Metropolitan Opera's Tax Filing Reveals Salary Details

Monday, June 16, 2014 - 07:00 PM

A limo arrives in front of the Metropolitan Opera House A limo arrives in front of the Metropolitan Opera House (Sean Pavone / Shutterstock.com)

Metropolitan Opera general manager Peter Gelb received a record $1.8 million in pay and benefits in 2012, according to the company's tax return, which was filed on Monday.

Such an amount might be noncontroversial were it not for the fact that company management – arguing it faces a serious financial shortfall – began contract talks with musicians and stagehands last month aimed at significantly cutting expenses.

The Met was quick to note, however, that Gelb took a 10 percent pay cut this year in response to its financial situation, decreasing his base pay to $1.395 million. The company added in a statement that he is prepared to take further cuts in order "to match the percentage of cuts taken by the Met’s union employees" in contract talks.

Contracts for the Met's 15 unions expire on July 31; the company is proposing compensation cuts of 16 to 17 percent.

The disclosure on Monday triggered criticism from union leaders. "Peter Gelb's salary is not only obscene but a disgraceful affront to the men and women who actually make the opera and whose lives Gelb is threatening to destroy," said Alan Gordon, the president of the American Guild of Musical Theater Artists (AGMA), in an e-mail. AGMA represents the company's singers, dancers and production staff.

The Met's tax filing also shows the ten next highest salaries, which include those of the company’s CFO, two assistant general managers, two lawyers, three stagehands, chorusmaster Donald Palumbo, and concertmaster David Chan, whose earnings of $394,652 made him the highest-paid rank-and-file musician. 

In a statement of the company's finances released this spring, the Met said that the average full-time chorus member in fiscal year 2013 earned $200,000, plus $100,000 in benefits. The average full-time orchestra member earned $200,000 plus $85,000 in benefits. The unions say that those figures were inflated due to improper production scheduling, resulting in significant overtime.

As general manager, Gelb oversees a company with a (fiscal year 2012) budget of $377 million, 4,425 employees and 900,000 patrons. The company states on its tax return that its media broadcasts (HD, radio, television and Internet) reached 13 million people in 2012.

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Comments [7]

Andy B. from Lower Merion, PA

The gripe about Mr. Gelb's salary reflects a misunderstanding of the most basic economic principle - supply and demand.

Mr. Gelb runs the equivalent of a modest-sized public company--budget of between $300-400 million, and over 4,000 employees. (My guess is that its actually much more complex than that, but for the sake of the analogy, I'll stick with it). He needs to recruit and maintain a capable staff of management employees who have the financial and managerial skills to keep this enterprise together. Mr. Gelb needs to court donors and concern himself with negotiating multi-million dollar contracts, marketing, all manner of financial and accounting issues, the Met's legal affairs, and more. That's just touching the tip of the iceberg. In short, people like Mr. Gelb are in short supply. It is heartening that Mr. Gelb is also pledging to reduce his own salary, but, from the start, the gripe about salary differential is fundamentally flawed and misplaced.

Many very fine singers and orchestra musicians would love to receive the salary and benefits that Met musicians receive. The Met musicians are among the highest paid musicians in the world. (Direct comparisons with European orchestras will be skewed because of the difference in the provision of non-salary benefits between America and Europe, but hands-down the Americans are paid better.)

While the Met is a non-profit institution, it still must recognize the basic economics that underlie any enterprise. Organizations that do not understand basic economic and business principles fail. They fail Fast. I look forward to an amicable resolution.

Jun. 30 2014 10:45 AM
Tim from Nova Scotia

Why should anyone be surprised at Gelb's salary? When seen in context of the complexity of the job and the salaries of other CEOs in NYC, it isn't too high. On the other hand, while it is a lot of money, so are the salaries of the stage carpenters, props people, lighting operators and others when compared to similar work in other industries. People either want or don't want the Met; so far, they want it.

Jun. 17 2014 01:45 PM
Carol from NYC

Booo!

Jun. 17 2014 01:10 PM
concetta nardone from Nassau

I am shocked, shocked. Here is another shocker, if you go to Give.Org which is run by the BBB, you can check on the salaries of different charitable organizations. I always check before I donate. Some of the do-gooders, do quite well for themselves.

Jun. 17 2014 12:40 PM
TWS from NWNJ

An average of $200.000? Please. If you can't live VERY comfortably on or close to that even in NYC then shame on you.

Jun. 17 2014 11:34 AM
Bernie from UWS

A non-profit organization shouldn't be spending this kind of money on CEO salaries. But the bigger question is, will the unions be able to use this as a bargaining chip given that their own pay is rather lofty by musician standards. Will be interesting.

Jun. 17 2014 09:40 AM
Sanford Rothenberg from Brooklyn

Executive compensation is always a target of scrutiny during labor negotiations,and with the current acrimonious and very public trading of barbs between AGMA,Local 802,and Peter Gelb,this subject is sure to be raised.Compared to working musicians and artistic management everywhere else,all parties are overpaid exponentially.As written previously on these pages,all parties need to tone down the rhetoric,negotiate privately in good faith,and reach a compromise-savvy settlement,following the example of the NY Phil and Local 802.

Jun. 17 2014 01:19 AM

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