Tuesday, July 29, 2014

I'm Thrilled, Thrilled, I Tell You.

The Met sends me a begging letter the week that they're going to lock out the unionized employees:

No donations this week, thank you. And conductor Ron Spigelman has a few words to say about the Met's leadership.


Henry Holland said...

Disclaimer: I'm very pro-union in general.

Sorry, but I think Mr. Spigelman has fallen in to the trap that a lot of others have: "If we could only get rid of Gelb, the Met wouldn't have these problems". To quote Kurtz in Apocalypse Now Gelb is an "an errand boy, sent by grocery clerks to collect a bill". If Gelb left tomorrow, the same structural woes that are at the Met would still be there, plus, who would be insane enough to take the job?

* They play in a theater that's way too large, which forces them to program endless runs of the ABC operas for tourists to fill seats, prevents them from doing sections of the rep (baroque, chamber operas) and limits the singers they can get. That soprano that has a good buzz in Europe? Sorry, her voice is too small to project to the back of the airplane hangar that the Met works in

* They do way too many performances a year, well over 200 a season, the season drags on from September to May. Vienna does about the same but in a house less than half the size (Met: 3800 seats v. Vienna's 1709); I loved the Wien Staatsoper, it was a great place to see an opera, the Met, not so much

* The audience is aging and no amount of "Let's get some 20-something composer to write for us" type thing is going to pull in enough 20-40 somethings to make up for the loss of us older people. Fine, a lot of them showed up for The Nose but for rep performances of Carmen with second-and-third tier singers, not really

* The days of singers and conductors being known in the wider culture (i.e. ticket sales) are gone and they're never coming back

* The union is living in a world that doesn't exist anymore. I don't buy the whole "But...but...New York is so expensive to live in!!!" line as London, Paris and other European cities aren't exactly cheap either. Some quick Googling shows that musicians in the major London orchestras and in the pit at the ROH and ENO make about 1/3 less than what the Met orchestra does and as Lisa would know, London is hideously expensive just to visit, let alone live in

Lisa Hirsch said...

My general stance right now is that play & talk is the right approach, not a lockout that is likely to damage the Met for years to come. This is completely separate from the issues you raise and what the Met can actually afford to pay. The deficit that seems to be the cause of all the fussing is 1% of the Met's current budget.

And remember, somebody signed those contracts that Peter Gelb objects to and says are bankrupting the company. His name is Peter Gelb.

LinGin said...

Lisa, those last contracts were negotiated by the unions' preferred choice of negotiator, Joe Volpe. His style was basically to give the unions what they wanted. Gelb just signed off on business as usual and everyone seemed to be fine with it.

Lisa Hirsch said...

I know Volpe did the negotiations. My point is that Gelb, as general manager, signed them, and that Gelb, as general manager, is responsible for determining whether the Met could afford those contracts. If he wasn't thinking about that, if he didn't have good projections of the eventual cost and the impact on the Met finances, why, then, he made a huge mistake, for which he is responsible. And which is evidence of lack of competence.

LinGin said...

He signed off to prevent exactly what's going on now. The unions have shown no willingness to negotiate on what is the biggest cost to running the Met - labor. They don't pay for their health care, they have defined pensions, they have couple months vacation time. All of these are dreams for most of us. (I pay $850/mo to keep a gold HC plan.)AND they have a profession that they love and find fulfilling. Again, a dream for most of us who work at mundane jobs.

Look, the Met cannot run on a repertory system any longer. 3-4 operas a week plus 2 more in rehearsal is not economically feasible. Unless the plutocrats on the Board of Directors want to continually pay for the bigger and bigger deficits that comes with the cost of maintaining this system. I'm all for that but somehow I don't think that's going to happen.

LinGin said...

I do agree that the donation request is tone-deaf. But then, that seems to be everyone is in this situation.

Anonymous said...

So Peter Gelb gets paid $1.4 million (source: Spigelman's interview), but it's everybody else who has to tighten their belts. And they have jobs they love, so don't expect to get paid anything for your work as well, lousy moochers!

This is exactly the bass-ackwards, rich-get-everything, screw everyone else, class warfare that brings out the pitchforks.

Lisa Hirsch said...

Gelb took an 11% pay cut several years ago. I'll note that Lin isn't arguing that the Met's union employees shouldn't get paid.

That said, Lin, I don't really understand what you mean when you say Gelb "signed off then to prevent what's going on now." For one thing, where's the evidence of that? Did he instruct Volpe to negotiate for smaller raises?

And I repeat: Gelb is ultimately responsible for the Met's financial health. He's the one who has to do the economic analysis and raise the money.

The fact that the Met's unionized workers get paid what they get paid isn't evidence that they are overpaid, which you seem to be arguing.

It's evidence that you and other workers are underpaid; the health insurance situation is evidence that the US needs to get away from the crazy patchwork of employer-provided insurance, individual plans, veterans' health care, old-age peoples' health insurance, and low-income peoples' health insurance. Really, we ALL need unions.

I'm curious about the evidence that the Met can't continue to put on as much opera in repertory as it does. Is Gelb making that claim? If so, I haven't read it and would appreciate a link.

A cut in the number of performances would mean a cut in income as well as a cut in costs. Can the Met afford that?

The current deficit is 1%. That's not so bad on a nearly $300 million/year budget.

As for who would be crazy enough to run the Met, which Henry asks, rhetorically, I have some candidates: David Gockley, who has put SF Opera on a much sounder financial footing; Brent Assink, ditto, but for SF Symphony (huge increase in number of endowed chairs, something the Met should be doing if it isn't already); Mark Volpe (no relation to Joe) of the BSO, same as Assink.

Anonymous said...

The observation that "they have a profession that they love and find fulfilling" is an argument that therefore they deserve to be paid less because they're getting this intangible compensation, period. It has no other purpose for being in that paragraph.

To mock this by claiming that the argument is that they shouldn't be paid at all is only a minor matter of "we know you're being screwed, but by how much?", and it's not an exaggeration at all when it comes to internships, which is just a fancy term for "free labor."