The Metropolitan Opera faces bankruptcy ‘in two or three years’ if it fails to bring its wages bill under control, general manger Peter Gelb has warned.
The stark announcement follows the threat of strike action following Gelb’s proposal to cut spending on the venue’s $200m (£119m) labour costs by 16%. The former Sony Classical president also wants to re-negotiate rules concerning orchestra and chorus members that guarantee a weekly payment for four performances despite them usually playing and singing for less than that minimum.
Interviewed by Tom Service for Radio 3’s Music Matters, Gelb said: ‘What’s at stake, ultimately, is the future of the Met Opera. 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.’
He added: ‘Putting on productions is expensive. What we have to do it 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.’
Metropolitan Orchestra musicians currently enjoy 16 weeks paid holiday per year while they and chorus members earn up to $200,000 (£119,000) annually plus half as much again in health and pension benefits, despite, Gelb says, ‘flat-lining’ audiences.
The 3,800-seat venue at the company’s Lincoln Center home in New York played to just 79% of its capacity last year. (By comparison, the Royal Opera House reported audiences of more than 90%.) Of its current total annual budget of $327m (£195m), Gelb said ‘about $214m’ (£127m) was spent on unionised labour costs.
On a brighter note, Gelb also pointed to the success of the cinema-screening programme pioneered by the Met, whose productions have been seen by 15.3m people worldwide in 2,000 cinemas in 66 countries.