the best interest of the house.

      • NY Musician says:

        Agreed – they absolutely have ways of letting him go.

      • sdReader says:

        I didn’t know that. Personally I’m neither for nor against Gelb. It seems to me he has done some good things, but he has lost much of my respect over his (foiled) actions against Opera News, his recent pronouncements about the demise of opera, and his gaping lack of skill in marketing subscriptions and building the theater audience. I don’t agree with Norman that this recent settlement with the chorus and orchestra indicates failure.

      • Lewes says:

        The Board (that is, the entire Board, not just Ann Ziff) just voted Gelb a 10-year extension of his contract and a raise in his pay. Unless the membership of the Board changed radically, that means these very powerful people would have to first convince themselves and then publicly admit that they were wrong in their actions — this right after the GM they just gave a strong show of support to settled contracts with all the unions a month before the season was to start.

        But now they are about to fire Gelb, because you say so. Right.

        • Nick says:

          The rich and the powerful operate in a very exclusive network. They protect themselves. If they want Gelb out, out he will go!

          • Lewes says:

            An airtight argument. Now all you have to do is prove that the Board wants Gelb out — this after offering him a 10 year contract and a 30% raise in pay.

            Be sure to provide direct quotes from your friends on the Board.

        • Save the Met says:

          You really don’t understand not-for-profit boards very well do you? Ziff is Chairperson of the MET currently, for the ginormic gifts she has given the MET. She protects Gelb, at least currently. The rest of the Board is generous, but not to the levels she is currently giving, nor do they want to make up the shortfall by voting against her. If they did, it is highly likely she would step down and possibly leave. It’s all politics, she was the one who stupidly pushed for the 10 year contract he wanted and the board followed like sheep. The former chairperson of the New York City Opera Susan Baker was followed off the cliff, with another board that saidn yes, rather than thinking abvout the survival of the company.

      • Edgar Brenninkmeyer says:

        The Ziff family lost plenty of dollars to the Lepage RING, and I would think that that has been more than enough.. Ann Ziff as Board Chair might indeed have to answer lots of questions. I am glad not to be in her position:-) Nor Gelb’s:-)

  • Nick says:

    The cost of terminating that contract would be peanuts for a Board of that wealth!

    • Lewes says:

      Yes, if only they shared your irrational hatred of Gelb, they would be very quick to come up with the $10 million or so it would take to buy him off. Too bad they’re not you, and too bad you’re not them, eh?

      • Save the Met says:

        Lewes, you really don’t get it. Common sense is not hatred. Gelb has been an abject failure, leading the company down. The atmosphere within the Metropolitan Opera is poisoned, many like employment, but do not enjoy coming to work every day. Mr. Gelb, who could not hack college, has a record of mediocre work and a few important people who have helped him every step of his career. In other words, he hasn’t earned the title. If this were a for profit business, do you think he would still be employed? At this point he is a pariah, his chances limited outside of the Metropolitan Opera, as his Godfathers are either dead, or nearly so in the case of Ronald Wilford. The people who speak out against Gelb are fans of the Metropolitan Opera, who would like to see it survive and therefore change must be affected. I speak to various people who work for the opera house on a regular basis, you know what, they agree with what I say. It’s not hatred, it is common business sense.

        • Lewes says:

          Fine then, all you have to do sit back and wait for the Board to achieve the level of enlightenment you already enjoy, and they’ll oust Gelb. Check back in four or five years and we’ll see what happens.

          • Save the Met says:

            Balderdash, now that an auditor has been through the books, it will be shared with the board. Best guess his time in the job is short. No manager succeeds when his employees has a say in how he spends the funds.

  • Petros Linardos says:

    Update: Metropolitan Opera Clears Last Hurdle in Labor Talks

    The agreement was reached at about 3:15 a.m., following a marathon bargaining session extended past a deadline of midnight Tuesday.

  • Michael says:

    There was a disappointing undercurrent throughout this rather operatic drama that was clearly hoping for total failure and a lockout.

    It would be nice – but unexpected – if everyone could just be thankful that all parties have compromised to reach an agreement. Or are slippeddisc and its slippeddiscers going to wade through the fine print in search of things to pin on “Peter Gelb’s failed strategy”, whatever that it/was!

  • Nancy says:

    Peter Gelb’s legacy will be tainted as he now has watchdogs looking at expenditures. My sense is that Peter Gelb gave in easily because he already has something else lined up just in case and/or the audit came back that was clear as to where the money was going. Anyone would be crazy to have him because he will just recycle the same ideas to another place. Whatever he does next, if there is another act, and even if he stays regardless of having less power, he will land on his feet and create chaos wherever he goes.

    • Save the Met says:

      Daddy’s gone, Bubbles is gone, Wilford is unwell. Peter has never earned a job, he was placed by others, or assigned. The Metropolitan Opera gig has clearly shown he is not a very good manager, even his HD sales are eroding. Remember, he was dumped from the Sony-BMG merger. Talk to some of the employees of Soiny and ask what he was like to work for. The employees of the Metropolitan Opera by and large echo the same sentiments. My hunch is he will skulk away like George Steel, another idiot put in a job with little experience running an opera company and what little he had in Dallas led to the board of that opera company telling him if he did not take the NYCO job, he would be terminated.

      For the folks moaning and groaning about the negativity about Peter Gelb both here and other places (read the comments on the article about the settlement in the New York Times, they are very direct and to the point, in many cases by people in the music and opera community.) there is a reason. He has generally been a failure. A senior employee at the Metropolitan Opera describes his product as “gimmicks” and decries his taste level as “shabby”. Paranoid, he has his secretary scour blogs for his name and has attempted on a number of occasions, mostly unsuccessfully to have posts removed. He was successful in one incident where the WQXR blog actually did remove a post that criticized him. For those who neigh say that he doesn’t have time to do this, you are wrong. Keep in mind, he attempted to squelch Opera News reviews of his productions, after getting panned time and again for his mostly gimmick productions. Trying to censor Opera News did not work out well for him either. So now that he has blown up the budget and then attempted to deflate it with massive cuts, he gets a small fraction of what he sought and he has an auditor and a committee of orchestra and chorus members who have to approve major expenditures. If this were for profit, he would have already been kicked to the curb. Now a senseless board has to come to their senses and see they have a hamstrung general manager who needs to be sent along his merry way. One can only hope they have learned a lesson here and will hire experience going forward. When someone has an idea like HD and they have no experience, you contract with them for their specific talent and let them put it in place and teach people within the organization how to manage it. When the contract is fulfilled, you say thank you, pay them for their services and send them on their merry way.

      • Lewes says:

        You do realize that your obsession with Gelb sounds like Wozzeck gibbering about the Freemasons?

        • newyorker says:


        • Save the Met says:

          What a stupid response.

        • Edgar Brenninkmeyer says:

          To Lewes and Save The Met: your warfare is getting tedious. Lewes, you need to leave your childhood behind and learn to respond in an adult manner to Save The Met, whatever you or others think of the posts. Peter Gelb did not finish his college education, and I wish he had. He would have behaved differently. Now we have a major opera company in which trust has been damaged, probably beyond repair. What a shame. All parties involved need to pull themselves hard to end the embarrassing charade to which they have subjected the opera loving public.

  • Marshall says:

    Yes, as has now been reported in the NYT an agreement has been reached with the other unions, and the Met will perform. (I hope Meistersinger is not cut-all that rehearsal time-because I guess it will be my last opportunity to see a tradtional setting for this opera in my lifetime-and therein lies a bigger problem than P. Gelb)

    As I said already-what has been the point of the unrelenting anti-Gelb spin on these topics-this one here could have been avoided if the news had been waited for. Maybe his “strategy” didn’t fail? He has a deal, he has wage concessions, he may have benefit concessions, he has an opera season.

    Now we can go back to the more significant question-since Gelb’s expensive strategy to make opera more popular has failed-How will opera/classcial music survive in the next 20 years with the facts on the ground about aging audiences, demographics etc.?Yes, I know, I know-outreach and education-whatever that means, and it’s worked very well.

    What do we do in the face of a monumental societal, cultural shift, other than talk to each other in our little, very little, hermetically sealed world of music lovers?

    • Michael says:

      Just as I was about to applaud you for this great balanced post, I read yet another ranting example of the “unrelenting anti-Gelb spin” to which you refer:-

      August 20, 2014 by norman lebrecht
      No comments.
      IATSE, the main stage union, has just announed the Local 1 has reached agreement with the Met. The terms are another humiliation for Peter Gelb.
      He has been forced to accept ‘mandatory cost reductions from management and an independent monitor to track budget performance.’
      Gelb has been trussed up hand and foot in these talks, left with no room for manouevre on future policy change – unless he gets the approval of the unions and the independent budget monitor.
      What began as negotiation ended in total capitulation.

      Isn’t this getting personal, vindictive and not a little spiteful? If Mr Gelb had “won” he would have been damned for smashing the unions. If he had “lost”, the season would have been cancelled.

      Instead we have the common outcome of very complex industrial negotiations – compromises all-round (not all of them openly admitted), tweaks to the status quo of varying degrees and a joint wish to move forward.

      What will the continued sniping at Mr Gelb achieve?

      • Marshall says:

        Read the next one if you think this has sniping.
        It’s starting to read like a tabloid.

        “Another Surrender”-not just capitulation-but “total capitulation” is that like unconditional surrender?

        quote myself-“He has a deal, he has wage concessions, he may have benefit concessions, he has an opera season. ” Though many of us may wish him gone for a variety of reasons-this guarantees this year, if not beyond.

      • Nick says:

        As a reminder for all readers that Gelb was appointed with zero experience in opera company management, zero experience in spending and controlling a budget in the hundreds of millions, zero experience in high-powered Union negotiations and precious little experience in controlling the House’s PR. I don’t think anyone will ever let him forget that.

        No-one is saying he did not have some successes in his avowed attempt to revitalise productions. But he also had major failures and increased the budget vastly in doing so. Will he ever dare bring back the Lepage Ring, given its poor sales second time around? Or will he commission yet another new production of the cycle?

        The latest negotiations have achieved nothing of the goals he set months ago before he stupidly threatened the lock-out. Ticket sales revenues for revivals of his new productions are generally poor, with some downright awful. Anyone want to place bets on the amount of revenue that will be generated by the revival of the dire “Don Giovanni” in the 14/15 season? He has achieved at most minuscule reductions in overtime, and has hobbled himself – and therefore his Board – with a financial auditor duty bound to share information with the main Unions. Worse, he has brought the problems of the Met into the public forum in such a confrontational manner that he is bound to suffer from subscription and donor reticence for some time.

        For the sake of everyone else at the Met. I sincerely hope the season kicks off in style and the recent troubles are quickly put aside. But Gelb himself has been hugely humiliated in front of his employees, his Board, the media and the public. I do not believe even Mrs. Ziff can keep him in his post for very much longer.

    • Edgar Brenninkmeyer says:

      Gut the inside of the Met, put a smaller house up to contemporary standards in place, and add a small stage for new experimental work (opera studio), just as an example. Wonder if that could happen…

  • Lewes says:

    As I said already-what has been the point of the unrelenting anti-Gelb spin on these topics

    Peter Gelb spent a large fraction of his career working for Sony, a recording company.

    The “anti-Gelb spin” is written by Norman Lebrecht.

    Lebrecht’s animus against recording companies is a matter of public record.


    • Nick says:

      He spent 9 years running a once proud classical music label virtually into the ground with endless high-priced cross-over projects. Compare his achievements at Sony Classical with those of the incredibly successful Naxos which does not depend on stars or high prices to deliver high quality Grammy Award winning performances at prices most people can afford. There is no comparison!

      Interesting how the Gelb supporters on this blog say little or nothing about the last set of Union negotiations just 3 years ago. Did Gelb only recently become aware of the “abyss”? Was the writing not on the wall in 2011? How come the educational and cultural problems he hammered on about only suddenly appear in the last couple of years or so? Did his failing box office numbers for revivals only start in the last couple of years? Did overtime only get out of control recently? The fact is he could very easily have raised alarm bells in the public arena and started the process of reining in costs 3 years ago. For his own reasons, he elected not to and continued to spend way ahead of inflation. As I have asked before, did all that I wonder have anything to do that he was then in the process of negotiating his own new 10-year contract?

    • Save the Met says:

      Gelb was let go in the Sony-BMG merger. They had little respect for him. He was given the job as a favor to and at the behest of Ronald Wilford once again. He turned down the Titanic soundtrack, which he now touts as one of his great achievements there. (He was told by his bosses to release it.) I know people who worked with him there and people who met with him whilst he was employed there. None have a nice thing to say about him. He was known as an executive who would not listen, he came into meetings with his mind made up. Executives who do not listen don’t last and Peter was unceremoniously shown the door when BMG came calling.

    • Nick says:

      Seems poor Lewes has a really hard time facing reality. I suppose he deserves some sympathy!

      • Michael says:

        Not sure why you need to attack Lewes personally and sarcastically!

        The “reality” you refer to is presumably your own indisputable version of various facts, rumours and gossip that try to shore up the attacks on Mr Gelb and now on the “the Gelb supporters on this blog” you describe.

        From my reading of this blog there are those with a violent/personal/unpleasant (choose 1 2 or all 3) dislike of/hatred for Mr Gelb and the rest of us who feel that that what has happened/is happening at the Met is far from black or white and welcome the settlements. I detect very little actual “support” for Mr Gelb on this blog!

        • Marshall says:

          Just what I would have said.


          “I detect very little actual “support” for Mr Gelb on this blog! ”


        • Nick says:

          Well, for starters, Lewes has accused me in writing of being a liar! I have totally disproved that and now wait for his apology. Lewes can discuss and argue with me till the cows come home, if he wishes. I absolutely draw the line at accusations of lying, however. I am sure you would feel the same.

          As for Gelb, I have no dislike for him as a person. We have met only once and he was extremely courteous. However, on the basis of four decades in the music profession, I take an intense dislike to the way he conducts himself as GM and Artistic Director of the Met. Sadly, his background (as extensively covered in this blog) in no way fitted him for the job of running the world’s major Opera House. Now, it was not his fault that he was appointed. That belongs fairly and squarely on the Board. Where he thoroughly deserves criticism is the cavalier way he has increased the budget by 56%. Add to that the way he has gone about the recent negotiations – a disaster for him personally and a solution that in no way gets close to the objectives he set himself. His predictions about the “abyss”, “being at the edge of a precipice” were rightly discredited by several major intendants in Europe. But this blog has been through all that.

          If he can control expenditure and get audience levels up, I will be amongst the first to congratulate him. Until then, I retain my scepticism.

      • Save the Met says:

        Lewes is not well versed in business. Lewes does not understand the ins and outs of not for profit boards. Lastly, Lewes supports failure. The Metropolitan Opers will not succeed under Gelb’s stewardship, he does not have the real support of the employees, who he must now go to, to plan productions and any major expenditure going forward. He will not survive, contracts can be broken and they way they write them at the Metropolitan Operas, with less than one might think, it will not be a golden parachute.