Part II: The Man Who Would Kill the Metropolitan Opera


Screen Shot 2014-02-05 at 10.51.23 PMThis is the second of two parts about the disaster that is Peter Gelb.  We are living in the Golden Age of Barihunks. For a confessed Baritone Junkie, it is just not enough.  Like I’ve said, I want all baritones all the time.  My bias set aside, why, if we are living in this Golden Age of Barihunks, is Peter Gelb scheduling truly awesomely mediocre baritones when when we have so many incredible new young Barihunks out there, just waiting for a break?  If he wanted to take a chance and advance opera, bring in new audiences, then give a guy a break. Let’s face it,  Jonathan Estabrooks would be wonderful in La Behome.

There are basic realities of life. We are living in a brave new world where, aside from the uber rich out there, the rest of we the little people don’t have much money to spend on the basics of life, let alone opera, even if it does feed our souls. The problem with catering to the so-called ‘Makers’ and ignoring those of us who are ‘Takers’ is that there are a heck of a lot more of us than they are of them. If Gelb were even a bit cognizant of the way of the new world in which we live, he would try and comprehend that dialing for billionaire dollars is a Faustian bargain. I mention Faust for a very good reason. Not only was it the first production the Met staged, but it all about making a deal with the devil. As they discovered at the now defunct New York City Opera, dialing for billionaire dollars is a losing proposition. We’re dealing with a group of mostly men who have become so drunk on their own power and prestige that they new expect all of their little whims to be catered to, or else. The NYCO is now suffering from the ‘or else’.

Screen Shot 2014-02-05 at 10.51.59 PMUltra modern productions, and new operas don’t fill those empty seats. Back in the 1980s, you couldn’t get a ticket for even a mediocre production. The Met was that good, the productions were that good, and Jimmy understood what his patrons wanted in the way of opera. Evidently Gelb is so arrogant and his taste so incomparable with the rest of the country that he doesn’t comprehend that he is destroying the Met. I’ve been checking ticket sales for some of the riskier productions. We’re talking at least a quarter of seats being empty. When you factor higher ticket prices, an economic downturn, and this year’s lack of male super-stars, and you need to cut costs, or cut the contract of the person who is destroying the Met.

My vote is to cut Gelb. In baseball, if the manager is fielding a losing team, he gets the boot. This is what needs to happen to Gelb, before he destroys the Met, even farther. They need someone who can channel the charm and management skills of Beverly Sills, who took a dying opera company and left it with a nest egg, which they squandered.

“…Another problem for audiences at the Met in recent years has been caused by changes in the company’s ticket policies. By introducing so-called “Broadway-style” “dynamic” pricing (with no less than ten levels of opera prices that fluctuate from opera to opera) and subdividing the smaller upper levels of the house in to “Premium” (the first two rows, center) “Prime” (the decent seats) and “Balance” (the crappy seats), the Met at once confused and alienated its once-loyal subscription base.

Given the state of the Met’s current box office (reported in the New York Times to be at a low–79% of capacity) and the number of empty seats at last night’s performance of Rusalka, both opera house and union have good reason to be concerned for the future. The Met may join the Minnesota Orchestra, the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra and Carnegie Hall on a growing list of arts organizations that have their seasons darkened and livelihoods threatened by problems at the bargaining table….”

First – you drastically cut ticket prices. Take 20% off the top and you will start filling empty seats. Then, cut the crap. Dump the new productions of new operas which are a financial disaster. When money is flush, that’s fine, but this is a fight for survival. You bring in the all-stars, and you field you best team.

According to a statement the Met released they were looking to preserve the long-term future of the Met. Yea, right. If the Met wants to do that, then they dump the stupidity of the Gelb Ring, and go back to reliable productions, not the risky ones that have been not been popular with critics or opera lovers.

Broadway is the problem. For some absurd reason, Peter Gelb thinks opera and Broadway are the same thing. They aren’t. He is trying to lure Broadway goers to attend the Met, but let’s face it, most people who do Broadway are tourists who go to what they are told is popular. People who attend the Met live in the City, or do a pilgrimage once a year.

Speaking as a woman who loves my baritones, I don’t give a rip about dealing with a production featuring a bunch of anemic tenors. I can deal with a good lyric soprano. I barely tolerate mezzos. One of the reasons I curtailed much of my opera going and listening for years, was because of the rise of the truly annoying and incompetent mezzo. Deliver me from them. I want baritones and bases. I want to listen to the MEN! Frankly, I would be quite content if you just cut the other voices out of a production, unless there was a baritone involved.

I want beauty. Opera is the most perfect of all art forms, food for the soul. It is theater and music made immortal. To degrade it the way Peter Gelb, and his modernizers are doing, throughout the world is damaging the greatest of the arts. Opera is humanity. Without it, we are diminished as a species. When people like Gelb step in, primarily to prove how superior they are to the rest of us, they destroy opera. We are starting to see it all over the world, especially in Europe and in Germany. They have taken perfection, and in so many cases, turned it into pornographic filth. At least Gelb hasn’t stooped that far – yet.

What arrogant little individuals like Peter Gelb, who live in well insulated little bubbles don’t understand is that the world has changed. His real audience – we the little people – don’t have the money we once had. If he truly wanted to make a difference, he would learn to evolve into the man who saved the arts in America. Frankly, with the budget cuts, the arts are dying. It is rather interesting that they are dying, while the billionaires who are alleged to fund them with the deep pockets are wealthier than ever.

It looks like we the little people are the ones who have kept the arts alive, here in the United States, with our we the little people dollar here and a dollar there. It is tragic when people like Gelb are so far removed from the real world that he can’t comprehend those who love opera the most are the ones he has thumbed his nose at, and turned his back on, while courting the mega-billionaires.

Once upon a time, Frank Capra understood that people needed something beautiful, someone to root for, and something to lift the desperate American movie goer out of his/her depression for a couple of hours. He gave them laughter, hope, and a darn good story with a top-notch cast. His movies earned him a place in the cultural history of this nation. He knew what we needed, when we needed it.

Would I love Peter Gelb’s job, well, you bet I would. If I had his job, I would slash ticket prices and reinstate the old way of doing things. I would put the romance back into opera. Sure, if I could get away with it, opera would be all Barihunks all the time, but I recognize the reality of fielding a good team. You give people what they want. Sure, the sophisticates on the snide opera blogs constantly complain about the Zefferelli productions, but they work. If you do the Ring, make it into a cross between Tolkin, C. S. Lewis, and Star Wars. You put a Ring production together that is based on something like this and people will stand in line to see it – not just the opera-going public, but young people.  Try a traditional version of Pride and Prejudice, or any Jane Austen novel and women will flock, especially if you throw in  Dmitri Hvorostovsky once in awhile.  Can you imagine how incredible he would be as either Mr. Darcy or Captain Wentworth?

Please, let’s get some reality here, and stop day-dreaming about operas that never will be. Reality is that Peter Gelb is destroying the Metropolitan Opera. How much longer will he be allowed to do so?

Then again, this could all be a moot point. If Gelb has his way, the Metropolitan Opera is going to be seriously damaged. He’s already running it in the red, thanks to his complete lack of understanding that it is we the little people, who are the backbone of the Met, not his high-flying billionaires. I’m wondering if the whole schedule isn’t some grand cynic’s bargain. The way things are going now, the productions scheduled for later in the season have a better chance of being staged than the ones in the early part of the fall.

I love traditional opera, staged traditionally. I have also liked some of the Met’s riskier productions such as their 1980s staging of Kurt Weill’s Rise and Fall of the City of Mahagonny with the late, and extremely great Richard Cassilly and Cornell MacNeil. The cast, which included Teresa Stratas and Paul Plishka was incredible. I saw it twice. We don’t realize that Porgy and Bess is considered ‘modern’. The Met’s staging of it, in the 1980s was astounding. I flew up to NYC just to see it. I like risky opera, if it is tasteful, well-staged, and features baritones! There are ‘rare’ productions I would love to be able to see, like the Pearl Fishers. I want rare and risky if it makes sense. Let’s fact the fact that Gelb’s idea of rare and risky and ‘normal’ rare and risky are not in the same orbit as reality.

This gets me back to casting. Once upon a time, when you went to local or regional opera, you were usually stuck with wannabe beauty pageant screeching and truly repulsive tenors who were studying to be ministers of music. There were some good young voices – once in awhile. Today, though, thanks to people like Sherrill Milnes, the Richard Tucker Foundation, the Santa Fe Opera, Barihunks, there are so darn many good, possibly world quality young voices out there that you can experience a very well sung Boheme in Santa Fe, Memphis, Miami, Amarillo, Tucson, and a host of large cities. They are good, well worth patronizing. Thing is, you can hear that Boheme for $25-$50. It defies logic and explanation why the Metropolitan Opera would even bother staging a Boheme without a world-class line-up.

Then, he does upward of 16 performances of it? Sure, people do the Zeffirelli Boheme because it is a classic. It is a wonderful production. I’ve seen it with the likes of Pavarotti, Domingo (when he was a real tenor), and Scotto. You plan around those voices. But, to have the mentality that people are so stupid they are going to attend the opera and shell out nearly two hundred bucks a pop to see something you could see, locally, for $25 is to be delusional.  Never mind that the big promotion is that Kwiecien is going to be in three – count ’em – three performances.  Raymon Vargas is going to be great, but he’s doing 5 performances.

That’s the real problem with Peter Gelb. He wants to turn the Metropolitan Opera into Broadway. He has this delusional vision that people who attend Broadway productions are going to attend the Met, if it is packaged the same way. Someone needs to either explain the facts of life to him, or suggest he get a job promoting Broadway and leave the Met alone. He is ruining it. Just look at his bottom line, which is going to be even worse next season, if indeed there is a next season.

I’m still trying to figure out why you have operas scheduled with only a half dozen performances. It is not cost effective. The only logic behind it is to attempt to drive up ticket prices and scalp the stupid opera goer. The problem is, opera fans are far from stupid. Sure, we recognize the difficulties of modern scheduling, but we also know insanity when we see it.

What a bloody mess.