How Peter Gelb is duping singers out of seven percent

How Peter Gelb is duping singers out of seven percent


norman lebrecht

November 18, 2014

We have finally had full sight of Peter Gelb’s letter to singers, asking them to pay back seven percent of their fees in order to help the Met out of  financial difficulty.

There are two key sentences:

– The members of the chorus and orchestra have accepted an overall 7% cut in their wages, reaching into the 2017/18 season and the Met has cut administrative staff costs by an equal amount.

– I am writing to you now to ask that you join in this effort by voluntarily accepting a 7% reduction in your contractual compensation at the Met for the remainder of this season, as well as subsequent seasons through 2017/18.

peter gelb tv


Spot the discrepancy?

The chorus and orchestra accepted an overall 7% cut… reaching into 2017/18.

The pay cut for chorus and orchestra is not an immediate 7%. It is gradated, reaching into 2017/18. It also comes with a pledge of a pay rise in 2018, and – significantly – veto rights over all the Met’s major spending plans.

The singers are being told to cough up 7% now, and for nothing in return.

They are being bilked.

Gelb continues: ‘In recent days I’ve had conversations with Ildar Abdrazakov, Piotr Beczala, Joyce DiDonato, Placido Domingo, Renee Fleming, Thomas Hampson, Zeljko Lucic, Peter Mattei, Anna Netrebko and Rolando Villazon, all of whom have agreed to accept this reduction and have also agreed that we may include their names in this letter.’

Who’s missing from this list?

Conductors. They are far too wily to pay kickbacks without seeing the small print.

Not to mention: Jonas Kaufmann, Roberto Alagna, Cecilia Bartoli, Bryn Terfel, Juan Diego Florez. They’re taking advice.


For an honest, respectful approach to artists to trim their fees, see David Pountney’s letter from WNO.



  • SVM says:

    If a singer were to voluntarily accept any reduction post-contract, the cut should be treated as a donation, and the singer would enjoy the perks/privileges associated with being a donor. Either way, management should pay the originally contracted sum, and hope that the singer will voluntarily pay a percentage back as a donation. Ideally, such donations should be anonymous, so that nobody who chooses not to donate would fear retribution (i.e.: not being booked again).

    I would suggest that all singers should respond to say that they would like to be paid in full, but will be actively considering making an anonymous donation *after* the gig.

  • Ursula says:

    And this are only the big names who have the big fees, what about all the others, who have smaller fees? the ones for whom it is exstential? what is also not mentioned is, that the usual singer fees have become smaller and smaller during the past 10 years. Since every contract is newly discussed it’s very easy to put singers already than under big pressure….

  • May says:

    Let’s not forget guest artists don’t have healthcare and retirement perks that the Met Chorus and Musicians have. Has it also occurred to Gelb that their managers, who take around 10% might not be so thrilled about their “donation” to the Met? Might someone be able to put in perspective what percentage of the Met’s budget goes to guest artists, and what percentage to chorus and orchester wages? I’d be quite curious to see which is the bigger slice of the pie.

  • Chris says:

    And then, the singers fees at the top are obscenely high anyway these days. A correction might be in order. It would be most interesting to have a little history of the typical fees the MET has given singers in leading roles over the let’s say last five decades? Do you have such information Mr. Lebrecht?

    • Save The MET says:

      Obscenely high, your information as least as far as the Metropolitan Opera is concerned is simply wrong. The MET has always been on the low side, even for major stars. There is a very small number of singers who are on their very top bracket, those they feel they have to have for star billing. That said, those stars are paid higher fees elsewhere. The MET becames their showcase for recording contracts, concerts and singing elsewhere, but they are paid much higher fees by the European houses and especially the Asian houses.

      • Chris says:

        Well, without actual numbers we are just talking hot air, both of us. But I do also feel, that the top earners should be “taxed” a bit more than the average singer, instead of asking for 7% less across the board.

      • Diana Medford says:

        If the fees at the Met are so paltry, then why are all the world’s greatest singers clamoring to sing there? Counting out Bartoli (who performs very little staged opera anyway, and that at Zurich and Salzburg only) and a few other non-travelers like Edita Gruberova, the Met presents every important singer in the world practically every season.

        • Brian says:

          Well, hardly that, Diana. To mention only tenors, Michael Fabiano is a superb tenor, increasingly acclaimed, yet appears very little at the Met and then in roles like Alfred in Fledermaus–and he was a Met Lindemann alumnus!; or Javier Camarena who made a sensation there and yet is not scheduled to sing at the Met for some seasons to come. (Rather as if, after her sensational 1935 debut, management had announced that Flagstad might possibly return to the Met around 1939-40.) All the while Gelb continues to engage singers long past their sell-by date like Marcello Giordani or Marco Berti.

          • Diana Medford says:

            Fabiano is at the beginning of his career and he has in fact sung three roles at the Met plus taking a featured spot in the company’s summer concert series. I agree he should be singing there more, but the Met, like every other major opera house in the world, is caught in the shackles of the five year advance plan. As such, a new star, especially one so busy as Fabiano, is not always easy to move into already planned seasons.

            So far as established stars go, the Met has the strongest roster in the world, with only (perhaps) Vienna as competition. And, let’s face it, there are a lot of nights at the Wiener Staatsoper when you look at the cast list and go “who?”

            The comparison to Flagstad is irrelevant: nobody was booked more than a year in advance back then. Even a Caruso would assume he would be spending five months or so in New York, but there would be no contract and no set repertoire for a given season until the end of the previous season.

          • fildivoce says:

            Michael Fabiano had trained at Philadelphia’s Academy of Vocal Arts (AVA), which in recent years has become a sort of young artists feeder for the Met, but was not a member of the company’s Lindemann program.

  • Sergei says:

    I think for the 7 % solution, they should consult Mr.Sherlock Holmes.

  • Donatella Verum says:

    When is Cecilia Bartoli scheduled to sing at the Met? Did we all miss a big rumor?

    • fildivoce says:

      I think Cecilia Bartoli’s name was mentioned because she is one of The Big Names and she had appeared at the Met (in the ’90s, as Despina, Cenerentola, and Susanna— there were also plans for a Sonnambula that fell through). Believe me, if there were rumors about her returning to the Met, they’d leak out…!

  • Diana Medford says:

    This seems a lot of hand-wringing over very little. The small reduction in fees requested is voluntary and in fact it matches the lower compensation for union members and the reduced budget for non-union administrative personnel. The cuts for union personnel are graduated for one year, true, so that their reduction for the first season is 5% instead of 7%, but otherwise every payroll in the organization is being reduced by approximately 7% for the next three years.

    What the Met is asking from solo singers is not perhaps very pleasant, but it is not a “kickback” and it is about as fair and equitable a request as can be made when trying to compare the apples and oranges of single-fee based pay versus contracted weekly pay.

    And, again, it is voluntary. The supply of excellent singers worldwide is scant and as such the Met cannot afford to put the squeeze on them. If they, out of altruistic motives, decide they are willing to lower slightly what is after all an arbitrary top fee figure, then that is a matter between themselves and the Met management.

    I sometimes think Lebrecht wants the Met to fail, just to prove some pet theory of his. Never mind all the thousands of people thrown out of work or the loss of operatic performances in one of the world’s most important capitals: the important thing is that those of whom Norman Lebrecht disapproves must suffer punishment.

  • ChrisTenor says:

    Is there a link to this letter online?

    Is this to be taken out of their agreed payment or is it expected to be paid back through donation?

    In the end, the MET can ask, the singers could quite easily say no if they want.

  • 110 says:

    Love the donation idea!
    If not….sounds….blackmail!

  • Save the MET says:

    This comment is erroneous, two points. Gatti and Johnson were running around Europe choosing repertory from what was available and already out there a few years in advance of performances. They also worked with composers like Puccini, Giordano, Mascagni, Richard Strauss and others way in advance to get their latest works to present at the Metropolitan. Fanciulla Del West, Il Trittico, Madame Sans Gene and other verismo period operas came to the MET first and singers were lined up in advance per the composers wishes for these premieres. They were not working on the 5 year program they utilize today, which many times brings singers past their prime to the MET, however, two and three year contracts were not unheard of. That said, Gatti would also protect his interests by making arrangements for Metropolitan Opera singers to go to South America in the Summer to sing in Buenos Aires, Valapariso, Rio etc., so they would not go back to Europe and get picked off by the European impresarios.

    “The comparison to Flagstad is irrelevant: nobody was booked more than a year in advance back then. Even a Caruso would assume he would be spending five months or so in New York, but there would be no contract and no set repertoire for a given season until the end of the previous season.”

    • Brian says:

      Though the reasons for it are obvious, the five-six season advance booking m.o. has been proving to be counterproductive over the last decade or so. The Met simply would not have survived the Depression if a Flagstad had been booked for a few performances and then, after her sensational debut, been lost to the Met for five seasons in the future.
      Such casting has become a crapshoot and it all too often turns out that a singer is no longer qualified to sing a role five years hence.
      Volpe talked about this problem in his book and suggested something like leaving a number of scheduled performances each season on a TBA basis.
      But the problem has never been seriously addressed. Save the Met is right.