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.