Metropolitan Opera GM successfully pressures Opera News to stop reviewing his productions

The New York Times | Slipped Disc | Out West Arts

Peter Gelb is the general manager of the Metropolitan Opera in New York, a job that exposes him to jabs from critics as well as howls from the art form's unusually passionate fans as he tries to mount ambitious productions without losing audiences and, if that's not enough pressure, raise money to pay for them. On Monday, Opera News, which is published by a Met fundraising affiliate called the Metropolitan Opera Guild, said it would stop reviewing Met productions. Daniel J. Wakin writes: "The move came after a review in April took aim at the Met’s new production of Wagner’s 'Ring' cycle — a hallmark of Mr. Gelb’s tenure that has led to a firestorm — and after a top Opera News editor criticized the Met’s direction in a scathing essay in the May issue."

Opera News will continue to write about other companies' productions, a decision that leaves it in the odd position of being critical only about the Met's competitors.

In April, classical radio station WQXR yanked a blog post criticizing the Met's new "Ring" after Gelb complained, a decision the president of New York Public Radio told Wakin it had already begun to consider before he reached out. “It was an awful and nasty piece, which in my opinion was totally unjustified," Gelb told Wakin.

Iconoclastic classical music critic Norman Lebrecht says "unless someone steps up to the plate and takes action this will be a 24-hour wonder and another outlet of free speech will have been silenced." He wants reviewers to boycott Met productions until it loosens the screws on Opera News. This tactic is something of a slow burn since the Met's 2012-13 season doesn't start until September, though it shows HD broadcasts of old productions in movie theaters all summer.

Out West Arts' Brian Holt says "That Gelb would see a conflict in a support group of the organization being critical of the Met's productions makes sense to me and broaching that subject with them would make sense" but thinks this decision creates more problems for Opera News than it solves:

Opera News is now more or less about the Met passing judgement on the world of opera while its own house is beyond question and examination. This is neither fair nor necessarily wise. ... Given the Met's recent track record, one wonders how the company, and its advertising supplement is in a position to tell anyone what kind of job they are doing. If I were in charge of a regional or major opera company, I’d think long and hard before inviting anyone to review my work on behalf of Opera News again.

Bigfooting Opera News may be a canny tactic on Gelb's part. As long as people are criticizing him, they're not talking smack about his productions.

Related: In April, Glen Pearce wrote that arts organizations should rethink exclusive arrangements with media outlets. (Arts Professional)

  • Andrew Beaujon

    Andrew Beaujon reported on the media for Poynter from 2012 to 2015. He was previously arts editor at and managing editor of Washington City Paper. He's the author of the 2006 book "Body Piercing Saved My Life," about Christian rock and evangelical Christian culture.


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