After the Metropolitan Opera chief Peter Gelb had forbidden his house magazine, Opera News, to review Met performances in the future (because an editorial had the cheek to comment negatively on some Met decisions) the management has done an abrupt about face, and issued the following statement:
In view of the outpouring of reaction from opera fans about the recent decision to discontinue Met performance reviews in Opera News, the Met has decided to reverse this new editorial policy. From their postings on the internet, it is abundantly clear that opera fans would miss reading reviews about the Met in Opera News. Ultimately, the Met is here to serve the opera-loving public and has changed its decision because of the passionate response of the fans.
The Met and the Met Opera Guild, the publisher of Opera News, have been in discussions about the role of the Guild and how its programs and activities can best fulfill its mission of supporting the Metropolitan Opera. These discussions have included the role of reviews in Opera News, and whether they served that mission. While the Met believed it did not make sense for a house organ that is published by the Guild and financed by the Met to continue to review Met productions, it has become clear that the reviews generate tremendous excitement and interest and will continue to have a place in Opera News.
The change of heart, coming only a day after Gelb's ban, will surely come as an embarrassment to the organisation as a whole, and Gelb above all. As the son of former New York Times managing editor, Gelb should know something about free expression, and he obviously doesn't like it!
His hysterical reaction certainly hasn't done him any PR favours. Justin Davidson for the New York Magazine‘s Vulture, writes,
Gelb is perfectly within his rights to defend himself against jabs by spinning hard and fast. He once invited me to his office to try and persuade me that I was being unfair in my reviews. On that occasion, he was willing to concede problems with certain productions. But now he has hunkered down. Instead of batting away a bad review or hostile comment as one person's opinion, he has taken to bullying the very people who care most about the art form he is ostensibly there to advance.
Nathalie Wagner, president of the Wagner Society of New York, said,
It is irrational and interferes with the business of presenting artistic events. Censorship doesn't work in other countries, and it should not exist here. We think Opera News does an excellent and a vital job in covering opera.
Criticism should always be welcome by any arts organization so long as it is responsible. Responsibility means that the critic must always give reasons for an opinion. It is not enough to say, “This production is awful.” It must be, “This production is awful because……” Anyone (including Mr. Gelb, of course) can disagree with a review, but we too should always say why we disagree. And the reason needs to be more than “…because Joe Blow, the director, is a recognized genius.” Recognized geniuses make mistakes just like everyone else.
Arrogant dictatorship of the kind Peter Gelb seems to be exercising has no place in any well-run organization. He has no business intimidating WXQR into deleting a blog with a negative review of the Met or demanding that someone else stop posting information about forthcoming performances that is publicly available, even if not yet in a Met press release. – Walter Pierce, Washington, DC
Or as another comment puts it,
Peter Gelb! Peter Gelb! Think before you act up! You're beginning to look silly.- Rafael de Acha, Cincinnati, Ohio
Graham Spicer is a writer, director and photographer in Milan, blogging (under the name ‘Gramilano') about dance, opera, music and photography for people “who are a bit like me and like some of the things I like”. He was a regular columnist for Opera Now magazine and wrote for the BBC until transferring to Italy.
His scribblings have appeared in various publications from Woman's Weekly to Gay Times, and he wrote the ‘Danza in Italia' column for Dancing Times magazine.