Metropolitan Opera general manager Peter Gelb has warned the New York company could face bankruptcy in two or three years if it does not cut the cost of orchestra and chorus wages. Speaking on BBC Radio 3’s Music Matters programme, he suggested cutting 16 per cent of the Met’s $200m labour costs by changing work rules; orchestra and chorus members are currently paid for at least four performances per week when they often perform less.
‘What’s at stake, ultimately, is the future of the Met Opera,’ said Gelb. ‘I’m just trying to address this problem a few steps before the edge of the precipice instead of waiting until we are actually on the precipice. Even if I was the worst manager in the world, if two thirds of the cost structure is going to the unions, clearly that’s an area that has to be cut.’
Discussions surrounding the proposed pay cuts are currently taking place before the existing player contracts expire at the end of July – although unions have threatened strike action.
Gelb also defended the company against criticisms of its production expenses, including a poppy field set for a recent staging of Prince Igor, which cost $169,000.
‘Putting on productions is expensive,’ he said. ‘What we have to do is make it less expensive – not by going back to the stone ages of opera theatre and having productions that no one will want to see, but by cutting down on the labour costs. The box office has not increased, it’s been flat which represents a shrinking playing field for opera – it’s not a secret in the US that the frequency of opera going is going down. We are getting a newer audience, a younger audience, but there aren’t enough new audience members to replace the old audience members who are dying off.’