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Commentary

02 Nov 2004

Peter Gelb and the Met

In today's Wall Street Journal, Heidi Waleson opines on the future of the Met under Peter Gelb's leadership. She maintains that, given his background with Sony, this is a radical choice. Comparing his work at Sony with the Met, she...

In today's Wall Street Journal, Heidi Waleson opines on the future of the Met under Peter Gelb's leadership. She maintains that, given his background with Sony, this is a radical choice. Comparing his work at Sony with the Met, she contends that "[l]ike a classical-record company, a big opera house like the Met relies heavily on its 'back catalog,' but its new headliner productions are what create the buzz."

Mr. Gelb has spoken about the need for originality and creativity in music, and in a for-profit environment he sought creativity that had popular appeal. Some of his projects, like Richard Einhorn's haunting score "Voices of Light," created for the silent film "The Passion of Joan of Arc," were artistically successful. And director Julie Taymor, creator of the Met's new "Magic Flute," which sold out all its performances this fall and is one of the company's biggest hits in years, has a history with Mr. Gelb, who produced her "Oedipus Rex" in Japan in 1992.

At Sony, Mr. Gelb was smart enough to reorient the company for survival by taking the resources available and using his considerable marketing and packaging skills to sell them. The Met's resources and challenges are different. But thanks to Mr. Volpe and James Levine, it is a solid organization, well-positioned for some out-of-the-box thinking. For example, Ms. Taymor aside, attention to theatrical values has been sorely lacking in recent Met seasons. Before he turned to the record business, Mr. Gelb was a film and television producer. While his reputation may be colored by the purely commercial quality of some of his Sony creations, in the bastion of high art he may be just the person to revitalize the company's neglected stage, and give the Battleship Met a lively new face for the coming years.

For the complete article, click here (subscription to Wall Street Journal Online required).

Ms. Waleson's analysis may all be true. But, the real test for Mr. Gelb will be the future of the Met broadcasts, the Met's public face to the world. The Met is looking to raise $150 million in a 6-year campaign. In the first eight months of the campaign, it raised a paltry $11 million, $7 million of which is attributable to two foundations. This is hardly a groundswell of public support and strongly suggests that the campaign is doomed to failure. Without the broadcasts, the Met becomes just another local institution that has a great reputation but has little direct impact on operalovers living outside the Big Apple. Here is where Mr. Gelb can best use his experience in the business world to supply a product in high demand at a low cost.

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