Why Peter Gelb’s job is now safe

Why Peter Gelb’s job is now safe


norman lebrecht

September 24, 2020

Ever since he was parachuted into the Metropolitan Opera as general manager in August 2006, Peter Gelb has sat on broken glass.

He was unqualified, never having run a performing arts company before, and cripplingly bad at communications both within the company and towards the outside world.

At his previous post in Sony Classical, he delivered soliloquies to staff with instructions that they were supposed to fulfil. He discouraged debate and was threatened by contradiction. What he is good at is managing a board of donors, a skill that has kept him going through 14 years of almost unceasing turbulence at the Met. In that time, barely a month went by without a rumour that Gelb was about to be fired, but he kept the board sweet and his job intact. Rivals who thought they could do better built up a quiet portfoloio from afar.

Then, yesterday, Gelb shut down the Met and, in a masterstroke, secured his position for the forseeable future.


By killing the golden goose. The Met, laid out on an undertaker’s slab, is no prize for anyone. Gelb’s job as caretaker of an abandoned house is the least enviable in the performing arts world. The only tasks on his desk are cost-cutting. There is no creative challenge.

Gelb’s job is safe because no-one wants it any more, or will for quite a while.


  • Dalledu Alletre says:


  • MacroV says:

    I long had mixed feelings about Peter Gelb, and he might well be a horrible person to work for/with, but I’ve found a lot of his production ideas and other innovations pretty good. Live in HD, some interesting productions. Is he a true visionary? Probably not.

    But Gelb didn’t create COVID. The MET needs to shut because the entire country has shut. We’re a long way from when the MET can put 80-90 players cheek-by-jowl in pit and seat 3,800 people in its auditorium. He’s been handed a huge bag of lemons; nobody in his position would be able to do much differently. What can the Philharmonic next door – led by SD favorite Deborah Borda – do that’s any better? She’s sent out vans with chamber groups around town, but she can’t put 100 musicians on a stage, either.

    • James Weiss says:

      Hate to tell you this but the Live in HD series was the idea of Joe Volpe, Gelb’s predecessor. It was conceived and planned during the final year of his tenure. Gelb merely inherited it.

      • Tiredofitall says:

        Absolutely wrong. The idea of the HD series at the Met was by Julie Borchard-Young, who is now Director of Worldwide HD with the company. She brought her idea to Peter Gelb, with whom she had worked previously. Peter subsequently took credit for the idea.

        • SpaceOpera says:

          The HD Series has a long history, stretching back to the 90s when my satellite company was pitching the idea to the Volpe team.

        • MacroV says:

          The boss always takes the credit for the idea. By the usual rules: It happened in his tenure, he gets the credit or blame.

      • Tom Phillips says:

        That is absolutely not the case.

      • William Safford says:

        I can’t speak to Live in HD.

        I can say that Gelb was already producing videos of Met performances (for DG, I think) long before he was hired by the Met.

        I don’t know what was behind the step from producing videos, to Live at HD.

  • Peter says:

    Your comment is of course self-contradictory.

    If, according to you, someone as talentless and idiotic as Gelb could run the Met for 14 years, then that means anyone can run the Met.

    I’ll take the job. I’m sure anyone of the furloughed musicians would take the job. The stagehand could do the job.

    That’d be no shortage of candidates as incompetent as Gelb to take the job.

    You should apply, NL. ; )

  • A $300 million dollar budget allows for little flexibility. The publicly operated opera houses in Europe are also having troubles, but they work under more sensible budget parameters and are thus doing better than the Met.

    The communal houses of Europe are a central part of the social infrastructure, while the Met is a luxury house, that like all luxury products, is set aside during hard times.

    If the USA were a rational country, the Met would be broken up into one $200 million house (the same size as the budget of the Paris Opera which does considerably more performances per year) and two $50 million houses serving the common people.

    • Tom Phillips says:

      If the U.S. were a rational country we would have serious government funding of the arts – as is true throughout Europe – and the orange haired beast would not be in office.

  • Tiredofitall says:

    True and to the point.

    Just like a brave ship captain, Peter will ensure the safe evacuation of every employee before he exits himself. Quite the mensch.

    A good contract the board extended until 2027. Doesn’t matter how long; there won’t be any opera.

  • True North says:

    “This opera house would run a whole lot more smoothly without any opera in it!”

  • Larry D says:

    Norman, you’ve reached new heights (or lows) with your interminable Gelb-bashing. He closed down the Met purely for the selfish reason of securing his job? Because he is Satan incarnate?

  • Alexander says:

    You, apparently, are too cruel to him. In Europe many iconic A-class houses get a substuntial government backup , unlike the mighty America. This fact should be considered also I think.
    There are no any good top manager who would be safe from criticism nowadays, when the Net makes all imperfections and misleading steps clearly visible all around the Globe. I hope Mr.Gelb will take your post somehow in stride.

  • corb says:

    Speaking of undertakers, you can hear more enthusiasm from a corpse than can be heard from how Gelb usually speaks.

  • fflambeau says:

    Sorry, I disagree with you on Gelb. “and cripplingly bad at communications both within the company and towards the outside world.” I’ve seen him on many Met broadcasts to the world and think he’s quite good at communications, if hogging the stage too much. He knows what he is doing; remember, 2 or so years ago there were stories in many places, including here, that Levine would sink the Met. That didn’t happen.

  • Sharon says:

    Cost cutting is a welcome creative challenge–for those who have no heart

  • Gustavo says:

    So James Levine could now consider a come-back, while Yannik goes BRSO.

  • F. P. Walter says:

    Name me a time in the last 70 years when the Met’s manager hasn’t been excoriated by somebody! I grew up in the Bing era, and he was the subject of daily aspersions in NYC and, to a lesser degree, elsewhere. Today, of course, Bing’s regime is viewed as a comparative golden age. As Norman’s witty book GENIUS AND ANXIETY documents, arguing is an essential component of Jewish culture.

  • M McAlpine says:

    Anyone who manages anything is always the butt of criticism by people who don’t manage anything and reckon they can do better. Football clubs, Opera Companies, Industries, even whole countries. I mean, who’d be Prime Minister today?

  • Musician says:

    Gelb will use the pandemic to try and break the back of the MET unions. Did he take a pay cut? LOL

  • Couperin says:

    Every now and then we get to look past the more tabloid aspects of slippedisc and can appreciate a classically well done takedown. Thanks from NYC!

  • BrianB says:

    Norman, this is your first commentary with which I have agreed over every word. Very perceptive and shrewd. Congrats.

  • This is ridiculous says:

    Who in their right mind would want to be associated/blamed for the demise of one of the most important arts institutions in America just for the sake of his own job security? I was a Met subscriber for 15 years (before I moved out of NYC), and I was not a fan of everything that Peter Gelb did artistically. I thought he was heavy-handed in his negotiations with the various unions. I am not a Peter Gelb apologist. But please stop with this ongoing narrative painting every arts administrator as evil. Criticize his actions, sure. But to assign this malevolent motive to decisions that affect thousands of people, and indeed perhaps the whole arts ecosystem, is a step too far. You really think Peter Gelb relishes SHUTTING DOWN THE MET because he that means he gets to keep his job??

  • William Nicholas says:

    Really silly comments – Gelb is doing much better than I expected. Where I live in Texas, the nightly streams are bringing new people to opera. And the Met Live Artist concerts from around the world are wonderful. How do you sustain a very great opera house in this country where the government gives very little to the arts and the current presidential administration doesn’t even know what an opera is?