Exclusive: What Peter Gelb told his staff

Exclusive: What Peter Gelb told his staff


norman lebrecht

September 27, 2020

Once again, the internal emphasis in Gelb’s presentation differs significantly from what he told the media this week.

In a carefully lawyered video address, replete with several stumblings and slips of tongue, Gelb tells Metropolitan Opera staff to give up hardwon and well-deserved union gains in order to gain the confidence of ‘major donors’ who will keep the Met alive.

It’s that simple. Take pay cuts and we’ll find a way of paying you something now. Refuse, and we’re all screwed.

Watch the non-shareable video here.



  • Singer Support! says:


    How are the SINGERS surviving (or not) since the pandemic?

    Who is assisting them financially throughout this lengthy period with no work on?? What actions have donors and sponsors taken to protect these people?

    Are there fundraising mechanisms devoted to individual or groups singers?

    What is AGMA’s statement regarding the Met? What actions are the union taking to support the singers that pay them to represent their best interests?

    There’s A LOT OF PAIN amongst them no one has reported on that may be assuaged by connecting them with those who can help them.

    You currently have Peter stating all he has are donors now; apparently so do singers. US Unemployment benefits are not accessible due to the freelance environment artists have always had to operate in as they are not employees.

    Shedding some light on the plight of opera singers and how they’re coping is critical to their survival.

    • EagleArts says:

      Actually there are unemployment benefits available to freelance workers/self employed persons in the USA in addition to the PPP loan program that was available to self employed/sole proprietors. Freelance/1099 singers could have received a PPP loan to replace lost income or unemployment benefits from the state, but not both. However, if one has any gigs that are W2 (most union contracts) things get complicated.

      “Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) is one of the federal CARES Act provisions that helps unemployed Californians who are not usually eligible for regular Unemployment Insurance (UI) benefits. This includes business owners, self-employed workers, independent contractors, and those with a limited work history who are out of business or have significantly reduced their services as a direct result of the pandemic.

      This program includes up to 46 weeks of benefits from February 2, 2020, through December 26, 2020, depending on when you were directly affected by COVID-19. PUA launched with up to 39 weeks of benefits and an extra seven weeks was recently added.”

    • Truth says:

      The bottom line is that the Met staff is too big and the orchestra and chorus are getting pay structured before the loss of the classical music recording industry and the Great Recession, which destroyed the donor base.

      It isn’t right that the average chorister onstage, surely working hard but not subjected to do or die stress or performance expectations, makes more in a year than any of the soloists with the possible exception of Anna Netrebko.

      AGMA will likely lose its soloists – and their money – to Actors’ Equity or to a new union in coming years. Meanwhile, ceasing to pretend that it’s still the 90s, with packed houses driven by the Three Tenors (what happened to those guys anyway?!) was necessary long before Covid, but is a matter of survival now.

    • EagleArts says:

      Actually there are unemployment benefits available to freelance workers/self employed persons in the USA in addition to the PPP loan program that was available to self employed/sole proprietors. Freelance/1099 singers could have received a PPP loan to replace lost income or unemployment benefits from the state, but not both. However, if one has any gigs that are W2 (most union contracts) things get complicated.

      “Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) is one of the federal CARES Act provisions that helps unemployed Californians who are not usually eligible for regular Unemployment Insurance (UI) benefits. This includes business owners, self-employed workers, independent contractors, and those with a limited work history who are out of business or have significantly reduced their services as a direct result of the pandemic.

      This program includes up to 46 weeks of benefits from February 2, 2020, through December 26, 2020, depending on when you were directly affected by COVID-19. PUA launched with up to 39 weeks of benefits and an extra seven weeks was recently added.”

  • DAVID says:

    A true masterclass in rhetoric and intimidation that will undoubtedly inspire many other general directors across the country (indeed, it may already have). I wish he had gone more specifically into the intricacies of his thought-process, since many details seem to have been left out as to why exactly any other course of action would turn donors off. To give the impression that he is pained at asking unions to give up some of their hard-won gains and even go as far as claiming that they do deserve them, is truly the height of hypocrisy and the ultimate in chutzpah, since even in normal times, getting fair contracts is always an uphill battle almost guaranteed to bring one side to the brink of a strike before an acceptable settlement can be made. I wonder if anyone in the world is that naive and that gullible.

    But what is genuinely insulting to any reasonable person’s intelligence is the very notion that money is in fact available right now, albeit at the cost of concessions which would have been unhoped for at any other time in history. There is here an incredible window of opportunity for managements which needs to be seized right away, before the argument might eventually lose its entire relevance. Moreover, this argument doesn’t really gel with the idea that concessions will need to continue when business does resume, since if there’s money right now, when everything is still shut down, there should reasonably be more of it when we are back to more normal times — therefore invalidating the idea that permanent cuts are in fact necessary. But the times are so pressing for musicians now on the brink of financial calamity that this argument, no matter how specious and disingenuous, is just too tempting not to use, and it will without a doubt provide a footprint for many other companies in the coming months — all of them equally concerned about the well-being of their employees and yet requiring them to absorb all of the sacrifice, because after all, it’s simpler and more expedient that way.

    America is indeed a caste system, as a recent book by Isabel Wilkerson brilliantly shows, and musicians are at the bottom of it, irrespective of the scarcity of their talent, expertise, and skill. Fitting expressions here might be: holding a contract hostage, and/or kicking people when they’re down, albeit delivered elegantly and with a smile, which highlights the most important quality for anyone coveting a position in arts administration nowadays: being a wolf in sheep’s clothing. Undoubtedly, this is what these boards, who all come from the corporate world and for whom board membership is merely an occasion for social distinction, as opposed to a genuine appreciation for the art form, look for, first and foremost, in a potential general director.

  • This is a RIOT!!! says:


    Gelb is shilling first “collective responsibility”, then gets to his ultimatum of “collective economic responsibility”…LOVE IT!!

    “I know it’s not easy for union members to GIVE BACK hard won earnings” …translation: TIME TO ABANDON NYC and find work elsewhere for at least another year IF one can. Lots of folks moving in together since March..

    Peter and the board need to explore liquidating their vast foreign and domestic holdings, selling off artwork, furniture, fixtures, costumes, props, etc instead of kicking union members when they’re down. Phluease!!

    He’s actually fantasizing that people with no paychecks for the last 6 months are going to continue to go without work for another YEAR and additionally “dumb down” future pay rates to further ignite his swollen ego?!?!!! …time for the “devoted staff” to realize they can’t afford to work with the Met any longer. Rent sure isn’t going down along with other basics!!! It’s just not worth it anymore.

    Wha’s most significant is what Peter DID’NT SAY. As an iconic institution, he said nothing of the Federal funding the Met received under Trump’s first successful stimulus CARES Act wave. How about the PPE$$ they OBVIOUSLY DON’T NEED SINCE THEY’RE ORDERED TO BE CLOSED!! There’s no mention of the second wave HEALS Act stagnant due to Democrats and what’s supposed to be in it again for the Met. The tens of millions in emergency gala money raised immediately after workers were cut in March is benefiting WHO EXACTLY???

    …and poor Peter is selling Met poverty while sneering at the camera. HOW RICH!

    Thanks for the comedy Norm!

    • hold up says:

      The Met wasn’t eligible for CARES Act funding because they employed over 500 people. So if they weren’t eligible for a $2 trillion stimulus package’s funding, why on earth would they be eligible for the anorexic new package the Senate has proposed? Presumably, the money raised in the past few months has gone on to pay necessary administrators, the vast majority of whom are WAY underpaid (especially compared to union members), as well as significant expenses such as healthcare which the Met has continued to pay its major unions’ members.

    • Loop says:

      I think you’re right regarding future pay scales. San Francisco may be using the same approach to essentially reset compensation levels.

    • SSD says:

      Why can’t this troll be spammed out? I’m SO TIRED of the same propaganda, by the same person, over and over, especially the excessive capitalization and punctuation!!!!!! As if comments here will persuade anyone to change their political position. And 80 upvotes for that rant? Yeah, right. You wish.

      Such a waste of time.

    • mary says:

      The fact that this dumb fuck rant got 96+ likes proves that Gelb haters have a collective IQ lower than the salary of the Met musicians in the last 6 months.

  • Serious inquiry says:

    Has anybody informed the new MET prodigy, Yannick Nezet-Seguin yet?

    Thus far he’s been where exactly? His “safe space”???

  • Charlottenburger says:

    Watching Peter Gelb speak is like watching a dinosaur in its natural habitat, not realizing a meteor is about to render it extinct.

  • Nick2 says:

    No word about the pay cuts that Gelb and his administration minions are/will be taking. Is he going to give up all his salary? A large portion if it?

    And who in charge of such a large and prestigious House would in his right mind even believe that it will take several seasons for the audiences to return? After so many months without opera I’d imagine there could be a rush for tickets if the massive PR Department is any good at its collective job.

    If I were him, I would have asked myself and my colleagues months ago: is it right that an opening after a shutdown of more than 18 months should be a commissioned opera? I have nothing whatever against this particular opera and it’s composer, but when your primary goal is to get bums back on seats quickly surely you open with an opera that is so popular everyone wants to come see it.

    I am reminded that when London’s Sadlers Wells Opera was in trouble in the late 1950s, a season at the Coliseum with its Music Director Alexander Gibson conducting a run of Merry Widow performances helped save the day.

    So why not move his Aida to open the 2021/2 season? Oh, I know all about contracts being signed years ahead and so on. But in the face of extreme emergencies, anyone who has worked in the opera business knows full well that experienced managers talk to agents and artists and it’s part of their job to get things changed and moved around with a minimum of fuss. But then Gelb has never been one to show he knows how to handle a crisis. Wrong man. Wrong job. Once again proved true!

  • Curious Colin says:

    Has Peter taken any pay cut to his hard won earnings?

  • Concerned says:

    Shockingly abysmal leadership. There are many people out their who could do Gelb’s job better than him.

  • If a new Met appears it MUST downscale everything: reduce high fees to divas; pay everyone the same (except the leads); revive old productions with original sets and costumes instead of vacuous pseudomodern productions; reduce seat prices (except a few orchestral seats for major donors); have free dress rehearsals (by reservation); show preference for American singers (there are numerous big talents waiting to be discovered); in brief, shed the elitist image and accoutrements and become a popular theater like that in Italy. Of course most music lovers have known for years that even without a pandemic the Met model was doomed. It should become a scaled down venue for music theater, not grand opera, seriously dedicated to developing new young audiences. It might seriously consider becoming a repertory theater with a fixed stable of singers able to take on all styles,including contemporary, and rotating them so everyone gets a chance to be a lead sometime, as the Trinity Church choir does in NYC. In other words make opera warm, friendly and accessible. And affordable.

  • anon says:

    Covid really laid bare the caste system classical musicians live in and exactly where they belong in the hierarchy.

    Covid shocked the Met musicians into the reality that they are way down on the rung in the classical music world.

    Before, everyone thought they belonged in the top 10%, earning mid 6 figures, among the top 10 institutions in the world.

    Then it became clear that even in the top 10%, or the top 10, there are the haves and have-nots:

    -the top American orchestras could at least guarantee a base pay, whereas the Mighty Met would furlough everyone without pay.

    -the Met would pay a crotch-grabbing harasser it fired $3.5 million, but would not pay in dime in aid to the orchestra or chorus.

    -European orchestras and opera houses, despite significantly lower pay, kept their staff in full employment throughout the shutdown

    -that they are as dispensable and disposable as a factory worker in Detroit

  • Kathleen King says:

    Peter Gelb after years of conniving and jealousy deliberately destroyed Maestro Levine to advance his own “new” vision of the MET and then met retribution in the form of COVID. Therein lies a certain measure of divine justice, except that it is we and the musicians who suffer. I agree, we have all been to our various degrees, contributing to trying to keep opera and the MET (as it was) alive; the sooner Gelb and his sycophants –just look at what they propose for the 21-22 season!– are ousted, the better. There IS money and it needs to go to the orchestra, chorus, and workers NOT to Gelb and the administration in the offices except as needed to disperse those funds to the folks who really ARE the MET.

  • Monsoon says:

    The implication from Norman and other Gelb haters is that Gelb is intentionally trying to inflict as much damage on the Met, that there are revenue generating opportunities that would put people back to work that he’s intentionally passing on so that he can deprive staff and musicians of pay.

    Let’s review the facts:

    The Met’s situation is hardly unique. All major U.S. Orchestras and Carnegie Hall have canceled their seasons through the end of 2020, and it seems highly likely that the COVID situation will only be *worse* in early 2021 because we’ll be in flu season. Just think for a moment about all of the coughing and sneezing during winter concerts.

    Other forms of entertainment that rely on large audiences are doing the same thing. Popular music concerts aren’t happening. Movie theaters are closed. Sports teams are either playing to empty stadiums or letting a handful of fans in.

    The United States has been among the hardest hit by COVID. Please stop with the “If they can open halls in Germany…” argument. The death rate in the U.S. is 632 per million. That’s the 10th highest in the world. It’s 5.5x Germany. The U.S. has 4 percent of the world’s population and 20 percent of the COVID deaths. How many more ways can we explain how bad the situation is here?

    And even if the Met reopened before there’s a vaccine, do you really think people are going to flock back? Its patrons are mostly 60+ — those most likely to die from COVID.

  • E.C. says:

    The classical music scene in the U.S.A. has been doomed to fail long before the covid-19 pandemic was even known of. The entire business model, based on grants and donations from corporate and private sponsors only worled at a time when the classical music art form was relevant to first and second generation Americans of European extraction. The cultural origins of current Americans is mostly non-European, predominantly Asian, Latino and African. European opera and European symphonic music, while very attractive to many, no longer has the direct cultural relevance that it did to previous generations, mostly of European extraction. By making the survival of U.S. operas and symphony orchestras totally dependent on the generosity of the communities that they serve and knowing that those communities demographics are less and less interested in supporting old European culture, it should be obvious that these institutions are ultimately doomed. Covid-19 has only accelerated the decline and put these operas and orchestras in very difficult situations and many will cease to operate within the next year or two. Another model has to be found, as the current model, as it currently is in the U.S. is on life support and will ultimately not survive. The U.S. model did not help itself by paying its opera and orchestras CEOs seven figure salaries and paying their principal players two and three times the salaries of their equivalents in Europe. It is all totally ill conceived and based on a bygone time, when immigrants wanted to create the best of Europe in their new homeland and were willing to pay to get that excellence. Today, it is an obsolete and defunct model and the sooner that the model gets revised completely, the sooner that there will be some hope to keep these institutions alive. It may already be too late.

  • Hal Sacks says:

    Concertising in Canada. In October he will come to Philadelphia to record about 4 short concert programs with the Philadelphia Orchestra in an audience-less Verizon Hall. These will be part of the Orchestra’s Digital Concert Hall Series for Virtual subscribers.

  • Dalledu Alletre says:

    “It will take several years before audiences feel confident about filling our auditorium.”

    — Peter Gelb, head of America’s biggest performing arts group.

  • Barbara says:

    What an inept talk. Couldn’t read the script, broke up sentences , no empathy – what is going on here?

    • Tiredofitall says:

      In person his presentations are worse. Sad, but true. He is surrounded by (paid) sycophants who praise every word as if they were golden nuggets of wisdom and eloquence. When you work at the Met, you check your reality at the door.

  • Nick says:

    Gelb is Gelb!! COVID or no COVID, Gelb is Gelb!

  • New Yorker says:

    Gelb needs to go and YNS has proven himself useless. When the Chicago Symphony was on strike last year, Muti was out on the picket line with the musicians. Disappointed.

    • Chicagoan says:

      And the musicians of the Chicago Symphony still didn’t get what they wanted. Muti “on the picket line” made absolutely no effect on the outcome of their strike, and his actions perhaps made it worse for any conductor who doesn’t have the prestige and clout that Muti does and can brazenly oppose their board of directors (their employer) with little worry that they’ll be fired. It sets a precedent that most other conductors simply cannot follow without damaging their careers.

  • Rigoletto Violist says:

    Here is the full transcript of the video, in case people cannot view it:

    Peter Gelb – 9.23.20 – Video to employees

    As I’m sure you’re all painfully aware, this week should have been a triumphant start of a new season, with a magnificent new production of Aida, having kicked things off on Monday.

    Instead, Anna Netrebko, who would have been playing Aida, has been recovering from Covid in a hospital in Moscow, and our entire company remains idled by the worst health crisis in more than 100 years.

    Now, instead of opening, I have to give you the sad, but certainly not so surprising news, that today, we’re forced to cancel our entire season. The Health and Government officials upon whom we rely have made it clear that large performing arts companies in New York can’t come back, at least until an effective vaccine is widely in use, resulting in the – and that would result in the herd immunity that would be an end to the pandemic, and that we anticipate will make it possible for us to resume rehearsing and performing.

    The hopeful timetable for that will not bring us back together again until next summer. We’re announcing this publicly right now.

    This is the most difficult challenge in the company’s proud 137-year history, and I know it is an incredibly difficult time for the members of this company – the majority of whom have been out of work – out of work for at least six months.

    Facing an entire season without box office revenues, our future is in the hands of the opera lovers who support the Met, and with you, our dedicated employees.

    Together, we have the collective responsibility to keep this great company alive.

    The economic road ahead is fraught. When we resume performances in the fall of 2021, our audience will return, but certainly not all at once. It will take several years before audiences feel confident about filling our auditorium once again. That’s why we must find a path forward that is economically possible, and one that our major donors will feel comfortable supporting. It’s why I’ve told union leaders that we need long-term agreements with our largest unionized groups that will provide our currently furloughed union employees with a significant portion of their base pay now, in these dark months ahead. But these new agreements must be tied to longer-term reductions that will allow the Met to recover in the future.

    This is an economic recovery plan that our donors will support and that will provide those union employees who are not working with sustainable financial aid in the coming months.

    I know it’s not easy for union members to give back hard-won earnings, and I’m not suggesting that they don’t deserve to be well compensated. You do. But sometimes in life, and this is such an occasion, we have to look at the larger picture. Look around you, and ou will see countless businesses going under and millions of people unemployed, with no relief in sight. This is not the time to stand firm on negotiating results of the past, not if you want the Met and the not-for-profit performing arts to survive.

    Although we work in the theatre, where artistic magic is created in our pit and on our stage, there is no magical formula that will save us. This is the time to face reality and to save this great company and your jobs.

    In this unprecedented crisis, we must work together to find economic compromise that will ensure the future of this company and your jobs with it.

    Today, we’re also announcing our 2021-22 season, since we all need something to look forward to. We will open with the Met premiere of “Fire Shut up in my Bones” composed by Terence Blanchard, a leading African-American and the first to compose an opera for the Met. There will be two other Met premieres: “Eurydice” and “Hamlet”, and new productions of “Don Carlo” in French, and “Lucia” and “Rigoletto” performed by the leading singers of the world, and our incomparable Met Orchestra and Chorus. Of course, all of this will be under the musical direction and leadership of my artistic partner, Met music director Yannick Nézet-Séguin.

    For the Met to survive, we must remain artistically strong. That is within our reach, but only if we take collective economic responsibility for our actions in the weeks and months ahead.

    This is the fight of our artistic lives. But it is a fight we can win, if we’re all in it together.

    Thank you very much.

  • Charles Clark-Maxwell says:

    He has an unfortunate smirk on his face sometimes. Maybe nerves – but whatever looks very undignified

  • Save the MET says:

    I look at that video and am reminded of an undertaker, not an opera impresario.

  • Beck Messer says:

    If opera is governed survive here, USA must adopt European model of generous public (i.e., taxpayers) support and reorganize companies as actual companies, with rosters of artists who are employees, not independent contractors, like American symphony orchestras. This might omit some big-name guest stars, but could result in innovative well-rehearsed productions by ensemble casts. Given current political animosity toward USPS, Affordable Care Act, Social Security, and other projects for the public good, opera will probably remain a bauble for wealthy donors.

  • Matt Rubin says:

    Don’t include me in your delusional opinion. I deserve to make all of this money I’m worth every penny. Remember I do the work of two people. I’m really running the electric department not PJ.