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  • Writer's pictureZach Finkelstein

Laid off, Unpaid Met Opera Artists Donate Their Time to Star-Studded Online Gala

Updated: Apr 19, 2020

This week, the Metropolitan Opera announced an ‘At-Home Gala’, its flagship online fundraiser to “support the company and protect its future”. General Manager Peter Gelb and Music Director Yannick Nézet-Séguin will host the event, to be streamed on April 25th from the Met Opera’s website.


The Met aims to fundraise $60 million to cover its losses in the 2019-2020 season.


At the gala, 44 Metropolitan opera stars have agreed to remotely appear, including

· Soloists who appeared without compensation in the recent HD broadcasts on the Met opera website;

Gelb was quoted in a recent article, one that claimed artists are "stuck at home with time on their hands" as saying, "They’re available since they’ve nothing else to do. A few of them said to me this will give them a reason to start practicing.”

Artists interviewed were sympathetic to the financial struggles of the soloists involved: one called it "Stockholm syndrome".


A former Met artist expressed dismay at the company's treatment of its soloists, but felt warmed by the generosity of the singers involved: “it is extraordinary to see, despite the way the Met handled its cancellation, despite all of that, these artists are willing to donate their time, willing to help stabilize the finances of a company that has treated them this way.”


Another artist was surprised at the audacity of management: “I can’t imagine my boss laying me off and then asking me to appear in the company’s promo video.” Three Met gala artists pushed back on the characterization of Met artists as victims, including Michael Fabiano. The tenor said, "I disagree that this gala exploits talent and work. I don't feel exploited and nor do many of my colleagues performing on it. We are showing the US and the lyric world that opera lives on and that we are ready to serve when the lights come back on."


Middleclassartist reached out to the Met’s PR team for comment, and asked, “what percentage of the funds raised by this gala will be earmarked for relief to laid-off Met artists?” As of Friday, April 17th, the Met has not provided an answer to this question.


Multiple soloists confirm that the Met opera stars engaged for the ‘At-Home Gala’ will not be paid.


One Met chorister confirms that both the orchestra and the chorus will not be paid for the April 25th gala.


The Met gala is “generously sponsored” by Rolex.


ZF

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3 Comments


avoceofdissent
Apr 19, 2020

Thanks, Zach. Glad to see we agree the industry needs to change.


Please note, I'm not trying to blame anyone (other than Gelb, who I honestly can't believe had his contract renewed), just saying that I think the call to shame companies that are running a deficit because they chose to follow the letter of the contracts artists signed to be questionable. (All of that isn't to say that I think it's a travesty that the Met is allowed to function the way it does, running a deficit year to year, having donors make it up, not having cash on hand to pay artists, etc.) Don't convict someone for doing what others agreed to.


And, having sung at the Met…


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Zach Finkelstein
Zach Finkelstein
Apr 18, 2020

Thanks Voce,

I think we have a lot of common ground here. My main quibble is your blaming of what at least one Met singer (and many non-A level singers) have characterized as the victims.

As you likely know, the power dynamic near the top (but not the very top) is different than you might expect. Singers except a few at the tippy top, Megawatt stars like Renee Fleming who have stood by the Met publicly, are largely powerless in their negotiations. The current A-list opera dynamic, from what I have heard from numerous Met and other sources, is more of a relationship between agent and presenter with the singer as a product with little room to object.

Here is…

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avoceofdissent
Apr 18, 2020

A counterpoint: Singers do this to themselves. (And please note, I think the Met has handled all of this TERRIBLY - Jamie being a case in point - and Gelb should very much be fired and replaced. But I prefer to call a spade a spade. Both sides have issues here.)


All of the singers on that gala could have said 'no' when asked to sing for free. As almost each one of them is a household name to opera fans, and some to even non-opera fans, it wouldn't have hurt their careers. And before you say "but the Met is so powerful, they HAD to do it." Nah, they didn't - they chose to sing. For free. And …


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