Wall Street Journal: Peter Gelb must go – now

Wall Street Journal: Peter Gelb must go – now


norman lebrecht

March 14, 2018

The Murdoch newspaper is the first to state the obvious conclusion of the mishandling of the Levine mess.

Terry Teachout writes:

 I’m inclined to think that the only way for the Met to recover from the devastating effects of the Levine scandal is for Mr. Gelb to acknowledge the obvious: His protracted failure to deal with Mr. Levine’s gross misconduct has made it impossible for him to continue to function effectively as the company’s leader. Hence he should resign, declaring that it’s time for a change. To be sure, it’s at least conceivable that he can successfully restore public trust in an institution that no longer deserves it. But of one thing I have no doubt whatsoever: If Mr. Gelb wants to survive Mr. Levine’s firing, he’d better find a way to release the report of the investigation—now.


  • The View from America says:

    Don’t hold your breath on the report being released … “transparency” isn’t in the MET’s DNA.

  • Caravaggio says:

    The all too obvious indeed. But the WSJ should take heed and demand the same of the sitting president of the USA.

    • Doug says:

      Calm down and take your Thorazine. Good boy.

    • Maria says:

      The American people voted for Trump. He wasn’t put there or put himself there like Putin was and will be again on Sunday. As for Peter Gelb, he is just one of many at the Met, and there is collective responsibility to be address, not stab one man whom they like to use as a scapegoat.

      • Brian says:

        Well, actually 3 million more of us American people voted for Clinton in the popular vote, but that’s for another debate.

        As for Gelb, it call comes down to the support of the board. As long as the board has his back – and there’s no evidence it doesn’t – he’s not going anywhere.

  • tim says:


    Power, prestige… corrupts.

  • Marcus Clayton says:

    Although I am no big fan of Peter Gelb’s, I don’t think he should resign over the Levine firing. Gelb inherited the Levine mess when he took the job as general manager. Levine’s sexually abusive behavior was going on long before Gelb got there
    Levine has been causing endless headaches for Gelb with his numerous cancellations due to his health over the years, a swell as his steadfast refusal to retire.
    Perhaps the Met waited so long to act after the one victim filed a police report because given Levine’s history with the Met, perhaps Gelb and the board were willing to give Levine the benefit of the doubt.
    I don’t think Gelb would have had the authority to fire Levine on his own, though. It must have been a joint decision by Gelb and the board.
    Also, I doubt the Met will ever publish the exact results of their “investigation” into the Levine mess. No doubt it would open up a whole other can of worms.

    • boringfileclerk says:

      Gelb inherited the mess, and did nothing about it. He’s just as culpable.

      • Nancy Wilken says:

        Thank you I totally agree Gelb highest paid manager of an opera company ruined it besides
        the Levine tragedy As Nixon said “It’s always the cover up!”) Whether anyone liked President
        Nixon he had the “grace” to resign. Longtime subscriber bases wiped out with Peter Gelb.
        Empathy should be extended to The Met Orchestra, chorus, stage hands whom have suffered.

    • Brian B says:

      Did any of Levine’s violations even happen during Gelb’s tenure? If not, why should he take the rap for Volpe’ s and predecessors failures? Teachout is a bit of a flamethrower.

    • Tristan says:

      He should resign as he has ruined the MET! Before he started to ruin the MET he has produced bad documentaries (par example about Karajan).
      He doesn’t know anything about music!
      He is simply not up for this job and only a handful blind ones still cling to him.
      His handling of the typical US hyprocite case around James Levine (nothing new guys….) is another story.
      Go Mr. Gelb, go now and hand over the monstrous sinking ship to someone capable!

      • Martain Smith says:

        …and based on Tristan’s list, one can only ask HOW and WHY was he appointed – and it still there?????????

      • Martain Smith says:

        …and based on Tristan’s list, one can only ask HOW and WHY was he appointed – and is still there?????????

    • La Verita says:

      No, Gelb didn’t suddenly inherit the Levine mess: Gelb has been working with Levine since 1981 when he was installed as head of CAMI Video, where he oversaw all of the Met’s media projects, and then he worked with Levine on all of his recordings when he became the head of Sony Classical. Gelb has been an indispensable member of Levine’s creative team for nearly 40 years now, so these allegations came as no surprise to him.

    • MacroV says:

      I agree with you on this. Most of Levine’s transgressions happened well before Gelb, maybe even before Volpe. There are a lot of potentially culpable people at the MET. Volpe? Bruce Crawford? Anthony Bliss? True, Gelb has worked with Levine for years in some capacity or other, but surely man others knew and failed to act.

    • Maria says:

      Exactly said. You can’t just blame one person because you don’t like him.

  • Olassus says:

    He should be fired, but not over this. He did his job re. Levine because he went to the Board when the Illinois police thing started, and with the Board a decision was made to wait until the police completed their work, which they did, opting not to pursue the case. He has not done his job re. attendance, and has presided over a gutting of the subscriber base. For this he should go.

    • B Bailey says:

      Well-balanced comment, Iagree on all points.

    • Cynical Bystander says:

      Apropos the “gutting of the subscriber base” and the attendance level, could you ir someone, anyone, explain how this could have been avoided short of maintaining the old Zefirelli war horses where the sets are as roundly applauded as the singers and everyone is in their plush seated comfort zones? And if Gelb should go who should succeed him that could restore the MET to the old, emphasis on the old, glory days of yesteryear?

      • Roger says:

        Absurdly complicated and inflated ticket pricing and poor productions apparently conceived for H D’s and not the in-house audience.

      • Andrew Powell says:

        It would have been avoided by a better relationship with the 10,000,000 people who live near the 4,000-seat opera house, by an understanding that it is not about selling a show or a singer or a director but about making the house part of people’s lives, an artistic home for them as well as for the performers, a physical destination, a temple, by remembering that annual median household income is $60,000, and by insisting on a fixed yearly commitment from everyone entering the building.

    • Mark says:

      Olassus, I agree. Gelb has been a disaster as the GM, regardless of this nonsense with Levine.

    • SFR Daniel says:

      I’ve never been a fan of Peter Gelb, but I fail to see why this particular issue is so ‘obviously’ the last straw. We are in the midst of a vast and sudden culture change regarding the bullying and predatory behaviour of people in positions of power. Nobody is completely prepared for this, because the society at large has tolerated this hideous behaviour for generation after generation. How the publication of the details of the investigation will expose something so desperately important regarding Peter Gelb is something I can’t imagine. Yes, let him go, but not specifically about this issue. (Unless he has been doing the same kind of thing himself. That would be a different investigation.)

  • Leo says:

    Thank god for the WSJ to state the long obvious.
    Peter Gelb is clueless about opera and the reason people attend it to begin with. The James Levine scandal is a big tip of an iceberg, yet there is an iceberg of similar conduct from the management side. Various biographies of singers who have worked in this house in the past show that such shameful conduct is nothing new.

    Gelb is though, in illustrious company: the heads of the big houses in Europe nowadays are no better.

    The opera managers who brought us Regietheater and keep perpetrating this atrocious public-anihilating practice should all get kicked out. Now.

  • Caravaggio says:

    People, people, people, as bad as it is, the problem extends far beyond Levine, sexual/power abuse, Gelb and the Board. And it is: THE COLLAPSE OF GREAT VOICES AND CHARISMATIC ARTISTS (not mutually inclusive). The problem is not exclusive to the Met and is the elephant in the room no one wants to look at, let alone talk about.


    • Mark says:

      True, but that probably cannot be helped. We also have hordes of young singers and instrumentalists whose playing is about as memorable and distinctive as a burger from McDonalds (and frequently equally nauseating). Most conductors today are disposable as well.
      Ours is a heavily mechanized and standardized age that is simply not conducive to the development of great artistic personalities.

      • Leo says:

        Meritocracy has always been around, this is nothing new.
        The new thing is that there are no outstanding artists making a lasting impact on the audiences.

        Yet the cause to this today, is not new and has been around in the past as well: a conception of art where the audience doesn’t matter much. In this round, it is the implications of the theory of conceptual art in the realm of music (forbidding tonality) and opera production (see “Regietheater”).

        The knowledge and aesthetic guiding principles which has produced masterworks in different manners throughout hundred of years have been discarded by the artistic establishment itself, partly due to political ideology (beautiful is immoral, etc), and partly due to convenience: it is much less work to come up with something shocking than to come up with something beautiful.

        In short, my argument is that opera has been ruined FROM WITHIN.

        There is no lack of talent, there is simply an establishment that makes it today particularly difficult for talent to develop and ultimately reach its goal – the audience.

  • Opera Spook says:

    With whom might the Met Board replace Mr Gelb? Yes, there are one or two decent candidates in the US in Level 1 houses, but a departure from such a house will also leave a big gap…the difference between Level 1 General Directors and those at Level 2 is quite wide…

    • Nick2 says:

      The proposition that a General Director who was incompetent and wholly unsuited to the job before he was even employed should not be dismissed despite all he has done to propel the organization into a continuing downward spiral, is just plain stupid. Why is it necessary to replace a dud with another dud from the same art form? It isn’t!

      Jeremy Isaacs, a General Director not dissimilar to Gelb in respect of the near-disastrous effect he had whilst attempting to run the Royal Opera House in the 1990s, was eventually, after three short-term fill-ins, succeeded by Tony Hall who came from a senior position in the BBC. Under Hall’s stewardship with a great deal of help from an outstanding Music Director in Tony Pappano, virtually all the damage done by Isaacs was repaired and the House has become a thriving artistic enterprise with consistently full houses and a good press once again.

      Gelb should have been fired years ago. Get rid of him now and a far better General Director will emerge – provided the Board does its job effectively. That said, I have to add the caveat that there is little evidence the present Board, having shown itself collectively quite unable to assess Gelb’s enormous weaknesses, is capable of finding that successor.

      • Sanity says:

        Those of us who worked at the Garden during the Isaacs/Cooper debacle will not easily forget the siege mentality that pervaded the house.

        There are some very fine candidates for the Met, and indeed for other major houses. What is most important is that they understand the art form, the audiences and, perhaps pivotally in this climate, SINGERS. The standard of singing in international houses is at a desperately poor level.

        It seems the modern way, in art, in business, in politics, is that everything must be pushed to crisis point before a change is made. Perhaps the Met board can break this destructive cycle?

      • Cynical Bystander says:

        And yet under Issacs some of the most stimulating productions in my opera going experience were staged, usually to full houses whereas under Hall the house became stultifyingly dull and generally remains so, albeit still playing to full houses.

        • Sanity says:

          That was the province of Nicholas Payne, the Opera Director. It had nothing to do with Jeremy Isaacs. Just as the quality of productions under Tony Hall’s aegis fell to Elaine Padmore.

          • Nick2 says:

            Anyone who watched “The House”, the television series commissioned by Isaacs, will know what a disaster he was. At times he appeared totally clueless. I recall his having to address the staff in the auditorium to inform them why there were so many actual disasters. During this, he explained that not only the wardrobe staff but also every freelance constumier in London was working overtime to ensure a new Sleeping Beauty and a new opera (I recall it was Katya Kabanova but am not certain) would open on time. He laid the blame on the designer, Maria Bjornson, which was incredibly unfair. The fault was obviously complex but General Directors are paid to ensure such massive scheduling problems do not happen – or if they do, that they do not lead to such enormous cock-ups and over-expenditure.

            Another scene that sticks in the mind is the one where Isaacs and one of his staff are examining every seat in the House to determine how much extra cash can be screwed from each. It was an example of micro-managing when the overall impresssion left by the Series in viewers’ minds was of a General Director totally adrift and out of control!

  • anon says:

    Gelb won’t resign as long as his cheerleaders at the NYT (from Tommasini, the chief classical music critic, to Zachary Woolfe, the classical music editor) continue to support him.

    Has the complicit NYT ever given Levine a bad review in the last 40 years?

  • Hilary says:

    Reneé Fleming’s opening gambit has a new dimension to it, given recent events: https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=HYCzL09iFM8
    Generates lots of energy in this rehearsal….a riposte to those who say Levine was a mediocre conductor.

  • Edgar says:

    Not only Peter Gelb, but the entire Board needs to go. Then an Interim Director is to be called in, who takes a big broom through the entire organization to clean it out thoroughly and ruthlessly before a new Board and a new General Director can be searched and, once found, put in charge. Meanwhile, the Met Orchestra can alternate with the NYPhil and tour through the boroughs and bring Music to and among The People, with good singers who do not need to have A Big Name (Big Name singers, and the incoming Music Director -who should be in town for a minimum of at least 28 weeks per year, in my opinion, or otherwise assume the title Principal Conductor- are, of course, welcome to tour the boroughs as well, and I think plenty of them would actually love to do that). It would also be the great opportunity to gut the interior of the building except for the critical static elements, and construct a much smaller auditorium, together with a range of spaces than open up the venue for new exciting activities. Will this happen in opera- and music-culturally conservative, provincial Manhattan? I doubt it. But still: this is a crisis too momentous to let go to waste. Before things will get better, they will need to get far worse: the Met needs to get right to the bottom of the hard questions it still refuses itself to ask and confront. The institution as such will need to face its own complicity in the mess it allowed to grow for decades, never mind the many great artistic triumphs which have taken place under its roof. The Met has now the opportunity to become a leader in confronting the ills of the classical music business and renew itself in the process. In doing so, it has the chance to become a model for human society at large. As things are now, and has been reported this evening (March 15), Mr. Levine wants to take the Met to court, challenging his dismissal. The greater tragedy is that this will make feel many victims of sexual abuse decide to not reveal themselves to anyone, as they simply cannot bear -even survive- reliving their ordeal by relating it in full in a courtroom. The tragedy is that there are many victims who have not yet come forward and who have concluded that they will not be heard and believed once they, often after decades-long agony and suffering, muster all their strength to open up and speak of what they have endured. The only manner in which Peter Gelb and the Met Board can communicate to victims of sexual abuse everywhere (not merely to those who have experienced the abuse perpetrated by Mr. Levine) that they believe them is to take responsibility and resign.

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