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Peter Gelb Reverses Course

I’ve been pondering all day what I should add, if anything, to the egregious decision by Peter Gelb to pressure Opera News so much that it voluntarily decided to stop reviewing the Met’s productions (a call made in “collaboration with” Gelb, he said). But what else could editor F. Paul Driscoll do? Promise all positive reviews?

Now I can add something:

Gelb has reversed course. Here’s the statement I just received:

In view of the outpouring of reaction from opera fans about the recent decision to discontinue Met performance reviews in Opera News, the Met has decided to reverse this new editorial policy. From their postings on the internet, it is abundantly clear that opera fans would miss reading reviews about the Met in Opera News. Ultimately, the Met is here to serve the opera-loving public and has changed its decision because of the passionate response of the fans.

The Met and the Met Opera Guild, the publisher of Opera News, have been in discussions about the role of the Guild and how its programs and activities can best fulfill its mission of supporting the Metropolitan Opera. These discussions have included the role of reviews in Opera News, and whether they served that mission.  While the Met believed it did not make sense for a house organ that is published by the Guild and financed by the Met to continue to review Met productions, it has become clear that the reviews generate tremendous excitement and interest and will continue to have a place in Opera News.

More thoughts soon.

UPDATE: I won’t belabor this, but Dan Wakin’s Page One story in today’s New York Times mentioned two other instances of Gelb’s interference with the media and, worse, that the outlets in question — WQXR and a blogger — complied with his wishes and removed the posts that Gelb had protested. What were they thinking? A loss of ad dollars (ok, support dollars) for WQXR? That’s a real blemish on its record as well as that of its owner, WNYC. The blogger gets more sympathy — it’s hard for an individual to face down a powerful organization like the Met.

But what was Gelb thinking? A while back, Alex Ross wrote a very critical piece (mostly about the Ring)  in The New Yorker, too. It concluded: “The current direction of the Met remains dispiriting.”

Did Gelb dare call David Remnick?

I hope the Met board, specifically Chairman Ann Ziff and President and Chief Executive Officer Kevin W. Kennedy, are having a serious conversation with him about intimidation.

Comments

  1. I’m so pleased to get this news and am glad you shared it. I was very disturbed by the news. Gelb is deservedly getting a lot of heat for the quality of his productions. The notion that he can’t take the heat for assuming that responsibility is very disturbing, and certainly doesn’t help his standing in the artistic community.

    Please feel free to belabor this. It is a very worrisome sign of how Gelb views his post. When I read Opera News’s reviews of Met productions in the past, I often felt the reviewers were pulling their punches. I hope they don’t feel intimidated after this interference.

  2. Well, the WQXR situation was more than just a matter of losing potential ad – whoopsie, I mean underwriting – dollars from the Metropolitan Opera.

    WQXR has aired the Met’s Saturday afternoon radio broadcasts for decades, and those broadcasts are very important to a key segment of WQXR’s core audience. If Gelb were to take those broadcasts away from WQXR, it would be a monumental headache for the station, and I think it’s reasonable to surmise that Gelb – explicitly or implicitly – made such a threat.

    (Yes, if Gelb were actually to pull the broadcasts from WQXR, he would be shooting himself and his company in the foot. But at this point, I think we can all agree that Peter Gelb is quite capable of shooting himself and his company in the foot.)

    • You raise an excellent point. If Gelb implied that he would pull Met broadcasts from WQXR, that would take this story to a whole new level. Leakers at WQXR/WNYC, please write to me.

      • I’m in no position to know if there was any threat to pull the broadcasts. (Possibly no one is, except for Peter Gelb and WNYC president Laura Walker themselves.) But I think the threat would have to have been there, at least implicitly. Why else would WNYC/WQXR even need to care if Peter Gelb objected to a particular blog post? Surely they knew that yanking the post would make them look bad …

        • Obviously I’m in no position to know what exactly Laura Walker said or did in response to Peter Gelb’s call, either. But I’ve always suspected that, basically, she let Gelb have his say and hang up, then called someone on WQXR’s senior staff and said, in effect, “I don’t have time for this foolishness. Make it go away.”

  3. It is not so much that the station showed its true colours of cowardice but worse how the powers to be at the station
    explained away suppression of an opinion to suit a seeming dictator . There is that thought about he who
    steals my purse…. etc . The station will now be always remembered as the one that bowed to censorship.
    What kind of second raters are running the place ?????? I certainly would never admit to working there ……..

  4. Robert Ford says:

    It is with enormous regret that my wife and I will not be renewing our orchestra subscription of 30 odd years.

    The reason, very simply, is that Mr. Gelb has managed to achieve what no other general manager in the history of the Met has accomplished: He has removed the “Grand” from Grand Opera. In its place he has given us Wager on a Teeter-Totter, an X-Rate Tosca and a Traviata Timepiece Travesty among other operatic dismemberments I could name. To say that we are dispirited is an understatement.

    While the performances of the orchestra and singers remains at the highest level, the stage direction ranges from silly to embarrassing. As one example, I point to poor old Alfredo groveling on the floor and working himself into a fetal position during Act 2 of the current production.

    And the sets? When was the last time you heard the audience applaud the scenery when the curtain went up?

    I recognize that money is a major issue and concern at the Met and that dollars must be spent wisely. Given that fact, I cannot understand why, if something is not broken, (e.g. the traditional set for Tosca) Mr. Gelb feels compelled to break it. (Thank God, he has been dissuaded from destroying La Boheme) Or why – just to be eclectic – he spent $16 million plus for “The Machine” when the Otto Scheck production has been heralded as one of the finest stagings of the Ring anywhere in the world? All “The Machine” has accomplished is to create unnecessary controversy and to malfunction at the most inappropriate times thus diminishing the operatic experience.

    Losing my $5000 subscription fee won’t be a loss to the Met. But multiple me by 10 or 50 or 100 like-minded unhappy opera goers and the impact could be significant. Let’s hope that someone arrives on the scene in the near future to put the “Grand” back into “Grand Opera.”

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