Peter Gelb ‘fails to see that his job is to reopen the arts’

Peter Gelb ‘fails to see that his job is to reopen the arts’


norman lebrecht

May 14, 2021

At a Metropolitan Opera workers’ rally yesterday, musicians leader Adam Krauthamer the Met general manager Peter Gelb is ‘the only person who doesn’t see that his job is to reopen the arts is Peter Gelb.’

He added that Gelb ‘asked for things that would set us back 20 years’.

Gelb has sruck a deal with the chorus, but has locked out the stagehands and is stonewalling the orchestra for a deep pay cut.


  • sam says:

    I along with many other patrons are ready and willing to pay 3 to 4 times the current ticket prices in support of the orchestra and stagehands. Count me in. No ticket price is too high to listen to the Met and to see its beautifully constructed sets.

    • IntBaritone says:

      i along with many other patrons are definitely not ready to pay 3-4x current prices at the MET. They’re already astronomically high in some sections, the singing is (more often than not) simply good – not great, and the productions are unimaginative at best and stodgy at worst. Come on man. We all want to see music, but the MET is not in its glory days

      • Barry Guerrero says:

        Thank you for making sense. Opera is not about the orchestra or the stage hands, regardless of how well they may do their job. People come to the opera for the singers and the productions. No, I’m not in favor of draconian measures towards any of them. But neither do I think all the focus should be upon them, or that their cause should be everyone else’s cause. Let’s stop being kibitzers and let everyone play their hand.

    • JoshW says:

      Do you really think there are “many other patrons” willing to pay $1,600 for an orchestra seat?? I don’t know what world you live in but it’s not most people’s reality.

    • David Rohde says:

      Believe it or not, I can understand how a segment of the audience would feel the way Sam does. And I suppose you could work the math such that revenues would exceed what they are at current ticket prices. The problem is that the house would become even more of a graveyard than it already sometimes has been. And that in itself is a killer in the long term, even if the much higher prices temporarily outweigh the reduced attendance.

      The reality is that with its undeniably high fixed-cost structure (although I think the orchestra, for starters, deserves every penny), the Metropolitan Opera operates a lot like a hotel chain or airline. Occupancy rates ultimately make all the difference, and the percentage-point gap between success and failure is surprisingly close. It so happens that the trend of season occupancy during Peter Gelb’s tenure, from the mid-to-high 80s in 2006-2008 to the mid-to-high 60s in recent years, is precisely the gap that in those other businesses typically spells success vs. failure – outside of the pandemic, of course.

      Even worse, Gelb has already treated even the most recently arriving new patrons as some sort of cash cow to try to milk, rather than understanding that in the long run nothing defeats fannies in the seats from new repeat customers who can be social influencers in the short term and may SOME DAY turn into significant donors. The Met’s horrible practice of telemarketing even first-time attendees to lecture them about the costs of putting on an opera has been a huge turnoff that has cost them loyalty, positive viral mentions on social media and in real life, and plain good will. For those interested, I collectively discuss these issues in a Medium article I posted yesterday that you can find here:

      • John Kelly says:

        Well I agree. I get regularly telemarketed by the Pittsburgh Symphony because I went to see them in Pittsburgh – once. Very annoying. It seems to me that THE job of the Met GM is to raise money. Gelb fancies himself as a “businessman” and something of a music industry insider because he did stuff at SONY (where I also worked and where his reputation for not being able to make any money for the company was well known) and elsewhere (with Horowitz about a thousand years ago). He is keen to associate himself with the productions he “brings to the house.” Some have been good, some not so good. But basically, he’s a besserwisser who is out of his depth in the job and has spectacularly failed to raise money. The people who show up to a performance are not the people I’d start with. I would be looking at the Rockefeller Foundation and other not particularly arts-focused philanthropists and working on them. Yes, it’s harder, but that’s where the money is and it’s why Willie Loman robbed banks………… most certainly is the job, now more than ever.

        • Jerome Hoberman says:

          Willie Loman robbed banks?? Must have been in a previous life, before sales…

        • Larry D says:

          Poor Willy Loman never robbed a bank in his life, as he was stuck being an unsuccessful traveling salesman, and a fictional one at that. Willie Sutton, however, is another story…

      • Save the MET says:

        David, The man can’t get butts in seats and he can’t fund raise. The money raised outside of the Board who has an obligation to give is handled by others when Peter screws up as he often does. Then damage control goes into a full court press. No reason to continue to retain his lackluster services. He has been out of his element since day 1 except for the MET in movie houses. They could have hired him for a single contract to get that going and had someone else manage it for less money.

      • johnuws says:

        Good article David. Also.. I’ve commented to the Met Patron office that another turnoff for young opera goers is the high price of refreshments….a young college couple can’t lay out 45$ + for a drink and a snack. they won’t bring a date and be embarrassed they can’t afford the very high priced refreshments.
        Don’t tell me bway food prices are just as high ..bway doesn’t have to attract a younger demo as urgently as the met. every met ticket buyer under 45 could get a food voucher

        • Chris says:

          Sneak over to the Starbucks at Broadway and 63rd and you’ll easily be back to your seat before the end of intermission.

    • Kathleen E King says:

      Theoretically, this is true. However, I am elderly, retired, and on a fixed income and I cannot “afford” the prices now. I do agree that livestreams of present or past performances are a Godsend and I will pay for them, especially when GELB IS GONE!

    • Lou Sharrod says:

      Peter’s white privilege is still supported by the Left??


      The Left are LEFT OUT!!!

    • henry williams says:

      iam glad sam you have spare cash
      to pay a higher price for the tickets. iam still living on my
      grandmothers pension.

    • henry williams says:

      sam iam glad you can afford to pay a higher price for tickets
      iam still living on my grandmothers pension.

  • Sharon says:

    Is any arts organization as large as the MET viable without it being LARGELY, that is, ALMOST ENTIRELY, government funded? If they are primarily dependent on private donations as the MET is, things such as lockouts are going to continue to happen, especially nowadays.

    I forsee the MET slowly turning into a regional opera company, unfortunately. For various reasons many former residents are permanently leaving the New York City area and it is going to take quite a while for tourism to recover.

    As far as Sam is concerned I understand his “no price too high” comment but nothing is a bargain, especially a discretionary expense like cultural enjoyment, if a person cannot afford the $400 ticket.

    As for myself, I may attend one MET opera in the orchestra or Grand Tier section a year and do the rest as OPERA in HD. The sound quality and filming is excellent –I would much rather see the opera live in HD than in Family Circle!

    • Couperin says:

      Tourism gonna be fine this summer and after. Single day Broadway ticket sales have been breaking records constantly. So the Met will be left behind. Boo hoo.

      • David Rohde says:

        Thank you, Couperin. I’m not sure I can be that definitive about something so near-term as this summer, and I’m not in a good enough position to say exactly what the international tourism situation will be over the next year or two. But I work in theater in another city on the US East Coast, and I can tell you that the excitement over the news coming out of Broadway is massive. And the part of Gelb’s schtick where he says not only has the company lost ticket revenue for 18 months but he suspects that many international patrons won’t be able to return for years seems very overplayed.

        • met subscriber says:

          If you are correct, the unions should happily accept cuts that include clawbacks based on ticket revenue and attendance.

        • Larry D says:

          Well, the Japanese for one won’t be coming anytime soon. They’ve just started vaccinating people over 85!

  • Tiredofitall says:

    The real trouble is that the Met has been in a downward financial spiral since Gelb assumed the reins (not that the company’s footing was ever on terra firma) and the 14-month closure has exposed more than ever his inability to cope with reality. Balance sheets don’t reveal festering problems that are continually kicked into the future–the future that is now.

    Peter should have spent his days in the office instead of playing producer from the control desk in the auditorium during rehearsals or in the truck on Amsterdam Avenue during HD transmissions. His numerous deputies could only hide so much from the Met’s oblivious board.

    We have him until at least 2027 when he turns 74.

    • Eulalia Johnson says:

      Whether NYC in 2027 will have a Met resembling the one we have known remains a very troubling question.

    • Save the MET says:

      Gelb was supposed to be the “ideas man” that Ronald Wilford portended to Bubbles. The fact is he is a dullard with a stained trail of troubled work history. They hated him at the BSO, they hated him at Sony, they hate him at the MET. Wilford pimped him for all those jobs and with the world’s great conductors in his stable at the time, they could ill afford to cross him. His one skill was in videotaping performances, that’s his only skill. Horowitz was at the end of his tether tolerated him and he didn’t get in Wanda’s way, so that perhaps was his best job to date. He has done a horrible job which would have been handled with aplomb by Deborah Borda who really is an ideas person and has had a successful career leading music organizations without a Ronald Wilford to pimp her. She was offered the job and it was rescinded when Ronnie went a begg’in for Pete. They need a savvy financially creative person to handle the front of the house and the wealthy donors and let skilled opera professionals handle the back of the house, with a head at the same level as the replacement who reports to the Board and not to the replacement.

  • Simon says:

    Peter is smart. The unions deserve a hair cut like everyone else.

  • Save the MET says:

    Gelb is and always has been way over his head. He is a spendthrift for minutia and the piccayune. When it really matters he drowns. Please MET Board, show this blathering idiot the door. Even if has has something on some of you, don’t let him continue to ruin opera in New York. He’s incompetent.

  • obvio says:

    Now that the virus seems to be getting under some kind of control, the leverage that the Met has against the corrupt Unions is being lost. As for the orchestra, they should all been let go and then rehired (for whatever measly pay they are willing to settle for). Yannick should have been let go from the beginning, as this past year has shown he had nothing to offer except some token statements.

    • Sam says:

      I’m afraid you misspelled oblivious

    • Chris says:

      I really don’t know what YNS was supposed to be doing during a fourteen month shutdown. Maybe planning for future seasons? I suspect he is.

      As to your other point, it is wrong. The Chorus has basically settled and the Orchestra will shortly follow. The stagehands are out of contract and have almost no leverage, which is why they keep making “there may be no season” claims. The stagehands will accept the kind of concessions that every other arts union has accepted or they will be replaced. The blowback after the NYT piece was most certainly against the employees who did not want to negotiate.

  • B Y says:

    I fear that the problems at the MET are a grand example of what is happening across the entire arts sector; it is far more personally lucrative to be bad at your job in arts management than to be good at your job on the creation side of the arts. I have only anecdotal evidence at the moment, but I suspect that there could be found a marked increase in spending on arts administration roles in the past ten years or so with only incremental or negligible changes upwards in the spending on artists and arts education programs. Without discounting the few truly remarkable arts administrators using their talents and a lot of hard work to sustain and further the field, I have encountered far too many arts administrators who seem to hold as their primary goal the lessening of the impact of the arts in society and the downgrading of the professional standing of artists. How can we convince the world of the value of the arts when our own administrative leaders don’t seem to believe in their value?

  • Simon Willis says:

    I’m a UK subscriber to the Met’s digital archive and have to say that it is amazing value for money . My son went to the Queen Of Spades there in 2019 and I was amazed at how much cheaper the stalls seats are there when compared to Covent Garden – though I’m told the drinks are v. Expensive. I’ve been to a lot of Met cinema relays and listen to a lot of the matinees and I have to say that musical standards there are very high – particularly the orchestra under Y N-S . Gelb must take some credit for that. I only wish he wasn’t so tempted to present the relays – he’s not a natural presenter . Leave it to Renée and the rest….

    • Save the MET says:

      Simon, videography is Gelb’s only skill. It is the one thing he got right at the MET. 99.9% of everything else he’s been a lost cause. As I said above, they could have hired him in to deal with the video on a contract basis and then let him go with less expensive workers running the video. He has no taste, he’s not very smart and he’s left the MET in the lurch, the employees relations with him are toxic. Now that the one thing he can do is done, they should kick him to the curb.

  • Mister New York says:

    The Met opera house is and always has been too big of a house. Even in the orchestra, you can hardly see the singers faces. When voices were the stars, it didn’t matter much. But today opera relies on actor/singers, and most performances fall flat because of the distance from the stage. Perhaps the time is to build a smaller house and use the Met for rock concerts.

  • Scott says:

    Gelb is destroying the Met. The ticket prices are so expensive that a 1/3rd of the house was empty for many of the performances I attended in the 2019/2020 season. I wonder how the audience will react to Yannick when he walks on stage. Will he be cheered for returning or booed for disappearing during Covid and not supporting the orchestra?