[NOTE: This entry has been updated (2) as of 4:46 PM Eastern on 22 May. See below.]
How anyone as PR-savvy as Metropolitan Opera general manager Peter Gelb could openly have had a provoking hand in such a colossally stupid bit of business is simply beyond our comprehension. And what bit of business might that have been? Daniel J. Wakin of The New York Times explains:
Opera News, 76 years old and one of the leading classical music magazines in the country, said on Monday that it would stop reviewing the Metropolitan Opera, a policy prompted by the Met’s dissatisfaction over negative critiques. The decision by the magazine, which is published by a Met fund-raising affiliate, the Metropolitan Opera Guild, and which freely reviews companies around the world, troubles some opera experts. It is also the latest sign of sensitivity from the Met under its general manager, Peter Gelb, in the face of criticism over its productions. The move came after a review in April took aim at the Met’s new production of Wagner’s Ring cycle — a hallmark of Mr. Gelb’s tenure that has led to a firestorm — and after a top Opera News editor criticized the Met’s direction in a scathing essay in the May issue. Mr. Gelb said in an interview on Monday that the decision was made “in collaboration with the guild” but that he never liked the idea that an organization created to support the Met had a publication passing judgment on its productions. Worse yet, he said, is a publication that “continuously rips into” an institution that its parent is supposed to help.Whether one agrees with Mr. Gelb's reasoning or not (and we actually do; to our way of thinking, Opera News should, from Day One, have recused itself from critical coverage of the Met's productions), his open intervention was a damaging bit of business in PR terms, both for the Met and for himself. How damaging a bit of business was it? Stay tuned.
Update (3:54 PM Eastern on 22 May): To answer our above closing question: pretty damn damaging. Mr. Gelb's act of censorship has been commented on voluminously and condemned (both the act and Mr. Gelb) everywhere it's been commented on. For salient example, this from Washington Post chief classical music critic Anne Midgette:
Peter Gelb has gone on the rampage again. The New York Times has reported (on Page One) that he’s set his sights on Opera News, the leading opera magazine in America and a publication of the Metropolitan Opera Guild, and is forcing them to stop writing reviews of the Met. You could say that this is still a story about arts journalism, and/or the way people respond to criticism; but the takeaway now seems to me to be that Gelb is losing his mind.RTWT here.
Update 2 (4:46 PM Eastern on 22 May): Peter Gelb reverses his position! Text of the Met Press release follows.
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.Too late. (Our thanks to The Baltimore Sun's Tim Smith for the text and the heads-up.)