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Who’ll join a Met review boycott?

Peter Gelb has committed a serious offence against freedom of expression by banning Opera News from reviewing productions at the Metropolitan Opera.

Repression is a habit with Gelb. A few weeks ago he forced WQXR to take down a critical blog. Before that, there have been various incidents where writers were denied access on Gelb’s orders.

Much outrage is being expressed on-line at the suppression of Opera News but unless someone steps up to the plate and takes action this will be a 24-hour wonder and another outlet of free speech will have been silenced.

So who will join me in refusing to review any production of the Met, live or screened, until free speech is restored?


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  1. ON is a former organ of The Met, although there is some sort of a parting but I do not know the details. I bet a lot of people do not realise they are independent now, particularly some older people who are the ones still receiving printed magazines and, indeed – this is America – making donations. To have a very critical review would confuse a lot of readers, and outrage theones who have spent money on the production in one way or another. Gelb is, IMO, right. Sorry, Norman. And to think that reviewers, who have to make money and continue to file reviews, and are often paid to travel to NY, would willingly give up on a high-profile house, is perhaps expecting too much.

    • ShelleyR says:

      It is my understanding that they are split physically, but not independent of Met support. Their circulation is based, according to Pelkonen and my own experience, on complimentary subscriptions provided to Met supporters in exchange for donations to the Met. They also receive funds from the Met. I received my first yearly subscription following a roughly $50 donation to the Met. I also received an umbrella. ;)

      I agree with your comment regarding confusion. Imagine receiving a complimentary subscription to ON in exchange for supporting the Met and then seeing Kellow’s article? Imagine Gelb and the Met Board, thinking the ON is an outreach tool and consequently providing it “free” to Met members (while funding it), and then seeing that article?

      • Paul Ricchi says:

        People who supportvthe Met with their $$$ have a special right to hear unfettered opinions about its output. It is a FAA advantaged not for profit corporation, not a cult headed by a wizard,

    • Tom Deacon says:


  2. I am relatively unfamiliar with the world of music journalism, but how can one ban someone from writing reviews? Do they deny the Opera News reviewers access to concerts, or is there some other mechanism involved?

    • ShelleyR says:

      I am only guessing, but if you are being fed by someone and have no other access to food and they tell you to stay away, you comply.

      As much as he surely would like to, I doubt Gelb would attempt to bother independent reviewers. He’s gone after the two organizations that receive Met funds. The WQXR issue was particularly odd, however, since they are not truly dependent on the Met and the article was rather benign.

      I have not seen other incidents noted elsewhere, which I would expect to given the passion of bloggers.

      • Daniel Farber says:

        The problem is that a move like Gelb’s will tend to intimidate other critics into avoiding unfavorable reviews, since, as a matter of course, critics enjoy being “insiders” of a sort and you can’t be an insider if you are not invited to the “right” parties.

        • Tom Deacon says:

          Any critic who is cowed by this decision has no business being a critic in the first place. If you can’t stand the heat, get out of the kitchen.

  3. Are you speaking to only American critics, Norman? Because critics outside of the US can see the productions, then publish their truth elsewhere, where Gelb can’t touch them.

    • Globally, Alexandra. We should stop reviewing the Met screenings, starve them of publicity until Gelb stops his repressive actions.

      • Somehow I think even a global boycott plays into Gelb’s über-control scenario. With no critical review – anywhere – he’s free to be king of the opera mountain. Isn’t the Met’s publicity generated in-house and/or through agencies?

        • Paul Ricchi says:

          It would put him in a position of declaring every effort a success.

          • Depressed In the USA says:

            He does that anyway. In fact, he has had a movie made (Wagner’s Dream) to create the illusion that his biggest disaster is, in fact, a success.

  4. I agree with boycotting Gelb and and the Met in principal, but I doubt any other critics or publications would follow your suggestion. It would be interesting to see what would happen to the organisation if it stopped getting critical attention, but just imagine if the Met noticed no drop in audience numbers or subscriptions after a period without reviews appearing anywhere. It would make the critics look pretty redundant, and I think that the possibility of that outcome might just encourage the critics to not worry about anyone elses dealings with Gelb and just get on with what they’ve got to do. I’ve a bad feeling that the critics need the Met more than the Met needs the critics. But I may be wrong.

  5. Gelb isn’t the first General Manager at the Met to fall out with its critics.

    The estimable Martin Bernheimer was for many years involved in the intermission features of broadcasts from the Met. Around 2006, Gelb’s predecessor, Joe Volpe, decided that he had had enough of Bernheimer’s criticisms of the Met’s productions and made it clear that he was no longer welcome to take part in these broadcasts. Of course, Volpe couldn’t ban him from continuing to review the Met’s output, which he has continued to do.

  6. Tom Thumb says:

    I think an effective approach would be to not only boycott reviews of the Met, but to refrain from mentions of Gelb, period. He is a megalomoniac with a very clear vision of how he would like to be perceived, despite the opera. I’m not sure his ego could withstand a turn from the spotlight. He is a master strategist and a formidable tactician. Why play this out in public? Wouldn’t a quiet word to his colleagues at WQXR or Opera News been enough to get what he wanted? I mean, he basically holds all the cards in both cases (I’m sure WQXR’s advertising budget couldn’t withstand a hiatus from one of its main benefactors and content providers, and Opera News, well, that’s an interesting relationship, even on the surface). As a previous writer alluded to, this isn’t about silencing these two outlets.;they’re obviously both minor plot devices in Peter Gelb’s newest dramatic production: himself.

    • It is my understanding from reading the articles that both issues were brought to the press by the media, not Gelb. The articles state that he was called for a comment.

      • Depressed In the USA says:

        I have some New York bridges I can sell you at very favorable rates – if you believe that one.

  7. I’m against censorship in any form and , ultimately, Mr. Gelb will fail if his goal is uber-control. Perhaps some critics feel they cannot influence opinion, much like reviews for a Broadway show that’s already sold out for months can generate snippy reviews.

    However… I’ve noticed that Mr. Kellow’s opinions in ON have increasingly expressed an underlying longing for an old-days/golden-age way of things and a resistance to anything new. His comments stand out from other writers/reviewers in ON by an increased bitterness, perhaps, or snarkiness.I’m not a Pollyanna and I do like intelligent critique but I’ve gotten to the point where he’s unpleasant enough to read that I just skip anything with his name on it.

    The most recent comment (which I read about in a news article), something about productions being foisted onto a disgruntled public… well, what can I say? He’s free to express his opinion, but I’m free to disagree, and Mr. Kellow certainly speak for me.

    • Bill Ecker says:


      Here is the deal, Brian Kellow is echoing the sentiments that he hears from the public. The public are the customers in any business endeavor. The Metropolitan Opera public has shrunk, as they want to see something which is no longer being presented there and that is cohesive new productions which are commensurate with the reputation the MET has built since the 1880′s. The MET has been famous for it’s over the top realistic productions and the public still wants that. Gelb is offering little of that anymore and the public does not want to pay the ever increasing prices to see what he is offering. The amount of papered seats is staggering. The cost over-runs in the place are staggering. Ann Ziff’s $30 million dollar gift does not even cover the end costs of the Ring which was only supposed to cost $16.0 million. So he’s now blowing the treasury there, digging into the pension fund and the MET endowment to pay his bills. Why, becuase he does not listen. He has been a man on a mission, but if the public does not buy off on your mission you have to adapt and bring them what they want. He has the best field of singers there has been in many years, great and decent singers in all vocal categories to choose from, but his productions better match up to expectations, or the MET is going to continue to bleed red. If the Board were smart, at this point, they would hire in an arts management company to run through the place from stem to stern and run focus groups made up of subscribers so that it is clear what the paying audience really wants. They are the arteries to success. 6 years of lost revenues and papered seats, empty seats and massive numbers of subsidized seats later, his base audience is dwindling and he’s not bringing in much of a new audience. Even the MET numbers show the average age of their audience has barely changed while he has run the place.

      • Eusebius says:

        The opinions of the Met’s current audience may not be very important. There’s a vast potential audience that can be engaged with an approach to opera more in line with what the European houses and festivals are doing. That’s what Gelb is trying to do, it seems to me.

        Listening to the complaints of some tiny group of opera gatekeepers is no way to keep opera alive in the 21st century.

        • Bill Ecker says:

          First off, the current audience pays for seats, so you cannot abandon them and many feel they have and no longer buy tickets. Gelb cannot afford to lose that audience today, they help pay for the operation of the house and his lofty salary among other things. The clientele he is attempting to lure in are young people and they don’t have the shekels to support him, or are not interested. That is why there has to be balance. You can’t do blank regie sets and projections in every new staging, there has to be a balance between regie and what the audience of your house expects. We are not Europe, nor do we aspire to be. We are Americans and a far more conservative group on the whole than Europeans.

        • Depressed In the USA says:

          In the latest financial report available, The Met drew $29 million dollars in income from media activities as oppossed to $97 million in ticket sales. I think the Met is, in fact, very dependant on it’s current audience.

      • There are many comments there that lack verification.

        First, I have seen no source that says Ann Ziff’s $30 million dollar gift does not cover the cost of the Ring. Better yet,I have seen no source that says the gift was intended to pay for the Ring at all.

        The 30 million dollar gift, after all, came after the announcement that the Ring was made possible thanks to a gift from Ziff. Indeed, it came after the Ring opened. If costs exceeded expectations, it would seem she’d just quietly top off her already granted and announced payment for the Ring, wouldn’t it? Rather than announcing a brand new gift? In fact, these are two separate things, and most associated with the Ring say the cost is around $21-$24 million.

        Second, “The MET has been famous for it’s over the top realistic productions and the public still wants that.” If that is the case, why has the Decker Traviata repeatedly sold out? Why did the Tosca sell well this season? Why did the Ring sell so well?

        “The amount of papered seats is staggering. The cost over-runs in the place are staggering.”

        Sources? Quotes?

        Finally, “Here is the deal, Brian Kellow is echoing the sentiments that he hears from the public.”

        No, Mr. Kellow’s own article belies that point. He complains of audiences applauding and loving singers like Netrebko and De Niese, whom he says don’t deserve it. Perhaps he is echoing an audience, but it’s not the audiences of 2012.

        Also, if he was correct, and if the critics really echo the audiences, the maligned Ring wouldn’t have sold out while critical darlings Ernani and Khovanshchina would have.

        • The Tosca sold well? the Traviata sold well? Where is your information coming from. They both were financial disasters at the Metropolitan Opera. You are speaking of some fictitious audience which does not exist. Opera partons by and large, at least the ones with knowledge go to hear the singers and the music first and second, the production third. The Philharmonic can do a week of semi-stage or concert performances of an opera and still sell out. The audience of 2012 is no different than the audience of 2000. The fact that the average subscriber age has barely dropped at the Metropolitan Opera is due to two things, one the seniors keep the place going; the second is, with HD they don’t have to drive into the city, they can see it for a fraction of the price at a movie theater. (Which by the way has become a Saturday afternoon excursion activity for rest homes. The amount of oxygen bottles and wheel chairs in your average Metropolitan Opera HD movie theater performance is staggering.)

          From the New York Times 26 March 2010, “Ms. Ziff, who has served on the Met’s board since 1994, also provided funding for Robert Lepage’s new production of Wagner’s “Ring” cycle, a 17-hour series of four operas — featuring a complex set — the first of which opens in September. The Met declined to disclose the amount of that support, but Met productions typically cost $2 million to $4 million each”

          The Ring is now a thirty million dollar expense, basically as Gelb measured once and cut twice. After six years he is still a stage neophyte in the world of opera and this is one of the major reasons his appointment has been a disaster. He is also making business mistakes an MBA just out of school would not make. Oh, then again he doesn’t even have a college degree.

  8. Sixtus Beckmesser says:

    What’s next? Is Peter Gelb going to forbid negative reviews in the New York Times? As the son of the Times’s former managing editor, surely he is not without influence there.

    • Petros Linardos says:

      The NYT reviews of the MET are mostly positive and generally support Gelb.

      I agree with many of the comments above and disagree with Norman’s suggestion to refrain from reviews of the MET. I am deeply disappointed about the new direction Gelb has pursued, and believe that the more people express their opinions, the better.

  9. Musiker says:

    Surely any self-respecting journalist and music publication must realise they have a moral obligation to boycott reviews of the Met in the wake of Gelb’s outrageous action.
    It flies in the face of freedom of the press and freedom of expression.
    Opera News, on its website, explicitly states that it “is an editorially independent publication, and the opinions expressed in the magazine do not represent the views of the Metropolitan Opera Guild or the Metropolitan Opera.”
    That means writers and critics should be allowed to do the job they’re paid to do — provide an independent and informed judgement of a particular production without any interference from the Met’s management.
    They’re journalists NOT employees in the PR department.
    If subscribers/readers cannot differentiate between a critical review and a PR handout, or are “confused” by a negative review, then — to be perfectly frank — that’s THEIR problem, not anyone else’s.

  10. I think what needs to be made clear is the “mission” of Opera News. Is it an extension of the Met’s PR machine, or is it, like the BBC or other state-owned media, supported financially by the parent but chartered with complete editorial independence? This must be clarified by all concerned, right away. I’m hearing both things, actually, and feel the Guild’s relationship to the Met must be further clarified. Is the Guild sworn to a type of “political neutrality” regardless of who’s in charge of the organization, or is it possible for the Guild to be loyal to the institution itself and its history, and thus allowed to be critical of decisions made of current and/or former leaders?

    Once this is clarified, then we’ll know and understand ON to be an extension of Gelb’s PR machine, not unlike Symphony Magazine, which is a trade magazine put out by the League of American Orchestras which essentially represents the League’s views on the issues of the day. As such, and like Symphony Magazine, it can be read and enjoyed by lots of people, understanding its purpose and what it is (and isn’t).

    I’m certain others can easily fill the void left by ON’s departure from the “without fear or favor” sector of the field.

    So it may indeed be possible to see Gelb’s actions in a different and potentially more sympathetic light, as a case of him reigning in a wayward extension of the Met empire.

    However, WQXR is another thing entirely. Ultimately, my response to that criticism is “what do you expect from a pig but a grunt?” Meaning, I’m sure that David Axelrod is constantly on the phone with journalists, trying to kill this story or push that one. It’s his job to “work the refs” and “massage the story” and whatever other politico-speak catchphrase you can think of. If the journalists are dumb enough to go along with it, then shame on them. I feel much the same about the WQXR blog. Remember that great scene in “All the President’s Men” when Ben Bradlee, always nervous and skeptical of Woodstein’s reporting, responds to heated criticism of himself and his paper with a simple “We stand by our story” response scribbled on a piece of paper? That’s journalism worthy of respect. And Gelb can threaten and intimidate all he wishes, but the real power to grant or deny his requests remains with the editors of the blogs/newspapers/radio stations that cover the Met.

    • Bill Ecker says:

      The Guild has always been a seperate entity in support of the MET. They had their own charter, their own Board. Gelb since he has been there has deprived them of their retail business, which he took over and has not run very well. He deprived them of their mail order business. He threatened to sue them to take away the words “Metropolitan Opera” from their nameplate. Rather than deal with the Met’s attornies in court, they rolled over, allowed him to handpick their board, put Stewart Pearce in as their managing director. the one thing he agreed not to do was to change Opera News and allow them to operate as a seperate entity. Now they published criticism of his productions and his tenure and he’s taken over that magazine as well. Essentially Gelb has made it one of his missions to shut down the Guild as they were chartered and to roll it into his company. My hunch is given what has transpired thus far, they will cease to exist if he is allowed to continue on this reckless course. Keep in mind in 1935 they were founded to support the MET and in the 1950′s when the MET almost went under, their fund raising kept the MET afloat. Right now they are bleeding red and need every bit of help they can get and guess what, the Guild is no longer the Guild.

  11. Mr. Lebrecht will find few with the testicular fortitude to join him in his boycott. Mainly much of the US
    musical world he addresses can be thought of as moral cowards when it comes to standing up to
    bullies . All words no action – Look how QXR caved -He didn’t force them , he may have threatened
    whatever but the station behaved as cowards always do they find the right words to back up cowardice.
    You think for one moment the chorus the orchestra the conductors the so called stars would say no to Gelb
    and his censoring activities- of course not – what rules is $$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$.
    And the likes of Gelb know that . Mr. Lebrecht your moral stance is a lost cause .

  12. Franz Welser-Most (Cleveland Orchestra) sued a reviewer for what they claimed was a form of slander and libel, I believe. I do remember that the front office won the suit and the critic was moved to another area and latter resigned.

    Perhaps Gelb is wanting to advance that tactic among reviewers and this ON issue was a shot across the bow.

  13. And all of this would be irrelevant if the recent Met productions were compelling music-making.

  14. I have never visited the USA or the Met & have no real wish to, but this Gelb sounds like a right Dictator, sorry I meant Pratt.

    All power to your elbow.

    I hope the boycott goes well. I certainly won’t support them by going to the cinema until this silly man departs.

  15. I see this decision to end coverage of Metropolitan Opera performances within the pages of Opera News as having a two-fold effect: 1) It dramatically ends a conflict of interest with Opera News critiquing performances of its parent company 2) it implies that the Met is above criticism, thus creating a huge credibility gap for the remaining reviews in the magazine.

  16. Gelb has been attempting to put the screws on the press for a couple of years now. It’s been obvious that he wants to control what is written about his productions. The publicity department has grown hugely since he’s been there, and he put somebody from MSNBC in charge of it. This seems to be how they do it in the major media. Still, we all know what he did at Sony, and his efforts haven’t done anything to improve the generally dismal response to his Ring. Taking the bad with the good is part of being professional in the arts.

  17. Betteryet says:

    Instead of boycotting the Met, which is, despite this banana republic dictator wanna be, a prominent Opera house, why don’t all of all write to the Met for his sacking? This would solve all issues – First, no need to boycott the Met. Second, no need of having this guy just feeding his ego. Third – hopefully better productions.
    I mean, what can be said of a guy who theoretically is in the art world and doesn’t get how dangerous and undesirable censorship is? He should leave with shame.

  18. Robert Ford says:

    Here with a copy of a letter that I sent to the Met’s Board of Directors with a cc to Mr. Gelb.

    To: The Metropolitan Opera Board of Directors
    Ladies and Gentlemen:

    It is with enormous regret that my wife and I have decided not to renew the orchestra seat subscription we’ve had for nearly 30 years.

    The reason, very simply, is that in our opinion Mr. Gelb has managed to achieve the singular distinction of being the only general manager in the history of the Met to remove the “Grand” from Grand Opera. In its place he has given us Wager on a Teeter-Totter, an X-Rate Tosca and a Traviata Travesty among other operatic dismemberments. To say that we are “turned off” is an understatement.

    While the performances of the orchestra and singers remain at the highest level, the stage direction ranges from silly to embarrassing. For 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 heads popping off statues like targets in a shooting gallery.

    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 did he spend $16 million plus for “The Machine” (at best just a gimmick) when the Otto Schenk production has been heralded as one of the finest stagings of the Ring anywhere in the world? All “The Machine” has accomplished is to detract from the performances via malfunctions that seem to arrive at the most inappropriate times.

    Please understand, I have nothing against bringing contemporary operas to the Met. I loved the Ghost of Versailles, for example. But, and I speak for many, please leave the proven audience pleasers – e.g. La Boehme – alone. They fill the house. They pay the rent. To that point: Mr. Gelb might find it instructive to look across the plaza at the New York Philharmonic. They frequently insert contemporary works into their schedule. But, at the same time, you will not find them “messing with Mahler” or “bastardizing Beethoven.”

    (So that this letter does not appear as a totally negative diatribe on my part, I must, in all candor, commend Mr. Gelb for having implemented the Met video broadcasts. About the only thing he’s done with which I concur.)

    One would hope that given the hue and cry over the “off-the-wall” productions, the Met would soon desist from placing its classic productions in the hands of egocentric, misguided, self-absorbed, pretentious directors and set designers who appear more qualified to stage rock concerts.

    I am fully aware of Mr. Gelb’s stated intent to create an eclectic Met in order to attract a new and younger audience. But what audience is he talking about? Those who buy last minute cheap tickets in order to help management “paper the house”? Those who are years away from being able to afford the price of a major subscription? Does it make sense to drive away those of us who are willing to pay the full ticket price? And to that point: While it may sound snobbish, even priggish on my part, I do not appreciate finding myself in a suit and tie, my wife in a dress, sitting in our $300 Row D seats next to someone who has paid about $20 for the adjacent seat, who is dressed like they just came from the gym and appears to have only a vague acquaintance with soap and water.

    I am sure that the loss of my $5000 subscription fee and my other modest contributions will not be missed by the Met. But multiply my protest (and that’s what this is) by 10, by 50 and by100 like-minded and disappointed Met goers and that loss will eventually show up on your bottom line. As I’m sure you are fully aware, I am not alone in expressing my displeasure with the current direction of the Met.

    As members of the Board of Directors, I believe it’s reasonable to assume that part of your responsibility is to protect and preserve the Met’s classic legacy and to maintain the truly unique and cherished traditions that have made yours’ the world’s premier opera house.( And yes, work to move it forward by sponsoring new works.) I would hope that one day you will be able to announce to those of us to love opera, but feel forsaken by the General Manager, that you have convinced Mr. Gelp to put the “Grand” back in “Grand Opera at the Met.”

    If that request is greeted by a recalcitrant and obstinate General Manager then, I would hope the Board will have the courage to invite Mr. Gelb to find employment elsewhere

    Robert C. Ford
    cc: Mr. Peter Gelb, General Manager cc: Opera News cc: Opera Quarterly

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