Saturday, November 15, 2014

Met Opera Stars Made Humble

It is no secret that the Metropolitan Opera has been struggling financially over the past few months. Both ticket sales and corporate sponsorship have declined while production values have gone up, resulting in lost jobs and cuts to the salaries of the Met's unionized workers, including the orchestra, chorus, and stagehands.

This week, the New York Times shared that general manager Peter Gelb has started asking celebrity opera stars to accept 7% cuts in their salaries as well. Gelb promised the singers that this pay decrease would be optional, that it could be replaced by a tax-deductable donation to the Met of the same amount, and that whether they agreed to the cut would have no bearing on the Met's artistic opinion of them. The author of the article names Anna Netrebko, Joyce DiDonato, Plácido Domingo and Renée Fleming as singers who have already volunteered for a decrease in salary to help the Met.

This is not the first time big name singers have been asked to accept less money in hard times for the Met. In the early 20th century, Enrico Caruso offered to take a smaller salary to continue being the Met's main ticket seller. During the Great Depression, general manager Giulio Gatti-Casazza proposed similar salary cuts and got the agreement of all of his stars except Beniamino Gigli. In the recent recession, the Met also asked artists to accept less pay, without as much success, but Gelb thinks that he will get better results now that the unionized Met workers have agreed to a decrease in salary.

Some might say this is a fair application of the "tax the rich" approach to financial stability. Since the big name artists get the highest salary, decreasing their salaries would save more money and get the Met out of trouble. On the other hand, as the article author alludes to in passing, enough of a decrease might dissuade some celebrities from performing at the Met, because they can get better pay at other opera companies. For now, let's hope that enough stars pitch in to make things better.

Read the article here.

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