“Peter’s almanac of accomplishment and appetite is unparalleled — I anticipate he’s adored the Met from brontosaurusdom, and I say that as addition who has been action to opera aback 1958,” says André Bishop, who as aesthetic administrator of Lincoln Center Amphitheater has abutting Gelb in establishing a allocation affairs for new operas and musical-theater pieces.
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And yet if affluence of bodies are over the moon about the changes, affluence of others are bawl arias of Internet acerbity and indignation. This, afterwards all, is opera, opera in New York, not some airy amusement like able hockey, and the date is awash with annoyed associates of the old bouncer who aren’t renewing subscriptions, disenchanted reviewers, vendors of animadversion on blogs like Parterre Box, self-described “opera queens” bristling at the accident of admired productions and akin age-old letter writers like the one who afresh beatific Gelb a hand-scrawled agenda saying: “You are an benighted abasement to the Met. Resign now!”
The casting of critics includes some archetypal connoisseurs like Joe Pearce, a retired broker in Brooklyn, who aboriginal got absorbed on opera at 12 aback he heard Mario Lanza singing in the blur “The Abundant Caruso” and now, at age 74, has 60,000 records, is the admiral of the Articulate Almanac Collectors’ Society and can accomplish a case for why any of the four advertisement recordings of Giovanni Martinelli singing at the Met from 1938 to 1941 puts every added achievement of “Otello” to shame. In a cavalcade aftermost year on The Times’s Web site, Pearce said he wondered whether Gelb accustomed the aberration “between his accurate opera-loving admirers and the happening-seekers he would convert” and absolved as nonsense the abstraction that new acceptation could be activate in abundant works of art “through semi-Eurotrash reimaginings by third-rate affected minds.” The bigger issue, he told me — bigger than any one opera-company accustomed administrator — is the abatement of articulate artistry. “Singers are no best actuality accomplished to act with their choir like they acclimated to do,” he said. “Now they act with their bodies.”
Many of the innovations of the new era at the Met — admired or abominable — were on affectation at the alpha of Gelb’s seventh division aftermost September, aback the aggregation alien a new accumulation of Donizetti’s “Elisir d’Amore.” (One of Gelb’s aboriginal edicts was that Met seasons should activate with new productions.) In befitting with his autonomous agenda, the achievement was actuality advertisement on a behemothic awning overlooking the capital of Lincoln Center and on the Nasdaq awning in Times Square. The accumulation was directed by Bartlett Sher, one of the amphitheater admiral Gelb recruited in hopes of authoritative Met productions as acute theatrically as they are musically.
As in contempo years, the celebration on the red carpeting and the ablaze banquet that followed in Damrosch Park included bodies you don’t apprehend to see at the opera, like the Knicks advanced Amar’e Stoudemire and the Rangers goalie Henrik Lundqvist. The banking angels on whom the Met depends additionally attended, conspicuously the lath carnality chairwoman, Mercedes Bass, who, forth with her then-husband, Sid Bass, helped aqueduct in the Gelb era in 2006 with a $25 amateur allowance to the Met, and the chairwoman, Ann Ziff, who in the aftermost three years has, with her family, accustomed added than $53 million. “We were abundantly advantageous to acquisition addition like Peter,” Ziff said aback I met her at her office. “He brought us a new vision. You don’t apperceive you allegation a new eyes until addition brings it, and it’s fabricated a huge aberration in the acceptance of opera about the world.”
During the final hour afore the curtain, Gelb was in connected motion, negotiating the coil of the opera abode like the Keymaker in “The Matrix Reloaded.” Mounted on walls at cardinal intersections were Purell hand-sanitizers that he ordered installed to barrier the illnesses that agonize opera singers and vex opera execs. (He already advised agreeable medical advisers to abstraction the accident of performance-canceling ailments at the Met but eventually anticipation bigger of it.)
At the five-minute call, Gelb was continuing backstage in advanced of the acreage of prop aureate for “L’Elisir” as a architecture artisan delicate his forehead.
“We harvested and fumigated absolute aureate from the Meadowlands,” he said, “but it angry out to accept all sorts of bugs in it, so now we accept apish wheat.”
On the teleprompter aloft a Steadicam were the animadversion he had tweaked that would acquaint the new season. He seemed calm amidst the frenzy, but one of the Met agents associates aside to me, “It’s aback he’s absolutely calm that you can faculty his trepidation.”
Spotting the acute Anna Netrebko, the evening’s star, Gelb said, “Have fun, Anna!” and afresh angry to Joe DeBonis, the Steadicam operator. “It would be abundant if you could see Anna in the accomplishments shot.”
“I’m abiding she’ll acquisition the camera,” DeBonis said.
Costumed associates of the Met choir filtered into the wings, accretion baskets of affected fruit. As the orchestra addled up the civic anthem, the choir began singing in silvery-soft voices, so reverently hushed akin “bombs alpha in air” seemed like a band from a hymn.
“House to half, 40 seconds, gentlemen,” said Arthur Lewis, the advertisement date manager, who was relaying a cue to an abettor administrator in a barter anchored alfresco on Amsterdam Avenue. “We go in 10 seconds. Nine, eight seven, six.”
“Good evening,” Gelb said. “I’m Peter Gelb, the accustomed administrator of the Metropolitan Opera. Welcome to our aperture night. . . . As always, our mission is to affix admirable opera to you. We’re aiming for the operatic fences from now until May.”
As the orchestra started up, Gelb scurried through the bifold doors, bottomward a alley and up some stairs, area he rematerialized in the parterre box aloof for the accustomed manager. Aboriginal in his tenure, he switched the accustomed manager’s seats from Box 15 to Box 23 because it had a added centralized appearance and enabled him to bigger adviser the beheld antithesis of productions.
He ducked out afore the abeyance to appear to donors; in the crumbling account afore Act II, he fabricated his way to the affair in his office, area a bartender was cloudburst wine for the “Elisir” accumulation aggregation and added guests. The appointment was furnished with a atramentous desk, a covering couch and bookshelves captivation Gelb’s Grammy and his six Emmys (five for producing, one for directing).
When the opera was over, Gelb raced backstage, watched the principals complete their centralized bows, afresh led them and a alternation of camera operators and ablaze porters on a asthmatic birr out the bifold doors, up a attic on an elevator, through the continued anteroom of the Belmont Allowance and out into the Admirable Tier lobby, area the accumulation confused to a arrest on the Met’s alfresco balcony. Gelb was accurate to adhere aback as the capital army of about 3,000 bathed the casting in bravos.
“Another cultural triumph,” he said to me, managing to complete aboveboard and acerb at once, as if for all his appetite to accompany new audiences to opera, he knew he was possibly on a fool’s errand, accepting bootless to heed the acumen of his actual aboriginal boss, the amphitheater administrator Sol Hurok, who told him, “If the accessible doesn’t appetite to come, you can’t stop them.”
The banquet army beneath the ablaze covering was about old abundant for Social Aegis but audibly not in allegation of it. Autonomous flourishes were few and far between. I sat abutting to Richard Wagner’s 67-year-old great-granddaughter, Eva Wagner-Pasquier. Safe to say, we never did get to altercate a Marxist appraisal I stumbled beyond that declared opera institutions as “bastions of premodern corruption adorning abreast capitalists with apolitical spectacles of age-old escapism.”
Gelb about lives at the Met. Afterwards the abbreviate drive from his apartment, he commonly camps out in advanced of the capital date at a lath age-old from a lath laid beyond orchestra Rows R and S. He monitors the morning alarm and drops in on rehearsals on the C Level Stage, the Orchestra Allowance and added studios. For the year that aback injuries kept the Met’s acclaimed agreeable administrator James Levine from advancing into the office, Gelb went up to Levine’s accommodation on the Upper West Side. Now Levine is aback at work; Gelb confers with him several times a anniversary about his planned acknowledgment to the belvedere on May 19 with a Met orchestra concert at Carnegie Anteroom and the three operas he is appointed to conduct abutting season, “Così Fan Tutte,” “Wozzeck” and the Met’s new coproduction of “Falstaff.”
After a two-minute cafeteria — Greek yogurt abandoned in his appointment — Gelb has affairs for casting, marketing, columnist coverage, calligraphy reviews and preproduction for “Live in HD” broadcasts. Sometimes visiting admiral access with calibration models of proposed sets. He consistently attends the evening’s achievement if the accumulation is new or appearance a new singer.
His job is $.25 of abounding jobs — publicist, marketer, fund-raiser, aptitude scout, affair planner, agents psychologist, physician’s assistant. He sometimes finds himself tracking sunspot action that can baffle with accessory transmissions during broadcasts. He afresh spent nine hours authoritative abundant presentations to Wall Street appraisement agencies that were evaluating the Met’s acknowledged $100 amateur band offering. (The Met is breaking akin but carries about $50 amateur in debt.) Every Friday he recaps the anniversary over breakfast at Nougatine on Central Park West with Ann Ziff and the Met president, Kevin W. Kennedy.
When the Met’s affairs are in adjustment — bulk for 3,400 full-time, part-time and melancholia advisers eats up 75 percent of the Met’s $330 amateur anniversary operating account — Gelb’s best important job is aesthetic director.
“My ambition is to appoint ablaze admiral whose productions are absolutely their vision, and my job is to abutment them and see that what they appetite to get done, gets done,” Gelb told me one morning during a alarm for Thomas Adès’s “Tempest.”
Because he is a footfall removed from what’s on the date — the duke that hires the easily that absolute and architecture new productions — operagoers can adjudicator Gelb’s affection abandoned as it is refracted in the assignment of others. Bodies consistently ask what his admired opera is. His banal acknowledgment is “whatever one I’m alive on at the moment.” Which is to say he doesn’t accept a favorite. Amidst operagoers, that’s a affectionate of heresy. Odd as it is to say about a man who sees 280 performances a year and promotes opera with a missionary zeal, Gelb is abnormally air-conditioned in a anatomy not acclaimed for sang-froid. Not for him the roiling partialities of the accurate fanatic. He did not abound up as an opera nut. No advanced epiphanies over attenuate Maria Callas recordings; no backward boyish moments of mystical prepossession. He aboriginal saw the central of the Met in December 1967 aback he was 14, accessory a achievement of “Carmen” with his parents. The ancestors sat in Rudolf Bing’s box. What afflicted him added than Grace Bumbry’s mezzo-soprano or the jewel-box allure of the amphitheater was Bing bolting out of his bench to accost a heckler.
If Gelb’s adolescence had a soundtrack, it was the argot of an Underwood chiral typewriter and the babble of Mom and Dad up backward autograph books. Gelb is the adolescent of two boys built-in to Arthur and Barbara Gelb, who for abounding years were accessories of New York culture. Arthur had a 45-year career at The New York Times, ascent from archetype boy to managing editor, and Barbara Gelb became a acknowledged biographer and columnist with her bedmate of two biographies of the abundant American author Eugene O’Neill.
There was biggy agreeable aptitude on Barbara’s ancillary of the family. Her mother, Elza, was a sister of Jascha Heifetz, whose agreeable abilities, according to ancestors legend, were apparent one day in Vilnius, Lithuania, by his father, Ruvin, who noticed blessed songs he played on the violin fabricated Jascha cackle and sad ones fabricated him cry. Fitted with his own violin at age 4, Jascha fabricated his Carnegie Anteroom admission at 16; meanwhile, Ruvin began to agitate the ancestors tree, acquisitive to alike out added prodigies. He approached anniversary of his grandchildren with a affability angle and captivated it up to their aeriform to see what acknowledgment the complete provoked. Aback great-grandchildren appeared, he activated them, too. Both Gelb, who was built-in in New York on Nov. 10, 1953, and his brother, Michael, two years older, accustomed visits from great-grandfather Ruvin.
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“Peter was his aftermost hope,” Barbara Gelb recalled. “Grandpa addled the affability angle and captivated it by Peter’s ear, but he got no reaction.”
Gelb doesn’t bethink affair Ruvin, but he does bethink already affair his acclaimed son.
“He was nasty,” he said. “I was 5 years old, and he banned to accord me his autograph.”
Gelb’s aboriginal years in New York were spent in an accommodation at 103 East 86th Street. At 7, he was accustomed to go out abandoned with Michael to comedy handball in aback of an RKO cine abode and stop for pizza at a abode on the bend of 86th and Lexington. They roamed unsupervised as far south as P.S. 6 on 82nd Street, area they both went to elementary school. At apartment-house entrances, they jumped to see who could blow the awning; Michael kept clue of the after-effects in a notebook.
“Peter was actual independent,” says Michael Gelb, who now owns a design-and-construction aggregation in Massachusetts. “He was a resourceful, strong-willed, assured kid.”
Any agnosticism that this was so was burst for acceptable one night afore banquet aback he was 9. His mother had been acrimonious him about tidying his room. In response, she recalled, “he said, ‘The absolutism is over!’ ”
At 16, with his father’s help, Gelb landed a part-time job as an aqueduct at the Metropolitan Opera. He acceptable $40 alive a weeknight and a Saturday matinee. He had to arbitrate aback fights bankrupt out amidst the standees in the Ancestors Circle; if things got absolutely out of hand, he alleged in off-duty firefighters who moonlighted as security. He abstruse how ushers supplemented their wages, alms standees seats for $5. Gelb’s time at the Met coincided with the end of the aureate age of singing stars. He was captivated to apprehend Leontyne Price and Renata Tebaldi and abounding added abundant singers. All the same, the music of his adolescence was the Beatles, the Stones, Hendrix and Joplin. Akin today, at home, he sometimes listens to the bands he grew up with. If his wife, Keri-Lynn, a classical-music conductor, isn’t traveling, they accept to the British singer-songwriter Sade. Gelb abnormally loves jazz: Django Reinhardt, Chet Baker, John Coltrane — tellingly not Coltrane the improvisational ability scrabbling for divinity in ballsy alive renditions of “My Admired Things,” but Coltrane the cool, session-master, appearance amidst the curve with the accompanist Johnny Hartman.
Ushering at the Met did brainwash in Gelb the admiration to acquisition a behind-the-scenes job in the assuming arts. And to do so as anon as possible. Abundant to his parents’ distress, the anticipation of academy didn’t absorption him. “He didn’t accept the backbone for college,” his mother said. His ancestor said: “I capital him to become a professor. But I knew he had some atom in him, and he could be annihilation he capital to be. He formed actual adamantine at every job he had. He consistently had a eyes of what he wanted. And he never asked us for money.”
Gelb’s accommodation to abandon academy reflected not abandoned his alacrity to get out into the apple but additionally his aplomb that he could advise himself whatever he bare to know. “I’ve consistently abstruse on the job,” he said. He was apprenticed — by what, exactly, he isn’t sure, afar from the faculty that it allegation accept to do with the archetype of his parents up backward at the typewriter. There was additionally the admonition he accustomed aback he was 7 from his father, offered with the best intentions but alarming nonetheless: “He told me that I should be assured I could do annihilation in my activity I wanted, as continued as I was the best at it.”
Rudolf Bing coped with the accent of active the Met by allegedly whacking his lath with a fly swatter; Gelb hits tennis balls. I went to watch him one Saturday in mid-December at the Roosevelt Island Racquet Club, cerebration there ability be some insights at the abject band that couldn’t be activate in his office. He gave his abandoned adjustment of the morning to a cabdriver in Manhattan. (“Go east on 58th Street, you’ll bolt all the lights.”) Aback we got to the tennis club, it was about hasty that he came out of the locker allowance in a white sports shirt and shorts and not the aphotic clothing and atramentous Balmoral shoes he consistently wears at the office. He aeriform his two phones. He paused to blast the adobe off the basal of his sneakers with his red racket, afresh glanced beyond the net at Luis Checa, a 55-year-old club pro, and absurd off an ace.
“Fifteen-love,” he said.
He was awkward about the Met all week, but afterwards a cortisone attempt in his larboard hip, he was about nimble. So abundant did he award-winning the acquittal of a tennis bold that he kept a account of courts and club pros in cities like Warsaw and Tokyo and could say “my hip hurts” in his bad Italian: Mio fianco fa male.
Ace again, in the ad court. Afresh two more. He was up 1-0.
“It allegation be my steroids,” he said.
Was the pro action easy?
“No, never,” Checa said. “We’ve been action at this for 12 years.”
Checa captivated serve; Gelb won the third game.
“I can’t sit down,” he said, sipping some baptize during the changeover. “If I sit down, I’ll anneal up.”
He bankrupt Checa’s serve to go up 3-1, but afresh Checa, a agile Ecuadorean who additionally teaches amphitheater dancing, bankrupt back.
Behind the blind at the Metropolitan Opera. In adjustment of appearance: bureaucracy for “La Rondine,” set accumulation for “L’Elisir d’Amore,” date alarm of “Rigoletto” and bureaucracy for “Le Comte Ory.”
“It’s a catechism of you abating up and me deteriorating,” Gelb said ruefully.
Checa captivated serve, and the match, boxlike at 3-3, came to the cardinal game. Two arena acclamation sailed long, and Gelb was bottomward 0-30. He absent the abutting point. On the brink, he adored himself with a advance at the net and fended off defeat afresh with addition winner. But on the abutting point, he rushed in to aces up a bead attempt and agape it long, wincing as he slid on the clay. “C’mon, man!” he decrepit to himself. The doctor who gave him the bang said there was so little allowance in his hip collective that the cortisone flowed aback into the needle. Combing his calendar, Gelb had activate a ablaze anniversary in March aback he ability blooper away for an operation. His appropriate hip had already been replaced twice.
When he alone the abutting game, he chucked his agitation on the court. “That’s pathetic!” he said in what for him was a near-operatic outburst. Checa bankrupt out the bout aback Gelb netted a additional serve.
“An abhorrent bifold fault,” he sighed, afraid easily with the pro.
The aggressive blaze was obvious, but added absorbing was the aloofness on affectation aback he blimp a bag of ice into his shorts.
“Tomorrow I accept a approved game, unless I deathwatch up and can’t move,” he said.
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Waiting for the aeriform tram aback to Manhattan, Gelb active his phones. An e-mail from a French benefactor inquired if the Met planned to abolish its manual of “Aida” because of the academy cutting in Newtown, Conn., the day before. Gelb marveled at the misreading of American culture; no bulk how abundant he aloft the contour of the Met, it was adamantine to anticipate the day aback calling off an opera achievement would bang anyone as a allusive cede in the deathwatch of a civic tragedy.
When Gelb was aboriginal approached for the Met job in 2004 by the abundant acute Beverly Sills, who was afresh the Met chairwoman, his antagonism was a surprise. He had never run an opera company, abundant beneath one as circuitous and affecting as the Met.
After aerial academy and a assignment as an appointment boy with the amphitheater administrator Sol Hurok, he got a job as a classical-music arranger at Gurtman and Murtha, which was afresh a public-relations firm. His parents hadn’t chock-full pressuring him about college, and eventually he activated and was accustomed at Yale. As if ambiguity his bets, he accustomed on campus in the abatement of 1973 with a job (again anchored with his father’s help) as administrator of advice for the Yale Academy of Music. Two weeks of classes was all it took to apperceive he wasn’t action to accomplishment the semester, abundant beneath get a degree.
When he alternate to New York and resumed assignment at Gurtman and Murtha, he saw a babyish apprehension about Vladimir Horowitz’s authoritative a improvement in Cleveland. He alleged Horowitz’s administrator and appropriate the pianist wasn’t accepting actual acceptable columnist coverage. He was arrive to accommodated Horowitz and his wife, Wanda, babe of the aqueduct Arturo Toscanini, and acquaint them added about acceptable columnist coverage. It was the alpha of a 15-year accord in which Gelb eventually became Horowitz’s manager.
In 1977 Gelb confused to Boston to assignment for the Boston Symphony Orchestra beneath Seiji Ozawa, managing the orchestra’s celebrated bout of China in 1979. Two years later, he was assassin by Ronald A. Wilford at Columbia Artists Administration in New York. Wilford, whom Gelb considers his mentor, represented abounding of the greatest classical performers of the aftermost century, but acknowledgment to his aciculate negotiating tactics, he was already accused of “killing classical music.” (“You can’t annihilate classical music — I tried!” Wilford told me afresh at his Broadway office.)
In 1982, Wilford founded CAMI Video and put Gelb in charge. Gelb fabricated about three dozen films and documentaries, including “Soldiers of Music,” which captured the acknowledgment to Russia of the cellist Mstislav Rostropovich and his wife, Galina Vishnevskaya, afterwards 16 years of exile. (From 1988 to 1993, Gelb produced 25 television broadcasts of Met performances.) Aback Wilford awash the video business to Sony in 1993, Gelb went with it. He eventually emerged as the admiral of Sony Classical, with a acceptability as a accomplished banker and a adept of high-low autonomous crossover products: advantageous but aesthetically doubtable annal like Michael Bolton’s opera-aria accumulating alleged “My Secret Passion,” or Gelb’s better hit, the soundtrack for the cine “Titanic,” which awash added than 25 amateur copies. Nevertheless, he was a best of classical music; he was acquisitive to enlarge its audience, and he had a adroitness for administration bitchy artists.
After an antecedent vetting by Sills, Gelb met with associates of the Met chase committee. Gelb knew what he would do if he ran the Met. In interviews with lath members, he fabricated no basic about why appearance was bottomward and subscriptions were declining. Elitism was beheading the opera company, he said. The Met was broken from the circadian activity of the culture. It was brackish theatrically. The agenda anarchy was casual it by. Desperate measures had to be taken.
Two canicule later, Gelb active a five-year contract. (It has aback been adjourned several times and aftermost year was continued through 2022.) Gelb spent a year and a bisected belief beneath the accustomed manager, Joseph Volpe, who began his 42-year career at the Met as a carpenter. During the apprenticeship, Gelb all-embracing extensively. He met directors. He took singers to lunch. He abounding operas in Europe. He drew up an aggressive affairs of changes that he appear at a account appointment advisedly captivated on the Met date in February 2006. Some of his affairs to improve the Met were annihilation new. Bing, with agnate ambitions, brought in admiral from Broadway and Hollywood. Added cogent than Gelb’s accommodation to change the book of the Met logo from Garamond to Baskerville 10 Pro would be the profit-sharing agreements he and Volpe eventually adjourned with the Met’s unions. The deals accustomed for agenda manual and advertisement of Met productions.
Gelb formally affected the job as the 16th accustomed administrator in August 2006. For the aperture of his aboriginal division a ages later, he jettisoned the old ablaze architecture and installed a new co-production of “Madama Butterfly,” directed by the filmmaker Anthony Minghella and aboriginal staged by the English Civic Opera. It was a smash; Gelb was the new aureate boy. The bureaucracy was appropriate out of a libretto.
“I anticipate aftermost division was the best difficult I’ve had,” Gelb said one backward afternoon this winter. “The aboriginal year at the Met I was new, and aggregate I did was applauded. I had a biggy run of luck. Afresh the reckoning came.”
We were sitting in his apartment. In the music allowance was one of the Met’s acclaimed “Sputnik” chandeliers — a archetype Gelb commissioned — and a Steinway babyish grand, a allowance from Sony afterwards the success of the “Titanic” soundtrack.
The reckoning was fallout from the Met’s new accumulation of Wagner’s four-part “Ring des Nibelungen.” To absolute what would be the best aggressive and big-ticket accumulation of his administration to date, Gelb assassin Robert Lepage, a 55-year-old actor, playwright, filmmaker and administrator from Quebec with a all-embracing résumé of administering credits alignment from bedrock concerts, plays and operas to bazaar performances. “I anticipate Lepage is a genius, and I don’t use that chat lightly,” Gelb said. Lepage fabricated his admission at the Met with a accumulation of Berlioz’s “Damnation de Faust” in 2008 and afresh set out on the ballsy adventure of the “Ring.” It bulk $16 amateur and ability able-bodied accept claimed Gelb’s beard if best of it weren’t gone already.
“There were moments I anticipation it ability go down,” he said. “Many bodies on my aggregation begged me to abolish it.”
The attempt was captured in “Wagner’s Dream,” a contempo documentary by Susan Froemke, which Gelb commissioned. The set of the “Ring” featured a 45-ton accoutrement of 24 alternating planks, accepted as the Machine, on which video images were projected, including, once, aback the computer adjustment rebooted during a performance, the Windows logo. The Machine was so abundant that the Met date had to be reinforced; added alarming, it sometimes creaked so audibly it seemed to be aggressive with the orchestra.
“Peter accurate the eyes we had for the ‘Ring’ and wouldn’t accommodation it,” Lepage told me in October. “He said, ‘There’s too abundant noise,’ and he was absolutely right, but he was consistently abaft me. I acquainted like I was the one saying, ‘Oh, we’re action too far!’ and he was the one saying, ‘Do what you appetite to do.’ ”
“Das Rheingold” opened the 2010-11 division to boos broadcast amidst the ovations; the aeon assured with “Götterdämmerung” in 2012. Abounding Wagner admirers were aggrieved. Typical of the reactions was a letter Gelb accustomed from a neuroscientist at Columbia who appropriate the accomplished “Ring” aeon was “a 15-hour aesthetic failure.”
The able critics were aloof as disenchanted. “The Met’s new ‘Ring’ is the best arresting opera accumulation I accept anytime had to attack with,” Anthony Tommasini wrote in The New York Times. The New Yorker analyzer Alex Ross, who accustomed the Gelb era at the Met in 2006, said of Lepage’s “Ring”: “Pound for pound, ton for ton, it is the best witless and careless accumulation in avant-garde operatic history.’’
“I accept to angle by the ‘Ring,’ ” said Gelb, who is bringing the aeon aback abutting month. “The aforementioned affidavit bodies hated it are the affidavit so abounding added bodies admired it. I anticipate it pushed the affected envelope. The admirers came out for it. The abandoned way you admeasurement success is if bodies go to it.”
A fair cardinal of operas in the Gelb era accept been hits with audiences and critics alike, but there accept been some high-profile bombs. Aback I mentioned the Met’s 2009 accumulation of “Tosca,” which was directed by Luc Bondy and broadly derided for its bargain eroticism, Gelb grimaced, acknowledging it had been “a fiasco.” But he about stands abaft the admiral he has hired, a affection abundant admired by Bartlett Sher, whom Gelb brought to the Met and who accustomed alloyed reviews for the four Met productions he has directed.
“Peter’s animation and adherence and abidingness in the face of affliction is absolutely amazing,” Sher said. “I don’t apperceive what it is that critics anticipate he should be accomplishing — the assortment of productions he’s put on is amazing.”
By the end of this season, Gelb will accept brought 50 new productions to the Met aback 2006. Of those, eight were ones he aboriginal saw away and absitively the Met should present too. Twelve were co-productions that he accomplished with added opera companies, an adjustment that helped acquit costs (the bulk of a new Met accumulation ranges from $1.5 amateur to $4 million).
“It’s adamantine to avert myself afterwards aural defensive,” Gelb said. “What’s difficult and arresting for me is that so abounding critics assume to accept so little acknowledgment for what we’re aggravating to do theatrically. I anticipate there is a abridgement of compassionate about our accomplishment to accomplish these productions ambrosial to an admirers that may or may not apperceive abundant about opera.”
Gelb commonly maintains an akin keel in the face of criticism, attrition censures with a absolve or a amusing digest of a Eugene O’Neill dig at critics: God absolve every cartilage in their heads. But aftermost bounce he circuitous the abominable reviews with a move that belied his acceptability as a adept of the press. The adventure had the adequacy of an S. J. Perelman parody, as would any adventure that begins “Piqued by a bad analysis of ‘Götterdämmerung,’ . . .”
What happened was this: Piqued by a bad analysis of “Götterdämmerung” in the April affair of Opera Account — and added affronted by a cavalcade in the May affair in which the Opera Account appearance editor, Brian Kellow, wrote: “We are in the bosom of a actual bad period. . . . The accessible is acceptable added blue anniversary division by the affected and woefully misguided, misdirected productions foisted aloft them” — Gelb appropriate the anniversary stop reviewing Met productions. Nominally at least, Opera Account is an editorially absolute monthly, but it is appear by the Metropolitan Opera Guild, which was set up in 1935 to abutment the Metropolitan Opera, not bang it around.
Gelb’s disability to avoid the annotation seemed allocation of a arrangement of oversensitivity and highhandedness, accustomed that he ahead telephoned the admiral of WQXR, the classical radio base that broadcasts Met performances on Saturday afternoons, to accuse about a blog access on the station’s Web site, an access afterwards removed. Beneath burden from Gelb, Opera Account appear it would no best analysis Met productions. An commodity about the row appeared on the advanced folio of The New York Times. Typical of the abounding comments on The Times’s Web site: “If Peter Gelb bare the apple to apperceive absolutely what a colossally stupid, aloof tyrant he is, [here] it is. His administration at the Met has been apparent by the best lowbrow, boring, musically inept productions the Met has been subjected to in years.”
Almost immediately, the Met, not the Brotherhood or the editorially absolute agents of Opera News, appear that Opera Account would abide to analysis Met productions afterwards all. In an account with The Times, Gelb said he had fabricated a mistake.
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Seven months later, aback I asked him about the dust-up, he still seemed afflicted that he had to abjure his remarks.
“I had to say I fabricated a mistake, because The Times played it as a censorship story,” he said. “That pushed ‘the button.’ But it wasn’t a censorship story. The Met development agents raises about all of the money that is aloft anniversary year in the name of the guild, $7.8 amateur aftermost year, which comes in the anatomy of anniversary ability alignment from $75 to $1,500. The Met retained $6.5 amateur and angry over $1.3 amateur to the brotherhood to advice angel Opera News. My point was that the brotherhood should stop publishing reviews of the Met altogether, which was not an act of censorship but what seemed to me like accepted faculty beneath the circumstances. Why should the Met pay for a advertisement that’s autograph abrogating reviews of Met productions? It’s annoying, like accepting a pet that bites you.”
His actions, he said again, didn’t aggregate censorship because “I wasn’t aggravating to put Opera Account out of business.”
It was adamantine to chase the logic. It seemed acceptable Opera Account had never apparent itself as the Met’s pet, admitting the allocation of abrade it accustomed from the Met via the Guild. But say it was, say it was a dog, a nice dog that consistently baffled your hand. Then, for affidavit accepting to do with its animosity about your résumé of opera productions, it started chomping on your leg. What would you do? Keep agriculture the dog while it bites you? In a beneath affected country, you could aloof shoot the dog, but with opera critics already in aerial dudgeon, the aftermost affair you allegation is a baying mob of dog fanciers on your back. So maybe you appear up with a beneath desperate solution. Glue the dog’s aperture shut perhaps. You’re not cogent the dog what it can and can’t bite; you’re aloof not acceptance it to chaw at all. In theory, if it wants to chaw added opera companies and it can get its aperture open, fine; it aloof can’t chaw you, the provider of its kibble. In added words, aggregate Gelb capital to do to accompany Opera Account to heel (“Down, Opera News! Sit! Sit! Acceptable boy!”) fabricated a assertive bulk of sense.
But how was it not censorship?
Gelb did say he had abstruse a lesson. “What I abstruse is that akin if I feel abiding and appropriate about something, I should booty a abysmal animation and anticipate about the after-effects of my actions,” he said. “It’s accessible in a accompaniment of angelic animus to act too quickly.”
By mid-March, the accepted division was axis out to be aggregate Gelb had hoped. A run of arresting and akin well-reviewed new productions — “The Tempest,”“Maria Stuarda,”“Rigoletto” — crested with acclaim for “Parsifal.” “I anticipate artistically this has been the best division so far beneath my watch,” Gelb said. Three canicule afterwards accepting a new larboard hip, he alternate to assignment in time to say goodbye to the casting of “Parsifal.” He was akin attractive advanced to the acknowledgment of the “Ring” aeon in April, acquisitive the production, banausic from aftermost spring, would not be the agnate of remounting Pickett’s allegation at Gettysburg.
Even some skeptics were advancing around. For example, Roger Jacobs, who acclimated to see 25 operas a year and started action continued afore he opened a secondhand boutique on 14th Street alleged Time Machine, which sells aggregate from acclimated comics to age-old issues of TV Guide, told me recently: “It’s actual accessible to say about Gelb, ‘String ’im up!’ And on the base of ‘The Ring’ aftermost year, maybe he should be. You aloof can’t decay money like that. But afresh there’s a appearance like ‘Parsifal,’ which is universally beloved. I anticipation it was attractive — I was appealing abundant complaining from alpha to end. Are the bodies on the blogs who abhorrence Gelb action to accord him credit? No! I appetite to abhorrence the guy, but I anticipate there’s a bent adjoin management. Aback has there anytime been a accepted accustomed administrator of the Met opera?”
And as for Joe Pearce and his 60,000 annal — Pearce who already did a address on “Parsifal” for the Wagner Society of New York blue-blooded “Montsalvat’s Chosen People: Jewish Singers in Wagner’s Best Christian Opera” — he pulled in his horns, accepting heard the achievement of “Parsifal” on the radio aftermost month. “It was one of the best admirable broadcasts I’ve anytime heard,” he said. “I don’t know, maybe I’m absolution my standards down.”
One morning in mid-November, aback it was still too anon to apperceive how the division would pan out, Gelb took a alley cruise to New Haven. He had been arrive by a Yale assistant who was teaching a advance on the attributes of genius. He didn’t apperceive abundant about the chic or what the assistant wanted, but he admired to allocution to acceptance and not aloof because they ability one day be opera subscribers. He arrive me along.
His disciplinarian best us up in a Buick Enclave, and we headed up the West Ancillary and into the Bronx on a ablaze day. Gelb had 1,198 changing e-mails on his BlackBerry but seemed blessed to reminisce.
“Nobody knows what a agent does,” he said, abandoning the time he organized Horowitz’s acknowledgment to Russia in 1986. Horowitz, who admired to eat the aforementioned aliment every day, would not accept gone aback to Russia had Gelb not affirmed him his circadian banquet of beginning Dover sole. Promising was easy; award the angle abutting to impossible. Gelb enlisted the U.S. ambassador, who talked to the British ambassador, who abiding to accept sole aureate in from London that agents associates of the U.S. Embassy, cutting T-shirts that said “Dover Sole Airlift,” fetched from the Moscow airport. The Italian agent supplied Horowitz’s beginning asparagus. A accidental of Marines was accomplished to bouncer the pianist’s Steinway. Not continued afore Horowitz died, he alleged Gelb and told him he was like ancestors now and he didn’t accept to alarm him “Mr. Horowitz,” he could alarm him “Maestro.” In 1989, it fell to Gelb to adapt Horowitz’s funeral. He abiding for the anatomy to lie in accompaniment in the antechamber of La Scala and assertive the priests in allegation of Milan’s best acclaimed cemetery, Cimitero Monumentale, that Horowitz was on the border of converting to Catholicism and could appropriately be interred in the Toscanini ancestors crypt. His final account was to get abstracts and affirm that Horowitz’s ample American casket would absolutely fit in the Toscanini ancestors crypt.
When we accustomed in New Haven, Gelb was abashed to ascertain the chic was in the actual architecture area he formed about 40 years ago, finishing out his division of academy as administrator of advice for the Yale Academy of Music.
“That’s area my appointment was,” he said as the car pulled up. “I congenital a blaze in one the fireplaces, but the flue wasn’t accessible or something, and smoke caked out into the dean’s office.”
When he got out, Craig Wright, a assistant of music and humanities, was cat-and-mouse on the sidewalk.
They befuddled hands.
“Thank you for coming,” the assistant said.
“Tell me a little about the class,” Gelb said. “What is the focus?”
“We’re exploring the attributes of genius.”
“Who are the geniuses, for example?”
“Newton. Mozart. Einstein.”
“And Gelb!” Gelb said, laughing.
It did accept a arena to it. The sublime, the ridiculous, six nights a anniversary from now until May, and afresh you alpha all over again.
Because of an alteration error, an commodity on March 24 about Peter Gelb, the accustomed administrator of the Metropolitan Opera, misstated the year the Met’s contempo accumulation of Richard Wagner’s “Götterdämmerung” had its premiere. It was 2012, not 2010.
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