(James B. Stewart’s article appeared in the New Yorker, 3/23.)
On February 26, 2014, Peter Gelb, the general manager of the Metropolitan Opera, entered the Met’s boardroom to address a group that included a nine-member committee of the Met orchestra, whose contracts were due to expire on July 31st. There was much to say. Seven and a half years into his tenure at the world’s largest and most complex arts organization, Gelb could point to an impressive record of achievement: High-definition theatrical broadcasts of Met productions in cities around the world had brought grand opera to an audience of millions and opened a new revenue stream—$32.1 million in the most recent fiscal year. To attract new audiences, he’d brought a roster of acclaimed directors to the Met stage and introduced fifty-four new productions, averaging seven per year—a Met record.
Yet the Met’s expenses had soared. In the most recent fiscal year, 2013, they were three hundred and twenty-seven million dollars—forty-seven per cent higher than when Gelb took over. Because the box-office accounted for less than a third of revenue, the Met depended heavily on charitable contributions. Though revenue had grown by nearly fifty per cent, to three hundred and twenty-four million dollars, the company had run an operating deficit of $2.8 million.