Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Peter Gelb for a Day

I've never met Peter Gelb. My name will mean nothing to him.
Peter Gelb is the General Manager of the Metropolitan Opera.
He's responsible for a half billion dollar company which for many reasons must maintain its status as the world's finest.

His job is to put together a top quality product for about 250 performances a year.
His bigger job is to put fannies in seats.
I'm being polite here.
The Met board is lacking in the old money because the old money is either dead or gone the way of Bernie Madoff.  I daresay most of the board members to whom Gelb must answer are or were financial mavens oriented to the bottom line. The old question, "Why do you need all those violins anyway?" is not a total joke. So it is that in this lousy economy, the sight of empty seats must mean trouble in the upstairs boardrooms.

Look folks, Gelb is having to balance musical and dramatic sophistication with an audience that wants to be entertained. Or a company controlled by those who want to be entertained. Few of this potential audience-the mass audience, reads Opera-L or patretrre box und so weiter. They pays their money and they don't want to take no chances.So Gelb has to come up with, if not sure fire winners, then flops that can be re- imagined for good copy.

I don't imagine the to-do over the Robert Lepage Ring staging is causing sleepless nights. This kind of argument is good publicity. What is not good publicity is looking like an idiot by silencing a magazine or a blog. Discussed elsewhere. 'Nuf said..

Could you do Peter Gelb's job for one week? Be the target boy for people who express genuine critical concerns over the product, or for those who bitch and don't attend, and for people who have more than a few screws loose, and for those in the middle, who enjoy finding things and people to hate. Then there are the parties to be satisfied and kept happy: Singers, chorus to Renee Fleming, orchestra, wardrobe, stage hands, lights, camera you name it. Any one group can shut down the show. Then there' s the board, needing to be stroked and petted for that extra five hundred thou Bernie didn't get. 

Never mind when Karita or Juan Diego or Riccardo decide not to show up, and Jimmy is sick and some idiot is moaning on line that the soprano in The Enchanted Isle (A Gelb hit in my opinion) smiled too much.You think its all limos, luxury apartments, gourmet on the grand tier and the directors box for Les troyens? For all the time a person has you might as well live across the street at the West Side YMCA and chew on a tuna fish sandwich. Hookers and blow would be nice if they were offered (I'm not saying they are) but not much fun if you're too aggravated or too fucking exhausted.

Gelb is probably not helping himself much with his cold demeanor. He comes across as forbidding and awkward. We don't need a teddy bear in this job, but a little of Rudolf Bing's timing and punchy humor would go a long way.

I have to love an impresario who gives us From the House of the Dead and The Nose; who engages a producer who understands that The Barber of Seville is meant to be funny. The HD presentations make the Met an international brand in the way radio broadcasts used to. We who don't in New York (and I grew up in upstairs standing room but saw my last Met performance in 2005) find ourselves invested in the Met and its repertoire, if not always its people, in our local movie theatres.

Peter Gelb. Want his job? I dare you.
Failures? Who liked the Tosca? I suspect we've seen the last of The First  Emperor. The Ring is the one-or four-productions the public loves to hate. It had a lot to do with machinery and very little with characterization. Peter Grimes, if they had opened one more freakin' window...But Gatti-Casazza had his failures too. Joseph Breil's The Legend was assigned to the young Rosa Ponselle. Sixty years later she told her biographer, "The girl had a feather sticking out of her somewhere" and reported she had burned the score. Who remembers Cleopatra's Night or La campagna sommersa-the latter a flop by Respighi which Elisabeth Rethberg and Martinelli couldn't save. And if you know who the hell is Gatti-Casazza, you need to get out more.

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