The self-congratulating 10-year speech given by the Metropolitan Opera’s manager at the Opera America convention has gone down like cement trainers at the company he manages. Insiders at the Met have analysed the speech and one of them compiled the following factual and perceptual contradictions.
You can watch the full speech here.
Peter Gelb’s Opera America address was an embarrassing mishmash of defensiveness, insecurity, and pablum. Slippedisc readers deserve to have the record set straight on some key points:
– (~6:50) Frayda Lindemann, a member of the Met Board’s executive committee, states that the board “is universally in support of our general manager.” Well-placed sources have hinted to me this is far from true, and that even the executive committee is beginning to splinter.
– (~17:20) Gelb says “I spent many months trying to convince our unions that the cost structure of the Met had to be reduced in order to create a more sustainable business model.” Aside from this being a gauche subject two years after a contentions negotiation, it bears repeating that the musicians’ contention all along was that the Met’s budget had exploded due to bloated management spending, and that is where the cuts needed to occur. The Met’s FY15 budget proved exactly that: of the total $18m savings, $11.25m came from “management expenses,” with only $6.75m coming from labor, all of which I have been told has been confirmed by the contractually mandated independent financial analyst (Eugene Keilin).
– (~20:38) Gelb begins a defense of spending on and quantity of new productions in order to attract new audiences. I have yet to see this proven with box office data. Does it not make more intuitive sense that new opera audiences are enticed to the Met the classic ABC’s – the Aidas, Bohemes, and Carmens? Gelb then tries to defend the notorious LePage Ring and insults all critics by invoking Eugene O’Neill, “God bless every bone in their heads.” He refuses to acknowledge the direct correlation between the quality of reviews and ticket sales, implying that Gelb’s is the only opinion that matters. Basically put, the evidence suggests that poorly reviewed operas on average don’t sell well, and Gelb’s productions are on average poorly reviewed.
– (~37:18) Gelb feebly scapegoats an aging audience and the broken subscription model for the Met’s box office woes. Gelb personally takes credit for broadening the audience base, yet at the same time accepts no responsibility for the steady decline of their box office. It’s worth noting that the average age of opera goers stays basically the same over time. They get replenished. And they’re currently being replenished by the largest 50-70 year old population in history (i.e., boomers). And yet Gelb cannot answer “Why is your core audience abandoning you?” Are these the actions of a good leader?
– (~52:44) It’s suggested that the Met’s pricing structure is ineffective, and Gelb is asked “Opera has to have certain level of ticket price; is there a sweet spot yet to be discovered at Met?” Gelb replies “we’re looking for it, but nobody really knows.” This is an astonishing abdication of managerial responsibility which ignores the Met’s own data showing that 1) their average prices are still too high, and 2) dynamic pricing schemes are driving away their ardent fans.
Even addressing a sympathetic audience of his peers, Peter Gelb cannot explain away his profound failings. There are plenty of smaller innovative performing arts institutions that are doing just fine in the U.S.
All evidence suggests that maybe it’s time for change at the Met, and I don’t mean in the Music Director position. When will the Met Opera Board wake up and realize that the supposedly “hip and cool” Peter Gelb — who proclaims “this job is impossible,” and denigrates his own audience base on a wearying basis — is a sorely lacking General Manager for America’s greatest musical cultural institution.