We have been speed-reading an early copy of the tell-all book by the former head of the Lincoln Center.
In They Told Me Not to Take That Job: Tumult, Betrayal, Heroics, and the Transformation of Lincoln Center, Reynold Levy praises Peter Gelb’s initial courage and vision in renewing the Met repertoire and pushing its movie drive. But he depicts Gelb as financially reckless and his board as unwieldy and irresponsible.
‘Was anyone pressing Gelb for a major course correction?’ he demands, after spending soared from $215 million to $330 million in ten years. It was, reports the Lincoln Center chief, ‘frustrating to run the risk of being be held accountable for the travails of resident organisations like…. the Metropolitan Opera’.
He pinpoints Gelb’s nemesis to the moment in March 2014 when he told the UK Guardian – not any of the New York press pack who might have challenged him – that the Met faced an ‘existential’ battle. It stood, in fact ‘on the edge of a precipice.’ The calamitous warning was designed to bring the unions to heel under threat of closure and job losses. Instead, it provoked forensic scrutiny of Gelb’s retreat and a management retreat on an epic scale.
Levy asked Gelb in a private meeting what would happen if his schemes did not bring in enough money, or if his strategy failed. ‘It has to work,’ said Gelb. ‘There is no Plan B.’
Levy goes on to say: ‘I know of no successful CEO without a backup plan in the event of failures or shortfalls.’
On the same page, Levy charts the ten-year decline and demise of City Opera on a path the Met now seems to be taking. ‘Why didn’t the Met’s board of trustees demand early on the development of an economic model that held promise of a viable financial future?’ he laments.
They Told Me Not to Take That Job will make grim reading for Peter Gelb and essential reading for all who need to know how not to sail a ship into a storm.