The Metropolitan Opera, responding to its former music director’s unfair dismissal suit, has revealed that James Levine was paid $27,000 for each performance, on top of a salary of $400,000 a year.
The numbers make some sense in respect of Levine’s failing health in recent years: the less he conducted, the less he cost.
But the base rate of 27 grand a night is out of all proportion to anything else in the opera economy. No maestro on earth makes that kind of money with a cast-iron guarantee. They might get $80k for a one-off in Japan, but that’s just cherry-blossom. There rest of the cake contains much less fat.
Likewise, the nightingales. The Met has always capped singers’ fees. A tiny handful of very big names are paid $20,000 per show. The rest get a lot less. If a singer turns up for every single rehearsal and then falls sick, he or she gets nothing at all.
The Met’s orchestra musicians who play their hearts out every night do not, however (apart from the concertmaster), earn $27,000 in a month.
For a conductor to earn more than the house’s biggest box-office draw, and more per night than any other musician in a month, is absurd. Worse, for him now to sue the company for $5.8 million in lost earnings when a full-scale legal investigation has exposed his sexual misconduct over many years is, quite literally, obscene.
Levine did wrong. Levine had to go. Levine is history.
But the Met lives on. Its management and board has shown itself, over many years, to have been irrational, myopic and incompetent in handling the company’s most important employee – its music director.
There have been no resignations, either from the management or the board. That suggests the ineptitude continues unchecked.
The Met needs to get clear of its Levine mentality.