Gelb issues second appeal as Met’s bonds are declared junk

Gelb issues second appeal as Met’s bonds are declared junk


norman lebrecht

March 27, 2020

The general manager of the Metropolitan Opera sent out a second round of begging letters last night.

The reason soon became apparent as Bloomberg reported that the company’s credit rating has been cut to junk: The Metropolitan Opera has a $67 million line of credit backed by artwork and endowment funds. The organization had drawn $36.5 million as of July 31, 2018, according to its latest annual report.


A Met spokesperson said the comany had already raised $30m in its latest appeal.

‘While it is disappointing to receive this downgrade as a result of the severe economic implications of the coronavirus pandemic, which is affecting so many arts institutions, the Metropolitan Opera has nevertheless taken a number of immediate actions to stabilize its finances,’ Lee Abrahamian, a spokeswoman for the opera, said in an emailed statement.




  • A.L. says:

    The downgrade has been in the works for quite sometime. Again, nothing to do with the current medical pandemic but, rather, with the pandemonium of an artistic crisis unlike anything we have ever witnessed. The artistic crisis in itself is a pandemic so that it is not only confined to the Met. Maybe someday, just maybe, when singers worthy of our hard earned dollars once more tread the boards, the curve may flatten. But I am not counting my pennies.

    • John Borstlap says:

      It all comes down to the size of the hall, which was designed with the idea that, with increasing progress of education and communication in society, audiences would continue to increase. Nobody foresaw at the time that society could change in such a way that an art form like opera would become something for a shrinking niche audience. This development forced management to get into all kinds of overdrive, which in the course of time leads to all aspects of its organisation getting exaggerated: the needed donor funding, the sensationalist production type, more populist programming, etc. And then, this crazy epidemic may be some sort of final blow sinking the ship. So, it is too easy to throw all blame on mr Gelb.

      A solution in the long term seems to be to reduce the auditorium to some 1000 or 1500 seats and reduce the number of productions, or to build an entirely new, smaller venue with a more practical approach where quality takes priority over quantity and size.

      • Edgar says:

        Fully agree. One could leave the outer structure (shell) in place, and create a smaller venue in it with plenty of room for all kinds of musical and artistic activities accessible to the community. Better yet: a new architecture with only the iconic front facade preserved.

        I don’t think opera is niche. Daring and vsionary new music juxtaposed with old (for lack of better words). Which does not mean Regietheater.

        I rather think of a large house up to 15 00 seats, and a studio opera where new and experimental things can be done (Semperoper Dresden has such).

        • Saxon Broken says:

          The venue needs to have at least 2,500 seats to be in any way viable as a leading opera house. Smaller than that and ticket revenue starts to be too small to enable the place to survive.

      • Roberto says:


        In New York everything needs to be big and excessive.

        • John Borstlap says:

          I know……it’s the heart of the city’s self-understanding as the hub of modernity and progress. But these things can take-on different forms, in different times and at different places.

        • Tiredofitall says:

          There’s more to NYC than excess. You’ve obviously never spent much time there.

    • nomen nescio says:

      Interesting singers singing beautifully are mostly dead, and not of Corona. Productions are theatrical and political, laughable, if you make the mistake of attending a performance, as I did a decade ago.

  • Cynical Bystander says:

    Niw is hardly the time for gloating and animus against any organisation and by inference, induviduals.

  • speaking to fools says:

    What do we expect for a house with a $300+ million budget, and a city no longer even in the top ten for performances per year. The Paris Opera runs two full time houses on $200 million. As of 2008, the budget of the Vienna State Opera was $100 million. It’s not so much higher now–maybe $150 million. (And it has the Vienna Phil in the pit.)

    The Met needs to fundamentally rethink itself, reduce its budget by one third, and the savings used to revive the NYC Opera. Tempering the Met’s extravagance would raise its artistic quality. But of course, this is a manifestation of rationality impossible for America’s plutocratic cultural system.

    • Bill says:

      The Met has expenses those companies you cite in more civilized countries don’t have to worry about, like health insurance, liability insurance, pension obligations; the list goes on. Couple that with virtually no government support for the arts, and here we are.

      • PaulD says:

        The Met does have expenses like others in “more civilized countries” – like paying senior stagehands more than $450,000 a year.

      • Una says:

        Nothing to do with the virus. They simply need to cut their coat according to their cloth for what is the most expensive form of music making.

      • Jane Berger says:

        A good point that a better social safety net is a help for employers as well as employees. However, opera houses in Germany pay half of their employees‘ payments for health insurance and retirement.

      • Tom Phillips says:

        Exactly – especially the point about “more civilized countries”. I personally wish I could live in one.

      • Sue Sonata Form says:

        You have a very significant cohort in the ‘arts’ which generally thumbs its nose at conservatives or conservative governments, or puts up two fingers, at the very least. Surely, given that, you wouldn’t expect any government not of your own inclination to rush over and offer you support!! That would be naivete on an industrial scale.

        Perhaps less partisanship in the ‘arts’ community would yield better, long-term economic results and a fruitful partnership.

        One cannot have EVERYTHING their own way.

      • Financial Equality says:

        Imagine if they had to pay Federal Taxes.

        It’s time for the IRS to rescind their Tax Exempt Status.

        The donors would be just as generous, right??

        Perhaps they would become “more civilized” as you say and respect their singers and production crews!!!

    • Ron Swanson says:

      The NYC Opera isn’t coming back. I wouldn’t be surprised if the Met goes within the next 10-20 years.

  • Willymh says:

    I don’t understand the almost glee like reporting and comments here about the MET and it’s financial troubles, and I’ve seen it on other sites also. We say we love the art form and yet take pleasure in its troubles. Say as much about people as the reports say about the institute itself.

    • John Borstlap says:

      Much of the ‘glee’ may be due to the recognition that such big cultural institutions are not really for the art form, but the other way around. And that is always damaging for the art form.

      • Willymh says:

        Mr Borstlap I greatly respect your opinion and wish I had your faith in the altruistic thoughts of others. However often it comes across as simply being malicious.

        • John Borstlap says:

          In such cases, it is not read carefully enough – observations which try to be as factual as possible, are what they are, and it is wrong to blame the messenger.

    • Tom Phillips says:

      Very well said. The existence of the Met – even in its currently much reduced state – along with the tiny handful of other great cultural institutions in the U.S. (e.g. Chicago Lyric, San Francisco opera, the “top 5 orchestras” and New York theater) are among the only things that make life bearable in this benighted backwater of a nation.

    • to be clear Willymh says:

      Everybody is clearly tired of Gelb’s incompetence!!!!!

      Look at the age and race of the Met’s core and how many bitch and moan about how much better the singing was in the 90’s and prior.

      Further the millennials, gen y, gen z don’t care about opera. Schools are so busy pushing ‘diversity’ there’s no room.

      The 30 year-olds and prior have trashy rap and pop icons to do their drugs to and party.

      They can’t be bothered to take a shower, get dressed up ‘appropriately’ and sit still for 3 HOURS. Plus they’re too poor and bitter after their “higher ed” experiences to waste money on tickets to an “elitist event”.

      Gelb clearly can’t compete no matter the garish sets, light shows and better looking singers who everyone else on threads like this thinks SUCK!

  • Richard Craig says:

    Is this Gotterdammerung for the met!!!

  • Peter says:

    Have you seen Domingo Jr.’s Tweet on the topic?
    Seems that he has already forgotten it was a “mutual” “withdrawal“ from the Met (Macbeth, Sept 2019)…
    Now this tweet makes everything very clear that this wasn’t actually the truth and that Domingo was indeed kicked out from the Met. He said it was “mutual” and gave a different statement in order to make himself look better, but his son ruined this in one second with his recent tweet… They have turned the story in such a cheap soap opera with all their contradictory statements, that’s too bad!
    Hoping though that he is recovering well from the virus!

    • Tom Phillips says:

      He should have been kicked out long ago – both for the proclaimed reasons as well as his farcical performances as a “baritone” for the past decade or so and his execrable “conducting”. Sheer megalomania.

  • “… backed by artwork and endowment funds. ”

    How can the debt be rated as “junk” when it is backed by collateral?

    Junk debt is typically debt supported by only the promise of making money in the future.

  • PaulD says:

    That should be “unlike others”.

  • Larry L. Lash / Vienna says:

    Size DOES matter (sometimes). After my initial teenage love affair with the Met, I grew to dislike it intensely, especially after regularly attending opera in Europe in houses with a sane capacity (nothing like hearing “Elektra” in a 900-seat house!).

    I have been thinking in recent days that the Met simply cannot survive with its capacity of 4.077 (including standing room).

    I wonder which would be cheaper:

    Sell the Chagalls and tear it all down and build a smaller house, or

    Rip out the interior and create two auditoriums, one with a capacity of between 1.000 and 1.500, and a smaller “black box” theatre which could be used for chamber operas, small modern dance companies, etc. Add a variety of restaurants and cafés, and create something like the Barbican Centre.

    Hey – I can dream, can’t I (as sang the Andrews Sisters)?

    • speaking to fools says:

      This is exactly the solution needed, and sooner or later it has to happen if the Met is to survive. Most all larger houses in Europe have black box theaters, even if under-utilized, in addition to their main hall. New York is a very sophisticated city for theater. If the Met could change its sensibilities, it would have the resources to do wonderful things with a black box theater. The innovations could give opera a new life.

    • V.Lind says:

      Sounds smart to me. When I was a student, I went to opera in two places — what is now called the Hummingbird Centre, a great barn of a place that holds well over 2000 people — not sure how many — and the Opera Hall of the Royal Conservatory of Music, which I believe held about 900 and had a stage the same size (large). You can imagine what was the greater experience — and I always actually had good seats at the barn, if any seats in such a place can be said to be good.

      I absolutely loathe places that big for opera or ballet. (And, obviously, for theatre, which was also on offer at the Hummingbird). I really disliked the Coliseum in London when I went to ENO (not that keen on the ROH except when I had peachy Dress Circle seats — I usually had press box, which were lousy, unlike in Canada, where the press gets very good seats on the reasonable principle that if they see and hear properly their views will be better than if they cannot do either).

      The Met, and a whole lot of other theatres, need a vast rethink and reconstruction.

      • Saxon Broken says:

        Having only 1000-1500 seats means a big subsidy from somewhere for the artform. They pretty much need a theatre with at least 2,500 seats to ensure reasonable revenue from ticket sales.

    • Tiredofitall says:

      That’s just the refrain of “Dream”. As long as you’re quoting, the lyrics also say

      I’m aware
      My heart is a sad affair
      There’s much disillusion there


  • Save the MET says:

    I have read the comments with interest. However, most of you guys miss a key problem and that’s Gelb himself. He was an overpaid “wedding” videographer until Wilford got him the BSO gig which he proved inept and then he was placed by Wilford at Sony in a division where he couldn’t do much damage and pick up a salary. He proved inept there and then Wilford begged Beverly and Jimmy Levine to get him hired at the MET.

    Ok, with that history, where has Peter ever really had to fund raise? Peter gave himself a lot of hats so he would be too tied up to have to do it. The most successful general managers of the MET, Conried, Gatti and Bing could multi-task, but their biggest job was glad handling singers and donors. Have any of you guys really spent time around Gelb? I have, he gives the biggest wet fish handshake known to man. He’s not a charismatic personality, he’s no Max Bialystock. He’s not comfortable going to “little old lady land” to beg for cash. A fund raising memo, really? Her expects to get enough money to keep the doors open with that?

    Peter has always been good at spending. He gets an idea and then runs with it not really thinking about the financial implications. He’s not a negotiator and he’s not thoughtful. It begs credulity that he is still there. I used to go all the time, can’t think of the year I last spent money on a ticket to go. My wife doesn’t care and I lost interest. I used to have 2 subscriptions, Gelb lost me.

    In order to save the house, there needs to be management change. They have robbed Peter (pardon) to pay Paul. Took money from the pension fund and never repaid it. (to the best of my knowledge.) They need a Max Bialystock who can think out of the box and raise money. Someone whose ego is not so fragile that he will let a solid staff do the other work. Fund raising is really a full time job in the Arts and Gelb just does not have what it takes for the Metropolitan Opera to survive after this. The virus has exposed his deficiencies in a glaring way and it is time to force majeure Peter..

    • Tiredofitall says:

      I agree with much of what you say, and I’m certainly no fan of PG, but to be fair, the Met also has an extremely talented and experienced head of development in Cory Toevs, as well as an excellent and seasoned development staff. They may seem avaricious, but try raising $160 million annually with only about 1 percent of that coming from government sources.

      To say that Peter should be a one-man band chief fundraiser is not to fully understand his role. Yes, fundraising is part of his job description, but as any good CEO, he has a talented staff to support and lead those efforts.

      Regardless of feelings one way or the other for the man–or even for the Met itself–we should draw a painful lesson from the demise of NYCO. I mourn the loss of that company every day.

      We can be supportive at the same time as we are critical, as long as we remain mindful the consequences.

      • Save the MET says:

        Not the point, the chief has to be the fund raiser in chief. He has zero talent in that regard. He’s not clever and not trusted. Some of the wealthiest donors will only deal with the top and Cory is not the top. He leaves no one with a sense of comfort and even the whiff of knowing what he’s doing after all these years. My friend, in order for the MET to be truly successful, Peter has to go. He alienated much of the older clientele through his gimmick productions, so season subscription holders left. After the first wave of corona virus, more older patrons will leave as they do not wish to be exposed and he will be left with emptier houses. So right now, a real fund raiser is needed at the top to attract as many donations of sizable proportions as possible.

        • Tiredofitall says:

          While you may feel you know the workings of the Met (I do, for better or worse, intimately) you are woefully ignorant of its organization. I’m no fan of PG and his future can be argued and determined after the current crisis, but I support the Met’s current efforts to survive.

          Again, we can be supportive at the same time as we are critical, as long as we remain mindful the consequences.

  • Sharon says:

    Are all the Met’s production costs necessary? Some people might like the overproduction but for me it is very distracting. Do people attend for the music and the acting or for the super expensive stage bling?

    • MWnyc says:

      Some of each.

    • Gerald Hough says:

      It’s not the singing anymore unless it’s one of the very few older, superior voices.

      The under 40 singers aren’t that great which is why blogs like SD don’t feature them for their vocal quality. If at all, the press they get is about their moral failings, substance abuse, outfits, sexcapades, shopping habits, etc.

      Garish set designs, costumes, sexually charged stage direction have taken over instead.

      Now that opera houses and venues cannot function at all, they and their management are the new focus.

      The Met is a prime example with their inner moral failings, incompetence, profligate spending on sets and salaries along with their impending IRS investigation now that Jimmy’s long-standing issues were finally dealt with and he got his payoff.

  • jp says:

    I suggest selling the Ring Cycle set for scrap. Should raise them a couple of hundred.

    • Save the MET says:

      You mean Gelb’s folly? The production that broke the MET? The one where he had to re-engineer the entire back stage elevator system as his wasteful spending was too heavy? You mean the production that was made in Canada rather than in the MET shop and when initially brought in was too big for the stage because the production designer didn’t measure appropriately and had to be returned on trucks to Canada with the MET scenic shop on overtime for weeks working to make it fit? You mean the production that was so dangerous multiple singers said they would never work with that set again limiting the casting? Yeah, it should be sold fore scrap and a bronze plaque denoting that it had been there and blew the budget to a point that further donations had to be solicited to pay for Gelb’s folly which could have been spent on chorus and musical staff.

      • Jeff Mace says:

        Hey please keep this information a secret. I made a ton of money on this venture. My crew and I had a nice paid vacation in Canada while it lasted.

  • Mr. Schwa says:

    The hall is too big: sitting in the family circle, or even one level below, is like looking at a dollhouse. Too many performances and too long a season. So many empty seats almost every night. And even with an audience, doing so many performances makes it impossible to make/keep them special. Thus plenty of routine/average nights per season, even with a good cast and production. Art should be the antithesis of mass production. Add to that the inconsistent artistic level [a lot of it caused by money-saving contracts to under-qualified singers and conductors [can almost ANYbody get in there now??] and you have trouble in River City. A city of over eight million people and add tourists….. and you can’t sell out every night?? Bad sign!!

  • Tom Phillips says:

    There always seems to be a fair amount of schadenfreude in this blog’s postings on the troubles facing the Met. Despite its current (and actually long-standing) mismanagement, the fact remains that this is the leading opera – and classical music – operation in North America, and its loss would be devastating to what little semblance we now have of a civilized life. Just a little perspective please!

  • Jeff Mace says:

    Please keep this a secret. My crew and I had almost a year paid vacation in Canada to oversee this production of the Ring and drink many mugs of beer.