That’s Peter Gelb, above, who’s running the Metropolitan Opera these days. Running it into the ground, by all accounts, and not a minute too soon.
Don’t get me wrong: some of my best friends are opera fans, in spite of the old musicians’ joke to the effect that there are music lovers, and then there are people who are into opera. I’ve spent a few pleasant nights at the opera meself. Admittedly, it was mostly Handel and Mozart. Wagner is fun, up to a point, but one wants to take a shower afterwards. Verdi is a fine composer but he should have confined himself to oratorio. And dare one say it, Monteverdi is at his least interesting in the medium he is said to have invented. Mozart’s most lovable opera(*) is also the least operatic. And so on.
My opera-fan friends are buzzing just now about an item in The New Yorker (yes, The New Yorker) about the woes of the Met, under the mad Mussolini-like diktatura of Mr Gelb — who bears more than a passing resemblance to the late unlamented Steve Jobs, don’t you think?
I was delighted to see Eustace Tilley taking a swipe at a Ring cycle I also mocked, to the best of my ability, back in the day: one of Gelb’s satrap spectacles.
It should surprise no one that Gelb & Co. are now attempting to fund their overblown follies by cutting the salaries of the fiddlers in the pit and the singers in the chorus. The New Yorker piece linked to above gave some numbers about their pay. I was shocked. These are people who have spent years mastering a difficult craft and have succeeded brilliantly at it. They ought to be a lot better-paid than I am. They’re not. This is just obscene. But Gelb, like every other corporate executive, wants to reduce them to beggary. Gelb, I should say, and his board of economical billionaires.
I wish the Met every ill that could possibly befall it. I want to see it shuttered and dark: the dull tennis-court sized Chagalls relocated to a Masonic hall or a skating rink somewhere, the trashy tawdry building — Robert Moses’ work — crumbling like moldy icing sugar under the wrecker’s ball.
Opera fans will still go see opera in a garage, or a barge, or an abandoned derelict warehouse; and opera would be much more lovable under those circumstances, not to mention more affordable. The divine fiddlers in the band and more-than-competent singers in the chorus, I think, will find a way. We are a depraved and unamiable species but at our worst we retain a love for music, the dulce laborum lenimen, and I hope and believe that we shall never lose it.
(*) Zauberfloete, of course. Let’s put on a show!