Peter Gelb’s charm offensive strikes again

Then there are the opera companies that sell this shirt in their gift shops.*

Less than 24 hours elapsed between the Times reporting that semi-resident magazine Opera News will no longer be reviewing Met productions per General Director Peter Gelb’s request due to recent less than complimentary assessments and the decision to reverse that decision. (Both were reported by Dan Wakin, who has been doing a great job covering the Met and New York classical music in general.) The reversal came in the form of a press release from the Met, offering further assurance that Opera News is an independent organ of faultless journalistic integrity.

I generally agree with Anne Midgette’s take on the situation (written before the reversal). But remember, the publication in question has a temperament that earned it the nickname Opera Snooze. If you’ve managed to do something sufficiently rash that even they are getting mad, you’ve really got a problem on your hands. And that’s the most worrying thing here. Yes, Gelb is acting like a tyrant and disregarding the normal freedoms of a democratic society, and that’s pretty awful. But he’s not single-handedly turning New York into 1937 Russia. He is, however, showing himself unfit to be the leader of an organization, particularly a creative one: unable to take criticism and, I suspect, unwilling to acknowledge or learn from failures. This attempt to cover up, though, backfired massively.  (Opera News enjoys an awkward relationship with the Met, as explained by Midgette, and despite being equipped with the paraphernalia of editorial independence has revealed itself to possess none. I wouldn’t mind the Met having its own PR-stuffed house magazine à la Prolog and basically every other European opera house–if only everyone concerned were honest that that is what Opera News is.)

Pro music critics far and wide condemned Gelb’s decision, as well as plenty of other people with internet soapboxes (Lisa has a good roundup, sorry, I wasn’t fast enough to comment sooner than this, lots of work to do today). And the decision was reversed quickly, albeit in a doublethink-full statement that chalked up the decision to the passionate outcry of opera fans who want to hear about their precious Met. Gelb is a little more forthright in the Times piece, admitting it just might have been a mistake.

Some of the reaction was hysterical, none more than this rather embarrassing anonymous Parterre screed. We all want art to feel like a matter of life and death but seriously, folks. Gelb isn’t the state, and he isn’t killing anyone. (And why aren’t we remembering the silent compliance of the Opera News editors? They’re almost worse than Gelb’s trigger finger.) To indulge in such large-scale, apocalyptic comparison of our little problems to those of people whose lives and livelihood are being threatened and have even been murdered shows an astonishing lack of proportion and empathy. I don’t care about the little disclaimer at the end. That the author was able to publish this piece (the anonymity is to protect their professional reputation, they are not going to be disappeared–the pseudonym, by the way, is from Gary Shteyngart’s Super Sad True Love Story, which made me think it might be satire but I fear that it is not), as well as the rest of today’s hullabaloo and the eventual reversal should be a clue that we’re not headed to the gulag yet.

Back to the opera, folks. See y’all at Salome on Thursday. I promise survey results really soon, but making pretty charts is hard.

*Not kidding. “Ein Buh für Sie!” means “A boo for you!”

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