As Met begs for cash, Peter Gelb’s wage tops $2 million

As Met begs for cash, Peter Gelb’s wage tops $2 million


norman lebrecht

June 14, 2015

The credit rating of the Metropolitan Opera is going down the drain. The house narrowly averted a shutdown of Gelb’s making. The audience is unhappy. Donations are proving hard to come by.

So the board boosted Gelb’s pay to $2.1 million, making him the most expensive opera manager on earth.

By our thumbnail calculation, the manager of the Metropolitan Opera earns around eight times the salary of the chief executive of the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden.

Their jobs are not that different. Does Gelb deliver eight times added value?


All that glitters is not Gelb


  • John Borstlap says:

    This story fully confirms Norman’s expostulations in ‘Who killed classical music?’.

  • Angela Rodion says:

    And all that glisters is not gold.

  • lynn says:

    Quote from the article referenced above:

    In April 2014, Mr. Gelb took a 10% pay cut that lowered his salary to $1.4 million, where it remains, according to the Met. Last June, as the company proposed union pay cuts of 16% to 17%, the Met said Mr. Gelb was prepared to take another decrease to match the percentage taken by the Met’s union employees. They ultimately agreed to cuts that amounted to about 7% for most of them.


    • norman lebrecht says:

      WSJ: ‘Peter Gelb, the Metropolitan Opera’s general manager, made $2.1 million in salary and benefits in 2013, according to the company’s latest tax filing’

      • lynn says:

        Now you’ve represented the situation correctly. Before it looked as if this had just happened. Thank you

        • CDH says:

          Oh, come — the headline and story still read as if this has just happened. It is framed to make it look as if Gelb is a plunderer.

      • La Donna del Largo says:

        Breaking news from 2013.

        • Blair Tindall says:

          It is indeed breaking news, from two days ago. American nonprofit tax returns are not available until 18-24+ months from the date of filing, which would be around now.

      • John Borstlap says:

        These type of figures are sickening. In times where the art form is under financial and ideological pressures (‘not modern, elitist, too difficult’ etc.) this kind of ‘salary’ is just parasitical: using the art form to get rich. There is no justification whatsoever for wasting such money on such job, however difficult the work may be… Mr Gelb is not writing or performing music, he is ORGANIZING its performances. Classical music is not meant to create millionairs for people who do not even practice the art form themselves.

        • La Donna del Largo says:

          Then you’re talking about the entire system of arts management in America. Chief managers are paid according to their perceived worth to the organizations that hire them. Peter Gelb administers the largest classical music organization in the United States, and, in fact, the ratio of of his compensation to the budget he administers (about 0.5%) is significantly lower than that of other large performing arts organizations in the US.

          The simple fact is that you are not going to find someone who can run the Met competently (a job that these days requires fundraising of over $100 million year in and year out) for $500,000, or probably not even for $1 million.

          Life would be a lot simpler if people could learn not be be envious of other peoples’s salaries.

          • Olassus says:

            The simple fact is that you are not going to find someone who can run the Met competently for $500,000.


          • John Borstlap says:

            Mr Gelb is not running the organization on his own. He is not doing all the necessary jobs. Such executives have to find the right people for all the tasks and coordinate them. Whether the Met, or the Royal Opera House, or a small opera company in the provinces in Europe or in China, it is the same thing everywhere with the same type of problems to be solved. If an opera house is big-scale, you need more people and coordination is more complex. If the company sits in Europe, there will be state funding but that is coming with its own problems. If the company is run in the US, there is the fundraising issue, with its own problems. You can cross them out against each other. But it does not justify such crazy mythology and entirely legendary excuses.

  • Save the MET says:

    Now that Ronald and Arthur are dead, whose going to help hapless Pete with his next job. His firing is imminent. A number of top level board members have left, talk is, his time is short.

    • Stone says:

      Oh sure. Save The Met is just indulging here in exactly what a few envious rumor–mongers would say to me ad nauseum about James Levine — during the 1980s! “[T]alk is, his time is short” my foot! I was naive enough back in the ’80s to think creeps like that had some pipeline to “behind-the-scenes” plans for Levine. Well gosh, twenty-five years later, with Levine still here, it’s pretty obvious that was all ignorant and hate-filled baloney, isn’t it? So fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me. Only I don’t choose to be fooled twice. For well or for ill, Gelb is staying.

      Look, I don’t think Gelb is the greatest thing since sliced bread. But he’s got a closer ear to the ground for upcoming talent than the Met had for much of the 1980s, when huge and important talents were being criminally overlooked by the fistful. Yes, we have missed out badly on some important new talent today. But the number of top-flight talents missing from the Met during the 1980s were more criminally absurd than today. That’s a fact.

      If you’re going to foam at the mouth over Gelb, at least get your facts right and don’t insult readers here by making up lies.

      Thank you.

      • Mickey Mouse says:

        I think you are grossly overstating the fact that Gelb has his ear to the ground for talent…. Most of the “new talent” is wasted on underdeveloped newcomers and recent graduates unseasoned and poorly trained in Philadelphia, Giordani and Giordano are both singing Tosca this season… Voigt sang Brunnhilde…Nina Stemme badly muscast as Turandot while she should have been brought in 10 years ago for Salome. Most new productions have been nothing short of ass numbingly boring and ill conceived…. And a pay for play scandal that has gone on in the casting department for years…..

        • Stone says:

          You are straw-man-ning me: I explicitly wrote “closER”, not “close”. The fact is, much of the anti–Gelb drumbeat is conducted with the strong implication that no one in the history of the Met has been as bad as Gelb. Maybe that’s not explicitly stated, but it does seem implied. Facts don’t bear that out. A greater number of top-flight talents were utterly ignored and neglected in much of the 1980s than today. That is just a fact. It does not make Gelb perfect, but it also shows he is not the worst that the Met has had either.

          Now I explicitly stated that I DON’T view Gelb as the greatest thing since sliced bread. But evidently, even that is still not sufficient for those here who feel that allowing Gelb even the slightest wiggle room makes one automatically a rabid Gelb partisan. It doesn’t.

          Finally, I totally acknowledge that estimates of the relative greatness of various singers can often be hopelessly subjective. That said, I can only go with what I’ve heard for 50+ years of Met opera-going. When I was young and falling in love with opera, a big part of the reason why I fell in love was the presence of certain sterling benchmarks whom I heard that I could not imagine ever being equaled: Siepi as Don Giovanni, Corelli as Maurizio, Zyllis-Gara as Desdemona, Ludwig as the Dyer’s Wife, Caballe/Sutherland as Norma, Mazurok as Onegin, Merrill as Posa, and on and on. Not one of these was even remotely matched — I felt — by any of their successors in the 1980s. I practically gave up on ever experiencing their equal again. So imagine my delight and astonishment when we suddenly have artists today who seem — to me — to be matching that fabulous generation I heard growing up. Seriously, for the first time in my life — now, in middle age! — I am finally hearing a Don Giovanni who really seems to convey all the multi-dimensional facets of the character as fully as Siepi did: Peter Mattei. After waiting all my life, I’ve finally heard a Maurizio who can match Corelli: Jonas Kaufmann (granted, that was at Carnegie, not the Met). For Zyllis-Gara’s Desdemona in my youth, we have the unutterably moving Krasimira Stoyanova today. Today, Goerke’s Dyer’s Wife finally hit me where I live in the same way Ludwig’s did. Radvanovsky’s Norma can finally equal a Caballe or a Sutherland. Mattei (again) also matches the Onegin I heard from Mazurok. Hvorostovsky’s Posa has as beautiful a line (and a trill) as Merrill’s had (people sometimes forget that in his later Posas Merrill developed an expert trill).

          Granted, these are only one listener’s impressions of these singers. But I have to be honest and not dismiss the fact that I am having certain marvelous experiences at the Met these days of a caliber I never thought to enjoy ever again. Maybe Gelb is not responsible for all of that. O.K. But at the worst, he is certainly NOT presiding over a Metropolitan where the general standards are any worse than they have been for a generation or so. And I would personally suggest they are somewhat better.


      • Save the MET says:

        Geoffrey Riggs posted the same message to the operal site, so we know who “stone” is.

        The problem here is that Riggs knows nothing about the current state of affairs at the MET. He is completely uninformed. In fact his tirade is knee jerk and out of place. Dear readers, just take a program from the beginning of the Metropolitan Opera season this year and look at the Managing Directors names and then compare that with the Managing Directors name on the website. Note, Kevin Kennedy, who was the President of the Board is no longer President, he is also no longer a member of the Board and he is not an old man. To this point, a number of the old Board members from this season are no longer there, rats jumping off the sinking ship. In fact the dismissal of Mr. Gelb was discussed at a recent meeting. He’s not a solution to the problem, he cannot fix it, he in fact is the problem and the Board is now wrestling with a way to untie themselves from him. He is their problem and only they can stop the utter stupidity of his tenure there.

        • John says:

          I actually did this comparison you suggest and it looks like there were 42 managing directors at the beginning of last season and now there are…43. Not sure I get the point being made?

      • John Borstlap says:

        It is a myth that management staff of opera houses and orchestras always have the best possible ‘ear’ for talent still unknown. It is hard for anybody to spot still unknown talent, since it requires an entirely independent state of mind and a strong musical talent – but most of the people thus gifted will become musicians themselves.

        • Stone says:

          I suggest you look up the name Bauer. He was a scout for Rudolf Bing. His success rate when it came to his hunches for budding young talents was pretty extraordinary. So yes, good voice scouts have existed — from time to time.

          And once again, I am NOT suggesting that Gelb has anything like a perfect scent for good talent and when to use it. He doesn’t. But he HAS fielded certain very special interpreters, from time to time, in the last few years, and yes, a few of those have equaled the benchmarks I heard growing up. That doesn’t make him anything like a Bauer. There has still been too much dross in the casts for certain revivals.

          But bottom line: Gelb is not the worst the Met has ever had — and whoever is around him is certainly much more alert these days than the sorry crowd who were running things in the ’80s. We were just lucky that some of the truly phenomenal talent held over from the 60s and 70s was resilient and vocally healthy enough to keep a few of the casts on life support during the 80s. But too often the new talent coming up that decade fell woefully short and reached its sell-by date all too soon. It was a bizarre and unfortunate streak of bad luck.

          Today is simply nowhere near as dire, even though consistency is still not what it should be.


      • Philip Arlington says:

        Your attitude towards to those who disagree with you does not strengthen the case for the supposed ennobling effect of classical music.

  • Milka says:

    When stage hands get close to a half ml.a year and run of the mill fiddle concert master
    is not far behind something is seriously askew.To support this nonsense is to give
    up all reason .

  • La Donna del Largo says:

    It is pointless to compare compensation between even parallel job descriptions in the US and Great Britain or for that matter anywhere in Europe, really apples and oranges. Gelb’s predecessor at the Met, Volpe, was earning something close to $1 million a year by the end of his tenure and he is still receiving large sums annually in deferred compensation. David Gockley in San Francisco, administering a company with a quarter of the Met’s budget and a season only a third as long, is awarded around $1.5 million annually. Placido Domingo collected $600,000 from the Washington National Opera and around $700,000 from the Los Angeles Opera in 2010, the last year he helmed both these companies.

    And James Levine, even when he calls in sick for two years at a time, still takes home more money than anyone else at the Met.

  • Richard says:

    Let’s see how subscriptions and ticket sales go this season. The Board is incompetent and should be held accountable (no pun intended). The same mindless social moths who cost the collapse of NYCO are minding the store — or not minding th store — at the Met. Gelb needs to go, and the sooner the better.

  • Alvaro Mendizabal says:

    A mid-career manager in any investment bank makes more than that, usually before age 35.

    Just saying……

  • MacroV says:

    I would call this shoddy journalism, but shoddy implies careless, where I think this is a deliberate attempt to mislead. And it’s also not journalism.

    Perhaps Mr. Gelb earned that in 2013, not 2014 or 2015. It doesn’t reflect developments over the past year, so it doesn’t support the intended narrative of 1) Mr. Gelb demands cuts from the unions yet gets an increase of his own and 2) Mr. Gelb is running the MET into the ground yet gets a pay raise.

    Also, I think our British friends probably don’t understand the American concept of “Salary and Benefits.” In general, contributions to an American worker’s pension, social security, Medicare, health insurance, etc., amount to around 20% of the base salary. A lot of those probably don’t get counted when considering the compensation of a European counterpart, given EU social safety nets. Also, it probably makes sense for the MET General Manager to make more than his/her Covent Garden or Vienna Staatsoper counterpart, given the huge financial support the position must generate in comparison to the state-subsidized European theatres.

    • Eli says:

      Bravo for calling Lebrecht out

    • V.Lind says:

      Interesting observations about the comparative accounting of salary and benefits. And I agree that the whole post is misleading in the extreme. This is very dodgy journalism.

    • Marg says:

      Thanks for clearly stating the bias in this report. I dont know what NL’s beef is, but you dont have to read this blog for more than a month to be pretty clear who he does and does not like. Twisting the facts to suit the spin is not acceptable.

  • Fred says:

    Bravo Lebrecht for taking a stand to this indeed voracious plunderer (shameful and criminal) BUT BUT who’s to blame? The man himself? Why should he be? It’s the board…burn the opera houses who said than once? Fascist Boulez right?

  • Una says:

    Either way, whatever his salary and benefits, it is an obscene amount of money when the opera all over the world are struggling to make ends meet and living on a knife edge, and the Met just continues to do standard repertoire in the main in a very conservative way.

  • Nick says:

    So some think Gelb has a better ear for talent? And how does he find that talent? Well, it’s frankly not his job to fill most roles and search out new talent. That’s the job of Robert Rattray and his predecessors as Artistic Administrators. They have far better ears and qualifications in the talent business than Gelb! Gelb’s job is to manage a major enterprise on a day to day basis – not cast operas.

    • Stone says:

      One of the few fair points made in this exchange. This is true. Delegation is the name of the game, no question. It is still heartening, though, that there appear to be more vigilant people in the artistic dept. today than there were in the 80s. I don’t frankly know exactly how many of are holdovers from the Volpe days and how many are new. But it’s still to Gelb’s credit that he has maintained a team that is, at least, far from the most oblivious they’ve ever had.


      • Nick says:

        Gelb appointed Rattray. He just started a year or so ago after retiring as joint MD of the agency Askonas Holt in London and so his flair for casting will not become apparent for some time. There is still a holdover from his predecessor Sarah Billinghurst who was in the job about 20 years. With more than 3 decades looking after a large roster of singers, though, there are not many out there with Rattray’s depth of expertise.

  • William Safford says:

    This comparison is a bit apples and oranges, but compare those salaries to that of Roger Goodell, Commissioner of the National Football League (NFL), recently reported as $44 million. Until very recently the NFL also had tax-exempt status.

  • Kostis Protopapas says:

    Respectfully, comparing Gelb’s salary to other opera executives can be misleading. it’s more illuminating to compare his salary with other Met employees’. The Head Carpenter and the Concertmaster come to mind. Perhaps also the administrative department heads. Note: I do not know what those numbers are, and am not a defender of Mr. Gelb’s. Just interested in keeping the correct perspective.

  • Fed Up says:

    I frankly wouldn’t care what Gelb was being paid, if he were competent. I have frozen my giving to the Met because Gelb has been so financially irresponsible. The laughable Ring, the obscene and ugly Tosca, the “Night at Auschwitz” Hansel, and so on … he has destroyed the subscription base, can’t consistently fill the house – despite having arguably the 3 best interpreters of Faust, his “new production” of Faust did a little over 50% business; the production, borrowed from ENO, was so infamous from it’s ENO performances, New York stayed away in droves. The productions created by Gelb that are revivable is in the single digits. He’d be overpaid at minimum wage!

  • Sally Paradise says:

    Both Gelb and the corrupt Local One Stagehands Diaz family running all stage depts. rape the Met. The Diaz clan has taken many times more than Gelb each and every year. They both plunder the Met coffers.

    • Jim Naples says:

      You forgot to mention the Joseph Volpe family. Since this response was written PJ Volpe is now the head stage electrician pulling in about $500,000 dollars and his wife Sylvia Danburg Volpe is the second violinist for the Met’s orchestra pulling in about $350,000 plus it’s good to be related.