Thursday, May 24, 2012

Bist du verrückt, Gelb, mein Sohn?

          I’m quickly realizing that maybe school needs to get out at, like, 10 am so we can all keep up with the newest Metropolitan Opera mini-scandals.
          As of yesterday, the now-infamous Peter Gelb has struck and un-struck the press with another disapproval of criticism.


Robert Lepage
Gelb has been the Met Opera’s general manager since 2006, and in the past few months, it seems he has received nothing but criticism. The company’s “Ring” Cycle productions have been the talk of the opera/music community for a while due to the previous promises of greatness and grand staging. Despite the buildup, the Met’s cycle (more specifically, Robert Lepage’s staging) have been called distracting, disappointing, “puny,” and, in one of the most negative sentences I’ve seen Alex Ross write in a while, “the most witless and wasteful production in modern operatic history.”

The set everyone seemed to hear about 
         The reason for a large fraction of the Met’s recent criticisms, however, is not necessarily the production itself, but Gelb. “Revolutionary,” the word Gelb used to describe Lepage’s work on the productions, has been repeated by many with raised eyebrows and exclamations of “really?” Gelb has continued this over-laudatory behavior in past weeks, which one can only liken to the parent of the child whose mommy says “they’re good at everything.” You know, the one whose kid always seems to win the board games.
         On three separate occasions, Gelb has contacted the source of negative reviews and complained, resulting in their retraction, deletion, or discontinuation. At the beginning of May, Olivia Giovetti of WQXR posted a negative rant about Gelb and the Met’s productions on the Operavore blog of the radio station’s website. WQXR pulled the piece a mere day after its publication. While executives of the station say it was a decision due to their own dissatisfaction with the piece, Gelb’s strange hypersensitivity begs to differ. The New York Times reported him saying: “I told [Laura Walker, president of WNYC] I thought it was objectionable… It was an awful and nasty piece, which in my opinion was totally unjustified.”
        And now, just a few weeks after the WQXR incident, Gelb has fashioned another guard for a mouth of criticism. Opera News, a widely read opera magazine, published a well-written review by Fred Cohn critical of Lepage’s staging of the final installment in the cycle, “Götterdämmerung.” The magazine then announced it would stop publishing reviews about the Met altogether, with pressure from Gelb to do so.  However, just a day later, Gelb retracted his decision, saying he “think [he] made a mistake” (New York Times). Seeing as Opera News is published by the Met Guild, it seems only logical that the magazine would have to report on the productions of its mother organization; Gelb thinks the opposite. Again, from the article in the New York Times by Daniel J. Wakin:

Mr. Gelb said in an interview on Monday that the decision was made “in collaboration with the guild” but that he never liked the idea that an organization created to support the Met had a publication passing judgment on its productions. Worse yet, he said, is a publication that “continuously rips into” an institution that its parent is supposed to help.

His pseudo-reasoning is also humorous (from the same article): “Clearly the public would miss Opera News not being able to review the Met, and we are responding to that.”
        Now, correct me if I’m wrong, but criticism is usually negative. It’s also a large part of putting on a production, or doing anything in life. So it’s a little frustrating when we see a man like Gelb, someone who is supposed to be leading the Met in the best direction he can, wasting his and our time with his immature handling of criticism. If you are going to put on a production, especially in one of the most famous venues in the US, you’d better be prepared for criticism from the most common and strangest corners of the internet and papers. This is almost inevitable and cannot be stopped. It’s pretentious and pathetic to ask for criticism to be removed, for you are only masking the problem with a mask made of glass. A better solution would be to tweak the performance that is creating the negative reviews rather than the reviews themselves.
        In the next 4 years of Gelb’s presumed stay at the Met, the company has said they will be performing 62 productions, 17 of which are new (including Nico Muhly’s “Two Boys"). That is an ambitious and heavy load. I can only hope that Lepage’s future staging will garner more positive reactions, if he continues to partner with the Met, and Gelb learns to open his eyes from the filtering squint they seem to be in nowadays.

Criticism?? SEIZE IT, SIGFRIED. 


  1. No, the vast majority of reviews for opera in the US are positive, the criticism in this case, almost universally written in cautious terms by critics who appeared honestly to have wanted to like the production, was well deserved. The Lepage Ring production is a stinker. It's boring, built around a preposterous piece of far-too-expensive ugly machinery with nothing at all to do with the Ring. Despite all the attention — remember all PR is good PR — Gelb still can't fill the seats, putting the house in further debt. Let's be honest: Geld has been a disaster, an intellectual and financial lightweight who — on the basis of his work at Sony Classical — never should have been hired for the Met. It would be far better for the Met to cut its losses and let both Gelb adn Lepage go, but that would require the board to admit to a major mistake and actually do the work of finding a replacement.

  2. I (unfortunately? maybe just in the case of talking about it) have not seen the production itself, so I can't talk to the details of it, but just reading about the focus on it's ostentatious nature is kind of appalling. It's such a shame to see the Met spiraling down with this production. I certainly hope Gelb either gets it together or someone else, someone with less attention pointed towards the press, is hired.

  3. I saw the Ring cycle in April and thought it was great. And I especially liked the use of technology as a way of accomplishing certain things that wouldn't be possible otherwise. I'm a subscriber at the Met and every one of the performances I attended last year was completely full. Gelb obviously is over-sensitive to criticism of a production that cost a lot of money and his attempt to muzzle criticism in Opera News was a mistake soon corrected. I'm not trying to defend him here. But as long as the programming continues to become more diverse (as it has since I've been attending) and they find a good replacement for Levine (who was sorely missed in the Ring) I'll continue to subscribe. Can't wait for Parsifal next year!

  4. Hi Christopher! It's definitely good to hear that you liked the technology, I'm sure there are a lot of people who did among all the criticism over it. Despite Gelb's Gelbiness, it's good to hear that the performances were full... I hope that in future seasons that can be accomplished seamlessly! And word to Parsifal, I wish I could go, along with The Tempest!