Peter Gelb requests an urgent gift

Peter Gelb requests an urgent gift


norman lebrecht

March 24, 2020

Message from the Met general manager:

Dear Mr. [ ],

As you know, we recently had no choice but to cancel performances in order to protect our audiences, artists, and staff from the spread of the coronavirus. As devastating as it is to have to close the Met, this was the rare instance where the show simply couldn’t go on.

But we are determined to weather this storm and are looking ahead to the 2020–21 season, opening in September, since it is now clear that we will not be able to resume operations before the scheduled end of our current season in May. The financial threat to the Met is immense, and we cannot ensure the future of Met performances or seasons without your help. I am writing today to ask you to consider making an urgent gift to the company to help us address the overwhelming economic implications of the pandemic.

In these extraordinarily challenging times, opera and the arts offer solace to a frightened nation and our fellow citizens around the world. That’s the reason why last week we began streaming a different encore performance from our Live in HD series each night, for free. It’s a reminder that the arts are part of the soul of a civilized society, and without cultural institutions like the Met, our lives would be diminished.

While we are cutting expenses in every way possible in the coming months, including my own decision to take no salary, we need your help now. The stock market is down, but it will rebound. The Met will recover too, but only with the assistance of our most loyal fans and donors.

I am forever impressed and grateful for your passion and support. We need it now, more than ever before. Thank you.

With great appreciation for your help,

Peter Gelb
General Manager



  • David Fox says:

    Why did you “force majeur” away all of your commitments to musicians when many of your peers did not? If ticket sales represent less than half of your operating budget and otter variable costs were eliminated by canceling performances, why couldn’t you pay roughly half of the promised salaries your workers depend upon?
    It takes nerve to go to your patrons hat in hand without addressing these questions.

    • Monsooon says:

      The Met has no peers. It is the largest performing arts organization in the world.

      As the President and CEO of the New York Philharmonic noted, the NYP has 100 union employees; the Met has 1,000.

      It amazes me that people are so convinced that Gelb is engaging in some kind of chicanery to nickel and dime the Met’s employees, ignoring the fact that we’re entering a second Great Depression.

      • Anon says:

        Is he having a laugh?

      • Bruce says:

        “It amazes me that people are so convinced that Gelb is engaging in some kind of chicanery to nickel and dime the Met’s employees…”

        IMHO that opinion is probably based on past experience. I do agree about the sheer size of the Met’s operation, though, and the difficulty of negotiating a partial pay cut with all the different unions. (Because if it wasn’t “force majeured” it would have to be negotiated. I’m a die-hard union member, but I’m not convinced that everyone at the table would be reasonable.)

  • Bruckner5 says:

    That cannot seriously be his signature.

  • sycorax says:

    But he doesn’t intend to use the “special gift” for paying the artist, does he?

    Even the Scottish Opera which certainly hasn’t as many money as the met doesn’t let its artist out in the rain, but for Gelb it isn’t a problem …

  • A.L. says:

    The situation, unacknowledged by Gelb, extends beyond and is far worse than whatever happens on Wall St. let alone the social and economic effects of the pandemic. Because the gravity of the situation precedes and has nothing to do with either. The situation is one of acute artistic crisis and it is time to face the music. That failing, throwing money at the problem hoping that something sticks will only buy time, for a little while longer.

  • Guest says:

    Gelb needs to go first.

    • Helen Wynn says:

      Yes, and who take over. Renee Fleming? I’m not a Gelb fan, but the Met is sinking under union contracts, a too-big-to-succeed-house and agreements to pay off ousted musicians. I dont want to lose the Met.

  • D says:

    This is not noteworthy. He’s just doing his job (and aside from the obvious urgency, it’s a pretty pro forma solicitation letter of the kind that routinely get sent). All arts orgs are likely preparing similar messages to their donor bases. Government bailouts in the U.S. are unlikely for the arts, and as much as we would like to imagine that some arts institutions are “too big to fail,” it’s sadly not true.

  • Francesca says:

    Mr. Gelb, ask for help from the Senator Hoylman. Maybe he can help you, like he helped you get rid of Placido Domingo.

  • Peter San Diego says:

    Doesn’t the Met have a large endowment fund? And aren’t such funds there to be tapped in emergencies? Major donors will no doubt want to see a viable forward plan before committing more millions to the enterprise.

    • D says:

      The Met’s endowment is less than its annual operating budget, and given the current state of the markets has probably lost 15-20% of its value in the last two weeks.

    • Tiredofitall says:

      No, its does not. The Met raided their endowment of all funds that could be legally accessed about ten years ago, leaving only those funds that were deemed by their original donors to be in inviolate.

      An endowment is not an emergency slush fund, rather endowments are designed to keep the principal amount intact while using the investment income only to supplement annual expenditures. In short, endowments are regulated long-term stabilizers for non-profit organizations.

      In New York State, nonprofit endowments are subject to the regulations of the New York Prudent Management of Institutional Funds Act (NYPMIFA), signed into law in 2010.

      The Met’s endowment was never sufficient relative to its budget. Sadly, even less so now.

      • Help the Singers and Crew! says:

        OFFICIAL MET figures via their OWN website for last published for FY 2018

        Look for the stocks of both land and Caribbean domicile.

        • Monsoon says:

          Not sure what your point is.

          The 990 shows that they have $220 million in investments. They’ve likely lost 1/3rd of that in the last two weeks.

          Meanwhile, their operating budget is $300 million. So maybe there’s enough in the endowment to pay for 4 or 5 months of operations.

          As for the offshore accounts, the has to do with foreign investments. If you have a target date index fund in your 401k or have a robo-advisor that picks index funds for you, guess what, you also have offshore money.

          • Tiredofitall says:

            The point is…you can withdraw from your personal 401k at will (usually with penalties); the Met cannot just decide to invade their endowment. That’s not the way the law affecting non-profits in the US works.

        • Salesh says:

          Can’t wait for the newer fy2019 filings to be published after mid-May.

          Until then it doesn’t look like they need ANY financial help particularly as a tax exempt organization. Not to mention the various insurance tools they have in place.

          They DO however desperately require an upper management overhaul.

          More current figures will yield a better picture but based on what we’re seeing, they have plenty of resources to liquidate and honor their beloved singers, crew and administration through the end of the season. They can simply write down the loss and come out just fine without looking so…desperate like a C or B class house.

          Plus, their board both individually and collectively has the ample means to support their talent. That’s what their there for and why their names are so prominent. Jimmy’s payoff settlement couldn’t have drained the coffers that much.

        • Audit first, $ maybe later says:

          While everyone is waiting for the most current 2019 filings to be edified and published, it seems necessary that the IRS must audit the Met along with Lincoln Center and their other entities.

          For such a mighty non-profit not be able to fairly easily support its singers and workers seems highly suspicious.

          It is also a horrid reflection on the administration and board that they have absolutely no backbone or intellectual capacity to simply explore their insurance plans and obvious financial choices.

          Begging people while putting on superior airs in your Zegna and Chanel suits as you step into private limousines off to the Pierre won’t get you a check from us!

  • George says:

    I hope Trump’s 1-Billion Dollar plan includes the Met – after all the flagship opera house of the continent – alongside its many other businesses.

  • Dalledu Alletre says:

    I wouldn’t give them a penny unless they commit to:
    1. lowering the entire seat-pricing structure so that any New York couple can afford decent seats for a series of six,
    2. filling the house regularly, and on subscription, so that everyone feels they are at a vital, live event, and
    3. staging opera productions geared to the seated theater audience instead of the camera lens!

    • Monsoon says:

      Clearly spoken by someone who hasn’t been to the Met.

      Depending on the day of the week, Met subscriptions for the Family Circle start at $27 per ticket — and it’s been that way for a while. Views are so-so, but the best acoustics in the house are up there.

      • Stefan Otisburg says:

        Not anymore darling.

        Kindly check your privilege as well. It’s unsuitable at the moment.

        The performers need income NOW since the Met discarded the lot down the pan with no forms of assistance.

        Don’t you have adequate knowledge of the Met as far as how to HELP these individuals?!?!

      • Dalledu Alletre says:

        $27 × 2 × 6 = $324 — which is too much to be stuck far away. Those seats should be nearly free, and $324 should get you on the Parterre, which should be FULL, on subscription.

    • Larry D says:

      And if they do commit to these things, I’m sure you’ll reach deep in your pockets and come up with—a penny. You sound like a generous guy.

    • Helen Wynn says:

      And Broadway has lowered its prices before all this happened?

  • clarity for artist says:

    Just sell some assorted stocks and ask the board members like Ann Ziff how they can easily help while securing a tidy charitable tax break for themselves Pete.

    Courtesy of the MET’s website for FY 2018

    Oh, whomever penned what he signed forgot to mention who would be paid first. Is the priority opera singers, chorus, orchestra, various performers, stage workers, administrative staff, vendors???

  • Patrick C Byrne says:

    That outrageously expensive new Aida and this horrible regietheatre productions. The Met and Gelb are a JOKE!!!

  • John Borstlap says:

    I looked into my wallet today, but I can’t contribute because I have to spend whatever is left on a search for music paper which is hoarded by composers in the early days of the epidemic.

    • Cubs Fan says:

      People still use music paper? You haven’t gone digital?

      • SVM says:

        Yes, many composers still use music paper. It is reliable in that it does not run out of battery, does not crash, does not require a monthly/annual subscription, does not become corrupted, and does not become so obsolete as to become unusable within a lifetime (a lot of software and file formats require specialist support/hardware to be used in any way after only a decade; conversely, a paper manuscript remains legible to the non-specialist over a century later).

        More importantly, the time and physical effort of putting pencil (or pen) to paper encourages one to reflect carefully upon each gesture and detail, a valuable safeguard against sloppiness. As a performer, I have encountered far too many contemporary scores and parts, and surprisingly many editions of works out of copyright, blighted by atrocious presentation. As a composer, I sketch and draft my compositions by hand, but typeset the fair copy (because at that juncture, the paramount consideration is to have the capacity to make changes quickly and easily, especially with regard to the layout of the notation on the page). And I know several distinguished composers who do *everything* by hand (such venerable people either publish in facsimile or outsource typesetting to others).

        • John Borstlap says:

          I had wanted to explain all of this but you said it all: that is how it is.

          I go even further and write my scores entirely by hand, in a clear way – never had any complaints (apart from nitwits) – instead of having the publisher get it all into the type setting process which always creates mistakes and requires many rounds to get to the very clear and faultless first stage of the original manuscript score. Orchestral parts however, are typeset, for reasons you have made clear entirely.

          It seems to me that practical considerations and not superficial aspects like ‘how things look’ should define the production of scores. If the composer cultivates a very clear score calligraphy with the needs of the conductor in mind, type setting of the score is no longer necessary. It would be a different case, of course, if scores were engraved as in earlier times – that system is also much more reliable. But that happens to be too expensive nowadays.

          • SVM says:

            Yes, typesetting “always creates mistakes and requires many rounds”, because most people in the music profession seem to have no idea/concept of how long it takes to typeset a score or part *properly*, and thus demand impossible deadlines and pay nowhere near enough (and then get upset that the typesetter misses a deadline because he/she cannot afford to cancel/reschedule other work to make time available to get it done quickly). Whilst engraving before the computer age consumed expensive metal plates and tools, the principal expense involved in typesetting is the typesetter’s time, a situation which facilitates cutting corners.

  • Edgar says:

    This is the time to shut down the house and prepare for a vigorous capital campaign to pay for its gutting and replacement with an auditorium half or at most three quarter its size, develop an artistic house culture in which young and lesser known voices practice the art of singing very good, and in which stars are invited to sing with them while earning no stratospheric income anymore. End of fly-in star cult.

    And only directors who are eminently capable of and intimately acquainted with in-depth reading of an opera score, while keeping Regietheatergurus out.

    And a Music Director who is present at least three quarters of each season, with guest conducting gigs strictly regulated.

    In a word: no longer fly-by-star-circus business as usual, but total devotion and submission to the art of opera theater.

    A smaller Met will be the better one. The current one is a monument (tomb) of its present self and its once glorious past which needs to go.

  • Joicy says:

    I’m sure Me-too-ers are happy to help Met. Met lost too much money after they kick off Domingo. Too meny people stopped to support Met after this shamafull decision. Now it is Me-too turn to help Met.
    But.. of course they dont care Met..

  • Rena panush says:

    I’ll be glad to donate to a fund to pay the orchestra and chorus members who you are NOT paying.

  • Anne says:

    Oh dear, Mr Gelb, how sad. I told you in September that I would never support the Met in any way ever again. I have not changed my mind. Nor will I.

  • Paul says:

    We have to acknowledge and remind ourselves that the Met is struggling very hard since many years (is it 7-8 years already?) and was actually very close to closing in 2014! Remember?
    Since then, unfortunately, Mr Gelb did not make any good or bold decisions regarding the artists he invites, the directors, the productions, the way too many HD transmissions (although it is comforting to see these now from our couch, on a long term basis it will never help)… All of these lead to a dramatic decrease in audiences (the Met in the past years was never sold out, an average of 60% of the capacity was sold at the normal box office prices…), sponsors and patrons did not wish to continue giving (a lot of) money, because having only the same 3-4 names for 3-4 months in 2-3 different productions every season (!!!) got also boring and uninteresting for them and for the worldwide audiences alike…
    Sorry to say, but the Met since many years is not the way it used to be, and the only people still attracted in the Met are a bunch of people from another opera blog, living in their own little bubble…
    So sorry, but the Met’s poor financial situation is because of its very poor management and its poor quality (of singers, productions and so on) in 99% of their performances from the past decade….

    • Melisande says:

      The last two operas the MET produced were Glass’s Akhnaten and Handel’s Agrippina.
      The cast in these productions were all stellar.
      I wonder where Paul left his ears and is taking the liberty to be so insulting.

    • Yes Addison says:

      Seven or eight years? The Met has been struggling (or “facing challenges”) for the entire 21st century. Each of Joseph Volpe’s last five seasons did worse than the previous one, and that was with Domingo still singing tenor roles, Pavarotti still around (if vocally a shadow of himself) for the first three of the five, and Otto Schenk, Franco Zeffirelli, Jean-Pierre Ponnelle, and Merrill/O’Hearn productions all over the schedule.

      For further reading, see “Met Opera Slashing Budget” (Associated Press, 15 December 2005); “Box-Office Shortfall Forces Cuts at the Met” (New York Times, 24 December 2005).

    • Larry D says:

      So you think they should bring back Jimmy Levine? You could be more specific about what productions and singers you found so boring. Then we could better judge whether you yourself are living in your OWN “little bubble”.

  • Crabcakes and Football says:

    They’re struggling because they keep spending money on ridiculous new productions for operas that don’t need new productions. Why on earth is the julie taymor magic flute getting replaced this year? There is no reason for that show to be gone so soon. We’re on the fourth don giovanni producion of this century, the second by Gelb. It’s just absolutely ridiculous. Why did they replace the Traviata already? It’s absolutely wreckless.

    • Saxon Broken says:

      Personally I think the future is for opera houses to do much more sharing of productions to bring down costs. It would also make rarer repertoire much more financially feasible.

  • Save the MET says:

    The time is nigh to assist him out the door. He’s akin to an undertaker, not a person to whom you want to give your hard earned money.

  • david hilton says:

    If Gelb would promise to go, I’d promise to contribute.

  • fflambeau says:

    Nice letter that makes a lot of sense.

    To the fools here who condemn the Met for not paying everyone, note they have 1,000 employees. It ain’t easy and things might get worse.

    I am very grateful to the Met for allowing me to watch a high level performance of a different opera every night for free. You can see them at For only 20 hours after their New York City broadcast. There are many schedules around; this week, they are doing Wagner.

    I thought the Carmen they showed was the best I had ever seen. All huge, international superstars in singers, conductors and more; very beautiful and highly original sets. So thanks, Mr. Gelb. If I could write you a check for a zillion dollars I would.

  • Jeff Koerber says:

    Shove it up your ass, Gelb.

  • Thinking aloud says:

    flambeau has really hit the nail on the head about finances at The Met. Watching a different opera every night for FREE at Why would people want to venture out at night when they can see an opera at home for free.

    As a visitor to The Met I found some of the productions poor. Too much regietheatre, which contrary to what Opera house managements seem to think audiences want and like, is not what most audiences want.

    During 20 years of visiting The Met I have seen the audiences dwindle. The only time the house has been full is when a real superstar has been singing.
    Under Gelb’s management the place has gone downhill. He knows nothing about opera and why his contract has been extended I will never know.

    The suggestion that The Met needs knocking down and rebuilding- smaller – is a good one. But don’t let Gelb have anything to do with it.

    It is terrible that singers, musicians and backstage staff are all loosing their livelihoods, They should apply to the AGMA Relief Fund and benefit from the half million dollars Domingo has donated to the fund.

    • AnythingOtherthanMet says:

      Smaller theater and then sell the air rights to the developer to build the new condo tower on top of the Met. The lowest level will have see through floors to watch the performances

  • WillymH says:

    So many would-be Opera House general managers so few positions. I hope everyone has managed their own personal finances as they feel they could handle the METs because it’s going to be a bumpy ride the next few years.

  • M.Arnold says:

    Sadly, the Met has come to this. That said, I will donate all our unused tix for remainder of year with this suggestion to Mr. Gelb: sell the Ring Cycle “machine” to an amusement park where it can be used as a combo seesaw, water slide, monster video game and light show.

    • fflambeau says:

      I think you are talking about the movable set. I just watched Das Rheingold and thought it was amazing. And fantastic singing too.