30 August 2007

"I wanna be a producer ..."

A podcast interview with Peter Gelb from Chautauqua begins with a recitation of our general manager's extensive pre-Met accomplishments (Emmys and that sort of thing) by the interviewer Jay Lesenger, general manager of the Chautauqua Opera. This is followed by this comment from Gelb:

"All of the qualifications you read off do not include ever having run an opera house, which is why when I was appointed to run the Met, it was something of a shock to the opera world. And the Met patrons and observers of the Met were somewhat concerned about had to be convinced that I was going to be a benign influence on the opera."
Couldn't you see the smirk on his face as he utters the word benign? He then spends the rest of the 15-minute interview detailing how he singlehandedly rescues opera, that "aging art form," from certain oblivion and eventual death ("the writing on the wall"). The crux of his governing philosophy is no secret, and he repeats it, more bluntly, here:
"The biggest mistake that a head of an opera company or a symphonic orchestra could make is to believe that just because the music has stood the test of time, that the audiences will be satisfied without some kind of changes. And therefore my appoach to running the Met is really as a producer, somebody who is looking at the artistic and the audience development at the same time. It serves no good purpose at all to run an opera house like the Met, one of the largest opera houses in the world with 3800 seats, if one is not constantly thinking about how we are going to fill those seats."
There's really nothing in this Gelb interview that we haven't heard before. What may be different is that he's no longer checking his bluster these days. There is now a more obvious self-congratulatory swagger in his every response. With the kind of box office success he's been enjoying of late, it's perfectly understandable. Our only concern stems from that one little axiom about box office numbers and quality being uncorrelated (true of just about anything you could think of), at times even diametric. We won't know the true price of all this for a while.