Exclusive: Met bars photographers from dress rehearsal

Exclusive: Met bars photographers from dress rehearsal


norman lebrecht

March 01, 2020

We’re hearing from loyal freelance photographers that new rules have been applied to exclude them from the Met. They are venting complaints to anyone who wll lend an ear, but no-one in the NY opera world seems to care.

Here’s the gist of it:

There is a photo “spokesperson”, Jonathan Tichler. He e-mails the day before, “Hi Guys, Tomorrow is closed”. If questioned his reply is that, “There are people above me”.

Lee Abrahmian is Director of Communications. She is part of this. If a singer asks that their private photographer be admitted Lee escorts that person in. She is also the person guiding the company videographer. That person takes the clips shown on Facebook. The fewer photographers attend, the better the Met can control its public image.

One person is hired to shoot dress rehearsals for the Met. Currently, that person might be Ken Howard, or Marty Sohl, or Richard Termine, or Karen Almond. They take thousands of pictures and the Met has final say over what is used. It is hard, thankless work because the Met wants “product pictures”, rectangular soul-less images showing the production. This is work-for hire. Each person hired is a strong experienced photographer. There is no jealously there. They all get along.

A New York Times photographer is always admitted. That’s the Peter Gelb/Times connection. Their results are never vetted.

The photographers impacted by this sudden closure are Johann Elbers, Beatrix Schiller, Beth Bergman, Henry Grossman and Jack Vartoogian. All are professionals of long standing. Why have they been summarily shut out?



  • Larry D says:

    What a horrible scandal! I can barely stay awake from outrage!

  • Photog says:

    There’s been a lot of turnover in the Met’s press department. And with each new one, institutional relationships disappear. That’s probably what it comes down to in part.

  • I believe the MET has every right to control pictures taken of MET productions and how they are use

    • sycorax says:

      As a former German journalist: In Germany they couldn’t do so. If you’re founded with tax money you have to deal with the press what means concretly: If an event is open for the public it’s also open for the press. And if you have photographs taken you can’t say “I only let Mr X with his camera in, but Mr Y has to stay out.”
      As far as I know the Met is publicy founded, too – and that means they should consider that in a democracy the press has a function which one shouldn’t just try to undermine.

      • GCMP says:

        Most American companies, including the Met are NOT publically funded to any meaningful extent. Most dress rehearsals are not open to the public either. And, as a private enterprise, they presumably do have the right to control publicity.

  • IntBaritone says:

    Sorry, what? Why should the Met open their dress rehearsal to photographers? I am confused as to why that would be standard procedure anywhere.

    Companies often have specific photographers that they work with.

    Let’s be clear, Ken takes only serviceable picture, not really artistic by any stretch of the imagination (and he charges too much for them) but it’s the opera company’s product and so they can do with it as they choose.

    • Spensesr says:

      Really – I guess that’s why he shoots for opera companies all over the country and has for longer than you’ve been a baritone … and prices are pretty much standard among all the photogs who cover Met shows … but with that kind of slice comment, would you expect some discount on photos?

    • ken howard says:

      Really – “serviceable?” and not artistic? Please help me out and let me know who is doing the actual good stuff so I can learn how to do it.

    • Not IntBaritone says:

      Hey international baritone, it’s pictures, not picture… he takes pictures. You want free pictures of some of the best photos to be taken in opera? Then, perhaps you give away your serviceable voice.

  • JV says:

    I love how the notice mentions the Peter Gelb/Times connection. How about the Peter Gelb/Sony Records connection? Who produces the content of Met Opera on Demand and the historic Met broadcasts on SiriusXM? It is Grace Row from Sony Records. And who does the audio engineering? It is the company owned by Grace Row’s husband. Is that a conflict of interests that will put the Met’s nonprofit status at risk? Hmmm….

  • Lance Nguyen says:

    “They are venting complaints to anyone who wll lend an ear, but NO-ONE in the NY opera world SEEMS TO CARE.”

    It’s ‘only opera’ in today’s supposedly ELEVATED NY and beyond. Not pop, Broadway, rap, etc.

    The lack of education in the glorious arena of opera in NY and across the US has been substituted for years as being elitist.

    The constant bemoaning of “opera is dying” from this blog, the NYT, the ever-trashy Parterre (which somehow got hitched to the MET after Opera News was too negative) have all been of service to destroy interest in opera.

    Further the GHASTLY YouTube spots the MET allows rarely render actual SINGING! WOW, what a concept!! When they do, most of today’s singers are EVISCERATED for their lack of talent in the constant shadow of the 80’s-90’s Golden Age and prior.

    The screeching and lack of solid bel canto technique are the biggest turn-offs not to mention the lack of BUILDING up singers as stars has REALLY hurt them!

    I used to love most of their productions until they stopped supporting singers (as did record labels and managers) and we all learned about Jimmy and his ‘death’ at the MET. It was engaging, interesting and aspirational. For quite a few years it has come across as a placid environment, overly marketed and inappropriate for the young in the #metoo era.

    There has been such immense beauty created there but it all seems to be relegated in past glory with no steward to imbue other media outlets powerful enough to draw box office (not just mere interest). Can’t be much fun to see so many empty seats in what was once a cultural capital while on stage at a dated landmark.

    I hope they support their singers again and cultivate the 50 and younger crowd. Yes, I said 50’s in today’s market plus the vital young.

  • Kathleen King says:

    Basically, it boils down to the, yes, pettifogging nature of Peter Gelb. Mr. Gelb sees the Met as HIS personal toy now that he has slimed James Levine and instituted his own narrow view of the future. Narrow and tasteless I might and do add.

  • jan says:

    I don’t know of other companies in the US who ever routinely let external photographers shoot at dress rehearsals. Usually it’s someone or a team hired by the company to shoot for press/publicity use. Besides the NYT I don’t know of other US press outlets that are allowed to always shoot their own images of a production rather than take what the company offers.

  • ken howard says:

    You forgot one of the photographers who covers shows at the Met – Karen Almond, who also shoots the Dallas Opera.

  • Dave T says:

    I can’t think of a recent post on SD that I care about less. It’s almost humorous.

  • Save the MET says:

    If Gelb’s productions were that great, it would not be an issue. The problem is his productions on average and over the years have been mediocre to pitiful and some opera goers judge whether they will buy tickets based upon not just the cast and the work, but what they will see. This is an attempt to control the images. His reason for being at the Metropolitan Opera is still questionable at best.

  • As a retired freelance photographer, I can’t help commenting on all this claptrap — especially for how it confuses PR pictures for photo-journalism and besmirches Peter Gelb, who is unquestionably one of the world’s most successful arts administrators.

    In 1978, I showed Gelb, who was then the head of the Boston Symphony Orchestra’s press office, a photograph of Tanglewood.

    Twenty years later, after earning the moniker of “BSO Principal Guest Photographer”, Houghton Mifflin published my first book, “Seiji: An Intimate Portrait of Seiji Ozawa”.

    Edited by Caroline Smedvig, with a foreword by John Williams and short essays by more than a dozen luminaries including the incomparable Jesse Norman, it has eighty-eight photographs made on four continents.

    As someone who became part of the Maestro’s inner circle, the idea that an arts organization does or should allow just anyone in, or owes anything to the press or freelancer photographers, is absurd — almost amusing.

    I can assure you that my work was definitely not thankless, nor has my book ever been described as soulless. Indeed, quite the opposite on both counts.

    Nice try, Norman — but I do appreciate your support of my profession.