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Is Met Opera GM Peter Gelb Spending When He Should Be Cutting?

Is Peter Gelb, the much-heralded general manager of the Metropolitan Opera, sticking to his grand plans when he should be downsizing for a recession? His critics say so. Since Gelb came in three years ago, the company’s budget has ballooned by about $70 million as a result of his ambitious agenda, which has included courting name-brand singers and directors and doubling the number of new productions each year. But as the opera’s fiscal year draws to a close July 31 and the company faces a projected $40 million $4 million [Update: A Met spokesman tells us the budgeted deficit for next season is now approximately $4 million, following cost-cutting.] budget deficit for next season, its unions want to figure out why they’re being asked to sacrifice — the Met asked its unionized employees to make concessions in the form of 10 percent pay cuts for each of the next two years — when Gelb isn’t cutting back further in programming. (To be fair, he scrapped plans for four revivals, and nonunion staff including management is also taking 10 percent cuts.)

While the stagehands union has not accepted the requested 10 percent cut, it agreed to forgo a contractually required pay raise after conducting a forensic audit of the Met’s books (see comment). But the orchestra and singers unions — Local 802 and the American Guild of Musical Artists, respectively — have rejected the Met's request for mid-term contractual concessions because the company has not agreed to conduct the more exhaustive audit by an investment bank requested by the two unions in an effort to assess the judiciousness of the company’s expenditures.

Though Gelb's efforts have boosted box-office revenue, those dollars haven’t offset the company’s expenses. In addition to the $40 million "disaster scenario" budget deficit predicted for next season [See update above.] The Met’s deficit for its current fiscal year, previously estimated at just under $2 million, has doubled to at least $4 million, according to two sources close to the company — though Met spokesman Peter Clark disputes this, saying "We expect to be close to our original budgeted numbers."

So how can the Met save some cash? “The ultimate question is going to be: Are the unions going to make concessions when the Met refuses to make its own concessions?” says the executive director of the singers union, Alan Gordon. "In our view, the only way to save money is to change what the Met wants to do. But I don’t see that happening." The company declined to comment on its discussions with the unions.

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