The Wall Street Journal had a great article recently on Peter Gelb, general manager of the Metropolitan Opera in New York City.
"...Mr. Gelb has managed to enchant both the masses and the elites. Using film and theater directors, he has invigorated the Met's offerings without introducing sadomasochism and other freakish "updates" common in Europe. When the current season ends in mid-May, the Met expects to have sold 87.5% of available tickets, up from 76.8% two years ago, and box office revenues will likely reach $93 million, up from $82.7 million."
"All of the things he has done have also been quite costly. The Met's budget has grown more than 21% in two years, to a projected $268.3 million in the fiscal year ending July 31 from $221.7 million in fiscal 2006. Its deficit -- despite energetic fund raising -- is likely to widen to somewhere between $6 million and $10 million this fiscal year, compared with a deficit of $4.5 million two years ago.
Which is why there are doubts about Mr. Gelb's strategy, even among his supporters. Some fear that his Falstaffian model is unsustainable, that he is creating a bubble of interest that will inevitably deflate, leaving the Met overextended and mired in the red. Others, says Brian Dickie, general director of the Chicago Opera Theater, admire Mr. Gelb but regard him as "a marketing man who loves opera" -- overly reliant on gimmicks and buzz whose power will fade.
Certainly, jealousy is motivating some of the gossip. But whether Mr. Gelb -- who says he's a producer, not a marketer -- succeeds or fails is important because, as he brags, "we're being copied by other companies, and we're the inspiration for other arts organizations as well." He volunteers that he was invited recently to speak about his strategy at Harvard's Hauser Center for Nonprofit Organizations -- stopping a beat before adding that his cousin, Christopher Stone, runs the Hauser Center. If Mr. Gelb is leading others astray, there will be blood elsewhere in the cultural world.