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.