The Associated Press published an article on 1/28/2021 by Ronald Blum that examines The Metropolitan Opera’s finances. Nutshell: they saw the same drop in earned income other groups are experiencing but offset that in part by increased unearned income.
In and of itself, there’s nothing remarkable there but what should catch your eye is the spin Met general manager Peter Gelb put on that story.
“The good news is that we’ve managed to maintain the best relationship with our donors and our audiences through our nightly streams to our pay-per-view concerts for a period of almost a year now without performances.”
Regarding the nightly streaming offering Gelb referenced as a strength, it’s an odd item to source as pretense for positive donor relations. On 1/21/2021 we examined the quantity and intensity of negative comments on The Met’s Facebook wall to their archived recording announcements. That vitriol has remained consistent to this day.
It’s difficult to believe Gelb wouldn’t be aware of what would otherwise be a major source of PR heartburn for a nonprofit performing arts organization but the decision to spin that into some sort of support story only risks making a bad situation worse. Intentionally antagonizing the artists and technicians who actually made those streams available projects an image of an executive leadership team comfortable crushing the very people responsible for creating the product that is supposedly inspiring increased donations.
If that weren’t enough, the AP article confirms Gelb is exploring hiring replacement workers for the union employees currently locked out.
It has used nonunion musicians for its streamed concerts from Europe, angering the union of its orchestra, local 802 of American Federation of Musicians. The Met last month locked out its stagehands in Local One of the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees because it has been unable to negotiate wage cuts during the pandemic. Gelb said the Met is exploring the use of outside workers to start construction of sets for next season’s new productions.
When asked about the decision to hire non-union musicians instead of using musicians from their own orchestra for fundraising events, Gelb split hairs by saying fundraisers aren’t opera concerts, so it’s no big deal.
“We’ve hired a couple of musicians for these pay-per-view events in Europe to enhance the experience for the audience of what are basically vocal recitals, they’re not orchestral concerts.”
It’s one thing to adopt an Antoinettesque approach to stakeholders, it’s something entirely different to weaponize it. The longer the Met’s board allows the organization to walk down this path, the more costly it will be to retrace those steps and move toward a better future.