Peter Gelb shows his bad hand

Peter Gelb shows his bad hand


norman lebrecht

November 23, 2020

Details have leaked – inevitably – of a video call in which the Met’s general manager told 500 employees that he would resume paying them a reduced monthly paycheck if they agreed to a 30 percent wage cut after the pandemic.

In plain English: hit them when they’re down.

Musicians in the Met orchestra have not received a cent since April. Many have left town or quit the country altogether. One orchestral star has joined the LA Phil, which stays active while the Met is shut.

‘For the Met to get back on its feet, we’re all going to have to make financial concessions and sacrifices,’ said Gelb, not specifying what cuts he’s planning in a bloated administration or inflated diva demands. The Met will not reopen before September 2021.

These are bad times and Gelb is playing a bad hand.




  • Smiling Larry says:

    “not specifying what cuts he’s planning in a bloated administration or inflated diva demands”
    Please specify where the administration is “bloated”, and the diva demands that are “inflated” and the divas making them (none from male singers?). If Mr. Gelb is to be faulted for “not specifying”, then show him how it’s done. Thanks!

  • mary says:

    1) “details have leaked”

    Hardly a scoop, the NYT reported on this a week ago, so if it’s a leak, it leaked very, very slowly.

    2) “inflated diva demands”

    Hate to break it to you, no one goes to the opera to see the orchestra. It is indeed the divas (and quite a few divos) that patrons shell out a fortune for, and they are worth every inflated penny.

    • MacroV says:

      Actually I strongly disagree here. When I go to the opera – usually for Wagner, Strauss, or 20th century works like Wozzeck or Dialogues of the Carmelites – I’m absolutely going for the orchestra. I couldn’t care less most of the time who is singing.

  • sam says:

    One thing I’m confused about, any wage re-negotiation must be done by collective bargaining through the union, right? so no individual player can accept the offer, it’s either voted up or down by a majority of the players (or stagehands)?

  • Anita Jen Relmanager says:

    30 percent is fake news from thin lipped Pete. He wants a 30 percent wage reduction PLUS work rules that would result in a 51 percent pay reduction for the next 5 years. All of this while him and Yank-it continue to get paid handsomely (yes I use that term ironically) Fuck you Gelb, and your midget too.

    • Not a Fan says:


    • Clara Butt says:

      You’re wrong. Gelb is not taking a salary and has not since last spring. And the 30 percent proposed reduction would be through changed work rules which are often arcane and have accumulated over the years as ways of inflating salaries. The pay rates for most union contracts are extremely complex and I doubt seriously that you have any idea what you are talking about.

    • Anon says:

      Did Gelb decide any of this on his own, or are there ultra wealthy billionaires lurking in the shadows behind him, pulling the strings?

    • anon says:

      class resentment is so ugly

      if you don’t like their pay, you’re welcome to apply for their jobs, and should you be talented enough to get either job, cut your own pay : )

      • Tiredofitall says:

        What does class have to do with competence?Volpe shattered NOCD. (The the entire cast of characters should thank their lucky stars that appearance doesn’t matter.)

    • NotToneDeaf says:

      Wow – Could you not have made your point without insulting people’s appearances? Witless and incredibly nasty. (P.S. Gelb hasn’t taken a salary in months.)

  • NYCer says:

    #fuckyouGelb #WheresYannick?

  • Araragi says:

    Hard times for the economy are especially hard times for the arts. It’s easy to criticize Gelb when you don’t have to keep the company solvent or balance the balance sheet. Are are cuts draconian? I don’t know. Neither does Norman.

    • Tiredofitall says:

      The pandemic is not Peter’s fault. His sins are cumulative over the past dozen years. Now they have come home to roost.

      • Araragi says:

        That may be true but Norman’s critique wasn’t about Gelb’s past performance but his current actions (“Gelb is playing a bad hand”). Gelb must do what the current circumstances require, whether he contributed to those circumstances or not.

  • Singer Supporter says:

    What is AGMA doing on behalf of its singers Mr. Lebrecht?

    People on this site aren’t educated on what the singers are suffering through and AGMA’s critical role in singing in major opera houses along with their collective bargaining powers.

    As an opera house, the singers deserve to have their rights upheld!

    • mary says:

      “the singers deserve to have their rights upheld”

      what rights are being violated?

      the right to life long, full time salary even when the house is closed down and you aren’t working?

      For that, you’ll have to emigrate to France or Venezuela. Oh right, the one is bankrupt and the other is heading towards it.

    • NotToneDeaf says:

      Have their rights upheld? What rights are those, exactly? Is being paid by an opera house that can’t produce a “right” these days?

  • NotToneDeaf says:

    In what universe is it expected that an already seriously troubled industry is going to instantly land on its feet when the pandemic is under control? Gelb is doing his job and trying to prepare for the future. This is classic “killing the messenger.”

    • Art in Opera is the Artists says:

      Your point would be a good one if Gelb wanted to limit and link reasonable cuts to the period after reopening when revenues might be reduced. But that is not what he seeks — he wants permanent cuts which will not be restored after opera is back on its feet. He is using Covid as a weapon in his efforts to cut worker’s salaries in the same way the greedy profiteer from war.

      • V.Lind says:

        From the attendance figures (pre-pandemic) the Met has not been on its feet for years. No reason to suppose there is going to be a stampede to the first Traviata after life reopens.

      • Araragi says:

        Covid may be the catalyst for salary cuts but the Met’s budget has been a long time concern. Cuts must come from somewhere. If salaries aren’t cut, then “stars” or productions may be. Gelb is concerned that people won’t attend budget conscious productions with lesser known principals, which will further the spiral down and may lead to salary cuts anyway. Salary cuts may cause some chorister and orchestra departures, which would be a shame for them and the audience. But no one comes to the Met for the chorus or orchestra, talented though they may be.

  • Marge O. says:

    that’s very american. whadda expect from 330M used car salesmen (hustlers, hucksters)-who’s ONLY purpose in life was accumulation of money and endless expansion. Classical music business was not exempt from american poison

    • Greg Bottini says:

      I am SO GLAD you’re not living here in the US, Marge….
      The “classical music business” is dying all over the world, and not only because of The Plague. What may or may not be reborn from the ashes, phoenix-like, will be completely different from what it was.

  • Fred Funk says:

    Well, playing a bad hand, is better than Gelb taking Viola lessons.

  • Kathleen King says:

    Peter Gelb should be the first to sacrifice ! It is the PEOPLE of the MET, not merely the stars who have made this the greatest! There is a Biblical reference about not binding the mouths of the cattle that grind the grain, and it is especially pertinent in these times with respect to the truly essential assets — the chorus, orchestra, backstage workers, costumers, etc. Gelb is NOT “essential” but those people are. Fire him and the top administrators, take their salaries and pay the workers!

    • MWnyc says:

      Peter Gelb hasn’t taken a cent in salary since the pandemic started. How many times do we have to keep repeating that?

    • JoshW says:

      Running the Met based on the Bible is probably not the way to go . . . . I think we’ve had enough of faux “Christianity” for the time being.

  • CA says:

    I’m sorry but we keep hearing about how (a large portion of) the wealthy have gotten a (whole) lot wealthier during this pandemic. Those among them who love the art form need to ante up. The money is there; in fact, it’s more than there. The Met needs to go after it, in force. The donors need to step up, if they care as much as they claim to, that they love the Met. Time for a change at the top I’d say (my opinion). One cannot cut their way to success. Is the cost of living in NY going down 30%. I have no patience for this.

  • reynolds says:

    the more this pandemic drags on, the more i empathize with gelb. running a small sized company and having to try to pay my employees a decent wage while my own house is on fire has made me come to this tragic but inevitable conclusion…

  • Sharon says:

    Wow. The problem is that rents in NYC are so high–for ex. $3500 a month rent for a STUDIO apartment is not unusual, and student loan debt of many of the orchestra players is so high, and taxes are high too–on top of school tuition and music lessons for yourself and your kids, that even relatively high salaries don’t go very far in this expensive town. If musicians want to pay their bills they may not be able to accept much less, especially if they have families to support

    Personally, although I do not want to see the stage hands and the rest of the production crew unemployed, I believe that the Met is spending much too much money on production. The purpose of the opera is the music, not the bling. For me holograms and drones flying across the stage distract and detract from the music. The purpose of any stage performance is to excite the imagination. Why not just a painted backdrop and let the audience focus on the music and the acting?

    • V.Lind says:

      I’m perfectly happy to lie back and listen to an opera on my CD player (yeah, I still have one — in fact I have several). I like recitals, and I am not averse to “opera in concert.” But if I actually bestir myself sufficiently to go out and attend an opera, I do rather want SOME production.

      But I take your basic point. A lot of production has gone over the top, and true fans of the opera can create their own illusion. There could certainly be some scaling down. And possibly companies could cooperate more in future — I know there have been some co-presentations and purchased productions in the past, but more of it could share out major overheads.

      • henry williams says:

        as i have always stated good quality audio
        will bring out the best sound quality for cds.
        but it is expensive. i have a naim cd player
        best purchase i have ever made

    • David Rohde says:

      Boy did your comment hit a nerve with me, Sharon, although probably in a slightly different way than you expected. I’m not doctrinaire about the newfangled production concepts. Sometimes I think they’re inspired, and sometimes I just roll my eyes. Rather, it’s the way that these resources are expended during the performances that makes me wonder.

      As a performer, I work mostly in musical theater rather than opera. From that standpoint I watch in amazement the backstage hurly-burly that you see in the Met HD broadcasts. It usually looks like a cast-of-thousands behind the curtain descending onto the stage for the scene changes. Yes, I know that these are talented, hard-working folks whose contribution is essential. But they have an entire, substantial intermission/interval to get the job done, or in certain cases they are working during an announced “pause” out in the house that won’t be completed until the next stage set-up is ready to go.

      In musical theater, the only real parallel to this is the much shorter, single intermission between Act 1 and Act 2. Everything else in what are often the far greater number of scene changes is rehearsed to an exquisite efficiency and – sorry for the scare-quotes – TIMED TO MUSIC. Yes, there is an older tradition in musicals of the vamped scene change while the grand drape is closed. All theater-goers at some point have had the experience of a tiresome repeat of an instrumental song refrain to cover up what seems to be a problem behind the curtain. But even this technique has become rather passé and a great deal of the “magic” of the staging takes place right out in the open, with contemporary Broadway composers building in little or no extra “give” in the score to accommodate it (although a prudent music director will generally plan for any unexpected lags). Having the audience actually sit in the theater with no music at all while a scene change is taking place behind the curtain is unthinkable.

      I know, I know – a 50-piece (or 80-piece) pit orchestra in a Broadway musical is also unthinkable, and everyone has their preferences or prejudices for how resources are allocated in any type of art form or entertainment. But I can’t help wondering in a slightly different way than you did, Sharon, about the resource allocation at a time when I think we can agree that the Metropolitan Opera has to do SOMETHING about some of their cost structure but they’re at risk of losing so much of their fantastic talent from New York City altogether. I hope this helps.