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  • Writer's pictureZach Finkelstein

Peter Gelb to Laid-off Met Opera Soloists: "Free Streaming is a Hit!"

On April 2nd, roughly two weeks after laying-off all Met soloists without pay, citing Force Majeure, Peter Gelb wrote a follow-up letter to the "Artists of the Met".

The letter expressed Gelb's "sorrow and gratitude" towards the loss of the season, and a reminder to them that the Met had "no choice" to cancel all productions "to keep everyone safe."

Over the past month, the Metropolitan Opera has shown twenty-one Met HD operas on their website. To our knowledge, despite the revenue-sharing agreement in place for the Met HD broadcast, no artists, including orchestra, chorus, or mainstage soloists have been paid for any of the free streams on the Met's webpage.

Gelb's letter spoke effusively about how successful the free streams have been for the Metropolitan Opera at bringing in online audiences:

"Most of you know, I’m sure, that we have also been offering free nightly streams on our website of encore presentations from our Live in HD series. The public response to this initiative has been overwhelming, with hundreds of thousands of people tuning in each day and giving incredibly positive commentary on our social-media channels. Our audience clearly wants you all back on our stage."

The letter also mentioned the "extraordinary" response to the fundraising campaign entitled, "The Voice Must Be Heard". The fundraiser aims to fill in the Met's $60 million budget deficit this season.

Mr. Gelb urged laid-off soloists to read his op-ed, "graciously published by the New York Times", entitled "Would Mozart Have Performed for You on Zoom?"

In the op-ed, Gelb praises his policy to stream 21 operas for free on the Met's website: "The initiative has been an undeniable success. After 12 days, we racked up an astounding 100 million viewing minutes." After listing a half-dozen famous performers who have graced the Met's corridors, the op-ed went on to compare Anna Netrebko's success at the Met, subbing in on New Year's Eve, to the accomplishments of baseball player and minority rights activist Reggie Jackson. He ended the op-ed with a light-hearted anecdote about how, now that he has no operas to present, he is responsible for cleaning the dishes in his own home, and would rather be "tending to the jitters" of his "neurotic tenors":

"To be sure, streaming in isolation during the pandemic is certainly a good way for artists and their fans to remain connected. And in a time like this, safety, of course, is paramount. My wife, Keri-Lynn Wilson, a globe-trotting conductor who was supposed to be rehearsing at Juilliard this spring for a new production of “La Bohème,” has temporarily traded in her baton for a vacuum cleaner, in between studying scores and playing the piano. I do the cooking and she does the dishes; now I’m responsible for scrubbing our cast-iron grill pan in the quieter evenings instead of being backstage tending to the pre-performance jitters of neurotic tenors. How I miss them!"

The email to soloists, provided in a screenshot below, ended on a hopeful note: "I look forward to welcoming you all back to the Met as soon as possible."

At least one Met soloist interviewed was furious at Gelb's email: "if you can’t afford to pay artists, how are you spending $310 million dollars?"

When asked what the soloist would say to Gelb, they replied:

"I would say, look at all these opera companies in America who have paid singers. Sure they might have lesser costs, but they have paid artists something, whatever they could to support them. It’s in times like this a company’s character will be judged. And your actions are appalling."

More to follow as the story develops.


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Apr 03, 2020

Gelb's mention of "100 million viewing minutes" is not really a helpful number. Let's break that down into something more useful. (Someone can correct my math going forward.) Let's say an opera is 120 minutes, and each viewer watches the whole opera. That gives us 833,333 individual views. The Met streamed 12 shows at that point, and many of those views were likely the same people. So let's give a conservative estimate and say each person watched 3 shows. That's 277,777 viewers. How many of those will then sign up for a monthly subscription going forward? Or a yearly subscription? A recent survey I looked at said 40% of Americans are willing to pay for a streaming subscription service. Let'…

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