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Doing business with the Met

0 Robert Levine

Buried in a long piece in the New York Times on the “new Met” were the following tidbits:

Since Mr. Gelb took over, the Met budget has increased by about $60 million. The box office is up, but meanwhile personal and corporate donations, which the Met depends on to balance its budget, are down, thanks to the economy, and so is the value of its endowment. The Met’s projected deficit for next year is about $4 million.

In the spring Mr. Gelb (whose own pay had gone up more than 30 percent since he started, to $1.5 million) asked the stagehands union to take a 10 percent salary cut. Instead its members agreed to forgo a 3 percent raise this season in return for a one-year extension on their contract, which was about to expire. Both the singers’ union and the one representing the orchestra, however, have declined to negotiate until the Met agrees to let them undertake a confidential analysis of the opera’s business plan. Alan Gordon, the executive director of the American Guild of Musical Artists, the orchestra union, said, “I’m sure there are problems, but I don’t think anybody sees the Met going under, no matter what happens,” and added: “We want to do due diligence, just like an investment bank. I’m certain that if our members thought the Met needed help, they’d be willing to give it, but what kind of help needs to be demonstrated.”

Of course the credibility of any story on the Met is somewhat compromised when the writer believes that AGMA is the “orchestra union,” but put that aside for a moment. The real story is that the Met’s budget has gone up by $60 million over the past few years (around 30% or so, I believe), the head guy’s salary has gone up by a comparable amount, the projected deficit for the current season is 5% or less of its budget, management has asked its unions for cuts - but has apparently not yet agreed to let the unions do an analysis of its plan for righting the ship.

“What kind of help needs to be demonstrated” would appear to be an understatement in the circumstances.

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