What the Met pays its lawyers while musicians go unwaged

What the Met pays its lawyers while musicians go unwaged


norman lebrecht

February 23, 2021

From the Met’s 990 tax return for fiscal year 2018, now in the public domain.

The company’s lawyers Proskauer Rose made just under $1.9 million from the Met that year.

Peter Gelb earned $2.5 million.

Right now, Gelb using the same lawyers has got out of paying his orchestra musicians for the past year.


  • No such thing as misinformation says:

    I had no idea the Met musicians were not getting paid as far back as 2018.

    • anon says:

      Exactly, the musicians got paid their full salary, just as lighting/tech got paid $4.7 mil, storage/transport got paid $2.6 mil, audio/visual got paid $2.5 mil…

      Because they all rendered a service in 2018.

      What services did the musicians render in the last 9 months?

      • harpist says:

        The core of the opera house is the music, therefore the choir and the orchestra. Both were world class. Not helping them unlike multiple institutions around the globe is a disgrace. Many musicians moved away, got other jobs (not as a musician) so the loss will be felt. There is more to Art than “service rendered”. I assume you are a lawyer or financial person…

    • Bill says:

      There is such a thing as misinformation, and you’ve been taken in, unfortunately.

      NL has only reported what the top 5 independent contractors were paid by the Met in the 2018 tax year. He didn’t report that the Met paid out nearly $300 million in wages that year, or that Gelb got about $2 million, not $2.5 million. Is this an intentional oversight, or an inability to understand the filings? With some people, it is difficult to be certain.

      In any case, the filings are for a period that predates any virus-related impact on the organization’s finances, and should not be read as anything more than an idea of how things used to be. David Chan, the concertmaster, made a bit over $400,000 in compensation, according to the filings, so even if you didn’t know when the virus started causing trouble, it would be difficult to conclude that the musicians were not being paid at all during the timeframe in question. And as the filings also show the Met’s expenditures on wages for the previous year (about the same number, a couple percent less), we can infer that in all likelihood the Met was paying musicians and everyone else in full all through 2018. But that news won’t do to get page-clicks, will it?

      Not one word of this should be interpreted as support of Peter Gelb.

      • Monsoon says:

        990s are really funky.

        The highest paid individuals can often be a year or two behind the tax year in the 990. All of the financial data in the 990 is based on an organization’s fiscal year. For the highest paid individuals, the IRS wants that data by calendar year so that it reflects wages and salaries reported to the IRS. If your fiscal year ends October 31, and you’re doing a 990 for your fiscal year 2018, you report the previous complete calendar year of the salaries, which is the year ending December 31, 2017.

        My point is that the data in 990s is old, it doesn’t really give you a clear picture of what’s going on, and unless you work in nonprofit accounting, you’re probably misreading a lot of the data.


    Non of Gelb’s actions during the pandemic should be shocking to anyone who has been paying attention. He has been trying to gut contracts and bust unions for as long as he has been in charge. In previous negotiations, he just had different excuses for why he couldn’t pay members of the house. History has since revealed those lies. But to exploit this pandemic by attempting to black mail members of the company into accepting permanent changes to their jobs and salary cuts of up to 60 percent, (if you include his proposed work rule changes) is unquestionably unconscionable. “We must furlough all of our employees in order to save the Met” (waits 10 months to insure financial strain) “Ok, now we can pay you starting tomorrow as long as you accept this new contract, which by the way has everything in it I have been trying take away from the workers since I started and then some.” FUCK YOU PETER GELB. No other institution has comported itself like this and history will no doubt remember you as the worst thing that has ever happened to the MET in its long and storied history. And hey Yannick, most people thought you were pretty mediocre before this but moving forward, you’re going to be about as popular in NYC as Jared and Ivanka. Don’t come back.

    • Clara says:

      Absolutely agree!
      Gelb has destroyed the Met and the reputation of the Met since many years. And has turned every employee against him!
      His stupid obsession with the so boring, so overrated Netrebko, the very expensive new productions that nobody was interested to see, and so on – all of these have chased the REAL Met audiences away. And now the Met is paying “stars” big money while all musicians and stagehands etc, all Met employees, are without payment! Shameful!

      • JoshW says:

        I know when I spend hundreds going to the Met, I don’t go for great singers or for interesting productions – I go because of the great stagehands.

    • NYMike says:

      Your statement re YNS is ridiculous. He is immensely popular with MET and Philly Orch. musicians. “Most people”?? You actually know most people???

  • Vincent says:

    Not surprising about the matter of the lawyer. But Gelb is doing a terrible job right now, and Yaanick is doing even worse. He needs to be kicked out

  • PHF says:

    Law school here I go…

  • M McAlpine says:

    One of the unalterable laws of the universe: ‘Lawyers get paid first’!

  • Save the MET says:

    I suspect, sooner, rather than later, the major donors and donating foundations not seated on the board will start asking for their money back. I also suspect some will want to see the books. I also suggest, as the New York State Attorney General has oversight over not for profit organizations, that her office be alerted to the issues over there. Gelb is and has always been a bungler at everything he has done. I still suspect he has dirt on at least one of the senior members of the board, as there is no other reason for his continued employment there.

    • Tiredofitall says:

      Would that the world worked that way. The Met’s books, at least in prior labor negotiations, were subject to a forensic audit. Anything can be explained away or justified, if you have a clever and connected CFO. The NYS Attorney General has received numerous complaints about the Met over the course of the Gelb regime and nothing investigated. It will remain the same until the Met is no more. Only then will the board and major donors express dismay. Of course, none are complicit…

      • JoshW says:

        So now the story is that Gelb is doing something financially illegal? I love when the pro-union folks go down this path and claim that the leaders of a performing arts organization are lining their pockets and buying yachts and mansions on the backs of the poor downtrodden workers. In this case, the poor downtrodden workers who average $400,000/year. It’s “fake news” set up entirely to create division, distrust, and sympathy for the union workers, and does nothing to address the organization’s long-term problems.

        • Save the MET says:

          He raided the pension fund years ago with the understanding it would be paid back. Over a decade has gone by, not a cent returned. Yes, that was financially illegal.

    • Monsoon says:

      First, labor disputes, lockouts, strikes, etc. are common with unionized staff. What’s happening here isn’t unique to the Met — it’s just that the people who follow classical music news aren’t used to reading about these fights. And if you think Gelb is bad, he’s a lightweight compared to major corporations like Amazon.

      Generally speaking, during collective bargaining, if the employer is saying they’re financially strapped — ticket sales are down and production costs are rising fast — and has to make cuts to wages, the employer has to make certain financial records available to the union as part of the bargaining process. Between that, insiders leaking information, and their auditors signing off on their books, I highly doubt there are any financial scandals behind the scenes. I mean, nobody doubts that the empty seats at the Met are truly empty. Maybe management sucks at marketing, commissioning new productions that will put butts in seats, or spending too lavishly on new productions, but that’s all an issue for the board to manage, not the NY AG.

  • Concerned Opera Buff says:

    Having worked for law firms, I can say they are masters of squeezing money from their clients. Let’s say the top lawyers make $500 per hour (junior attys. and paralegals get less). Let’s say they take a 30 minute phone call from Gelb, where Gelb says “what’s the latest on the negotiations”? The lawyer says, “things are at a stalemate. We will let you know if there is any progress.” The law firm has just made $250 for just saying hello, what’s new! That doesn’t cover costs of junior attorneys, paralegals who do the research, faxes, postage and registered mail costs. And that also includes travel, taxis, meals at negotiating sessions and mileage if they have to drive out to Gelb’s house. They probably could have hired Joe Volpe for less.

  • Sir David Geffen-Hall says:

    What a mess. It’s unfortunate when the leading operatic organization in the US (and hence the world) cannot find a way to operate at budget with all stakeholders in step with the path forward. A pox on all your houses.

  • devil's advocate says:

    instead of whining, maybe the musicians can go back to school and study to be lawyers?

  • Cynical Bystander says:

    Labour relations at the MET have been fractious for much longer than the tenure of Gelb, and will no doubt continue to be so when he has gone. As a wise person I once knew used to say, in every argument or dispute there are always faults on both sides and I’m sure that whoever replaces him will be faced with the same problems that are endemic now and as they previously were. And for those who complain not just about his management but his repertory and casting choices perhaps they should look at other houses and say what he is doing, and who he is casting that others are not and vice versa. The MET is not and never has been, for good or ill, like other houses. And if the audience is staying away it is probably because there is not a homegeneous one that wants both the modern day equivalent of Zefferelli and the Regie provocateurs that produce in much smaller venues than the Barn on Lincoln Center.

    • NotToneDeaf says:

      The Met is simply too big (read “expensive”) to be sustained in a 21st century environment. Manager after manager going back to Bing have tried to get the spending under control. (Anyone remember when the new Met building almost didn’t open because of a threatened strike?) The unions have thwarted this over and over and over again and they are eventually going to have to have a day of reckoning. Times have changed – drastically. It’s ludicrous to try to stick to old models and it’s ludicrous to constantly attack the leaders who are trying to bring things under control. We will all pay for this blind denial. It’s not fair, it’s painful, it’s gut-wrenching, but good lord, look around, people.

  • EU person says:

    Does anyone expect Met to be opened in 2021?
    I have doubts.

  • Selma Peterson says:

    It sounds like the metropolitan administration needs to get its priorities straight and put the singers and musicians at the top of the list for being paid! Without them your organization will collapse! This is disgraceful that your administration is allowing this to happen! So many other musical Organizations in the country have stayed afloat during Covid and you are not! You need to re-evaluate what you’re doing and turn things around!