Part I: The Man Who Would Kill the Metropolitan Opera


Screen Shot 2014-02-05 at 10.51.23 PMThis is my Valentine to the Metropolitan Opera.  I love opera.  I love the Met.  I cringe when I see what is going on today, the way it is being run, and destroyed.  If something isn’t done, to reign in Peter Gelb, it is going to slowly go the way of the dinosaur, until someone gets sense enough to step in and save it.

The really good news is that Peter Gelb is finally getting around to scheduling Latonia Moore as Aida!  The good news is that Ailyn Perez is finally being scheduled.  The bad news is that Moore is scheduled for only 4 performances.  And thus, I sense a method in Peter Gelb’s duplicitous madness. Why the heck is the Met raising ticket prices – yet again?  Oh yes, there is a pattern.  It’s about the way he has introduced the so-called ‘Broadway’ style dynamic into fluctuating ticket prices. If he only schedules the woman hailed as the next Leontyne Price in 4 performances, he can let the market drive up his ticket prices.  (More about this later in the post).  FYI:  There are rumors that Gelb has a too fat to sing list.  Some Met fans think that is one of the reasons Moore has not been previously used.

On Wednesday, the dull 2014-2015 Metropolitan Opera season was announced.  Dmitri Hvorostovsky will appear in a grand total of three, count ’em three, performances  – of Un Ballo.  Never mind that the Met is doing Don Carlos, Ernani, Traviata, MacBeth, and so forth and so on.  That’s not the point.  The point is that there are way too many productions, and not enough space for world class baritones. It’s a strange season, not designed to create confidence in the fan.  Then again, at least only one outrageous new opera is going to be staged.  Evidently, according to the NYTimes, which is listing the returning ‘stars’, Hvorostovsky no longer counts.  To put it into perspective, Erwin Schrott is only doing 5 performances of Figaro.

Then again, Hvorostovsky is not scheduled to return to the Met until the end of April.  Is this reflecting the fact that he’s not going to screw up his life by waiting to see if Gelb is going to lock everyone out in July?  Then again, there are those who say that Gelb’s 2013-14 season featured one of the worst failures in the Met’s long history: Two Boys.

The season is screwy.  There are something like 16 performances of Carmen. A really big deal is being made of Jonas Kauffman’s Don Jose, but he’s only doing two performances!  There are 16 performances of Aida.  Same thing is true with Thomas Hampson doing the villains in Hoffman.  Five performances.   Keenlyside fares better in Don Carlo.  He gets seven appearances as Rodrigo.  Yet, French baritone Ludovic Tézier, who is mediocre at best is getting 10 spots as Germont in Traviata.  Ironically, he reminds me of another baritone I absolutely detested.  So, why does his voice, which is not on a par with a Hvorostovsky get so much play on stage at the Met?  Why on earth is Željko Lucic doing MacBeth?  I find his voice repulsive.  Naturally, Domingo gets 7 performances in Ernani. Yet, he’s a fake baritone.   Why is Peter Mattei, another mediocre baritone getting 10 performances as Don Giovanni?  Mattei shows up again, in La Nozze de Figaro in 10 additional performances.  Inquiring minds want to know why.  I’d love to ask a really nasty, but I’m not, other than one can just imagine he’s getting a heck of a lot less per performance than Mariusz Kwiecień, who is one of the other super-star baritones.

Sorry, but none of this makes sense, unless…. this is part of Peter Gelb’s cost-cutting.  Squeeze out the super-stars who make a heck of a lot more than the also-rans.  Is he trying to teach them a lesson?  We all know that Hvorostovsky and Kauffman are two of the highest paid singers in the world.  So, I guess you put pathetic in, so that you can save money.  Teach ’em a lesson? Are these the guys who are refusing to bend to Gelb’s demands for a 10%-15% pay cut?

The average ticket price at the Metropolitan Opera, under Peter Gelb’s disastrous leadership is now $174 per performance.  That’s disgusting.  Right now, the house is about 75% full on any given night.  Last season, their box office was at 69%. If you are in any sort of management, and continue to allow this to happen, you are killing your business, it’s that simple.  Gelb blames Hurricane Sandy.  He blames everyone but himself.  The only reason he is allowed to remain in office is because he’s a rainmaker with billionaire bucks.

Peter Gelb is an abject disaster at the Metropolitan Opera.  Now, there are rumors of a lock-out because he wants to basically demand the individuals who make opera what it is – the talent, forfeit anywhere from 10-15% in a pay cut, to pay for his stupidity.  And – it is abject mismanagement. There is no way to even get around the issue.  Right now he’s run the Met, allegedly, into $2.8 million deficit. (I’ve heard is is much larger than that). If so, we’re looking at the greatest opera house in the world, on life support, being led by a man who has no grasp on reality.  The story is he’s going to demand the big talent, the ones who sell tickets, to take significant pay cuts.  There are now discussions that there will be no 2014 season.  If so, is this the beginning of the end of the Metropolitan Opera, or Peter Gelb.  One would hope it is the latter and not the former.

The Met’s contract with the American Guild of Musical Artists expires this summer, on July 31.  Other contracts for orchestra performers and stage hands will also expire at the time.  While a 10% pay cut is not going to destroy anyone, if someone does not step in and make Gelb see reality, the Met is basically doomed.   In 1980, a labor dispute forced the Met to threaten to call off the 1980-81 season.  The Met did recover, but it was difficult.  They managed to salvage part of the season, beginning on December 8 of 1980.  The Met survived because of rational minds, and the fact that it was the New Golden Age of Opera.

12Too bad the Met’s board can’t comprehend the fact that Peter Gelb has been an abject disaster.  Yes, his Live in HD is an excellent idea.  BUT – when you field things like The Nose, who the heck is going to shell out $25 to go see it?  People want standards and they want super-stars.  Where the heck is Dmitri Hvorostovsky this year? Why isn’t he doing Onegin?  Why didn’t they schedule a Rigoletto with Hvorostovsky?  Instead, they schedule one of Gelb’s modern pieces of (deleted).  The Tosca that was live in HD, instead of Hvorostovsky was the worst cast of Tosca I’ve had the misfortune to experience.   Just where is Simon Keenlyside, this season?  Where is Erwin Schrott live in HD?  Jonas Kaufmann is a super-star.  He’s the only male super-star the Met is even featuring in HD this season.  Still, Werther is risky.  I wouldn’t schedule Prince Igor for HD, no matter that it has been seen at the Met in 100 years. It’s a matter of money.  It’s a reality of life, and Peter Gelb doesn’t exist in the reality of our modern world.

The 2014-15 season is just strange.  There are too many productions.  There are inconsistencies, everywhere.   The Merry Widow, which is designed around Renée Fleming, has 14 performances.  Fleming is in 10 of them.  She’s one of the top paid performers in the world – again – cost -cutting? Joyce DiDonato gets 8 outings  in La Donna del Lago.  Something is so not right here.  There are 15 performances of La Boheme.  I love Boheme. But – this is a no name cast.   Anna Netrebko gets 8 performances.  Let’s just be brutally honest here.  They’re screwing the super-stars in order to save money.

I think that’s the problem.  This is a hit or miss schedule, which should be brilliant.  You put your starting line-up in it and you sell tickets.  Face it, if you are going to an opera, you go to certain performers.  Why bother with Boheme?  Why bother with with The Death of Klinghoffer?  You’re not going to be able to sell tickets because, the first has a second rate cast and the latter is modern.  People don’t go to modern opera.  I think this year’s fiasco has proven that one.   The new season is insane.

Unfortunately, there appears to be a method in Gelb’s insanity.  It’s all about money and a bottom line.  Part of the problem is Gelb appears to be attempting to break various unions who are going to be required to enter into negotiations for new contracts, starting in July.  He has, already, up front said that he wants everyone to cut their wages anywhere from 10-15%.  At the same time, he’s going to be raising ticket prices at least 2% to attempt to make up for a $2.5 million dollar deficit caused by his abject inability to comprehend the fact that the Metropolitan Opera and Broadway are not the same things. In so many ways, Gelb is insulting opera fans by trying to lump us in with Broadway.

All of this is brought on by some idiotic statistic that says that opera fans, the older ones, are dying out and not being replaced by younger fans.  Yes, older fans die.  It’s called life. New ones take their place.  If the quality and quantity of new singers who are on the cusp of greatness are any indication, opera is not dying.  Opera the way people like Peter Gelb envision it is dying, primarily because people aren’t that easily fooled these days.  Fake sophistication is on the decline.  People what genuine, real, and don’t care to have their intellects insulted by those who think they are far superior.  Beverly Sills knew that.  The Met flourished when she was alive.

I wonder why?

P. S. It should be noted that I argue from a point of bias.  I love baritones. I am a baritone junkie.  I want all baritones all the time.





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