Friday 1 August, 2014
Hey Peter Gelb!
I just heard about the 72 hour cease fire at the Metropolitan Opera and the Gaza Strip starting today, crazy coincidence huh?!
I know you have a lot on your plate right now, but I just wanted to check in and say “Hi!” just in case you needed a friend.
My name is Julia. I know you are the Managing Director of the Metropolitan Opera and I am only a freelance supernumerary, still I figured I should let you know that I am here for you if you need me. I am really good at being a super (a non-singing actor) AND I am a really good listener, so feel free to be more open and honest than you have felt at the union negotiations. You don’t need to worry about me judging you, I am not part of any unions. It’s just you and me, Gelb. I can call you Gelb, right?
Good. I want us to really be able to talk.
Like, maybe do you want to talk to me about how you are totally sick of being responsible for so many people?
You are, right? It just seemed so obvious to me when you said a lock out of the Met’s employees was going to happen that you were totally done with people. I mean, you don’t warn that a lock out is going to happen unless you plan on not negotiating at the negotiation table right? I am not a business woman, so correct me if I am wrong, but a lock out means you would put a lot of people out of work that they are the best in the world at doing what they do. Right? Since I am freelance at the Met I have a bunch of other jobs that I can rely on if there is a lock out, so don’t worry about me, Gelb. I have little to no monetary stake in this since I usually only make about $12.50 per rehearsal hour, so I know it’s not my paycheck you are trying to cut back on, right? I mean, that would be crazy! (Almost as crazy as how my take home pay for each performance of Prince Igor last season was less than the cost of one of those red silk poppies in Act One.) Every single other person in the building dedicates their talents and their whole lives to the Met Opera schedule so they have no other income to fall back on. Not only the chorus and technicians, supers and costumers, wig department and box office employees, but you would also be locking out the Met Cafeteria workers: the most talented people in the world and the nicest people who make sandwiches, out of work. You can tell me, Gelb! You are tired of taking care of everyone!
Recognizing the talent that fills that building everyday of the Met Opera season is probably really exhausting. It’s not just the amazing theatre directors that you hire and give free reign to do anything and everything they want, but the people that bend over backwards to rehearse and see the visions of those directors through in every single performance that have to be taken care of. Also, besides the star opera soloists in every opera cast, there is a whole second cast of opera singers for each and every opera. They rehearse the music, blocking and each little intention behind every utterance onstage and more often than not they are never used because you will fly in another star to save the day if a lead gets ill. Life is not fair and certainly not everybody gets to be a star, but it sure does seem like a waste of money to sit on talent you have no intention of using to cover the roles they learn. Am I right? There are just so many people to take care of and I guess if there is someone willing to take the job, you should not be blamed, but it just seems like a screwy system to me.
Have you ever seen the 3 minute scene change in Boheme between Act One and Act Two? What those stagehands do is like a whole other show, right?! I mean, yikes, it is incredible to watch them work together. It’s like watching a dance between humans and painted wood. Even the scene changes in your much loathed new Tosca are fantastic. I would sit backstage and watch the backstage show any day of the week.
Hey, that’s what you should do! If you really want to make money why don’t you pitch a Met Opera reality show to Bravo or A&E. People would eat it up, don’t you think?! All the drama imagined and real! The music, the glamour! Just footage of Anna Netrebko in rehearsal with Bart Sher would make you millions! If you like that idea, take it. It’s yours, my dear Gelb. One friend to another, you take that TV pitch to the bank!
Hey, maybe you don’t like opera anymore. That’s fair, opera isn’t everyone’s favorite thing. You keep telling everyone that interviews you that opera is dying and not only is that untrue, but it’s a horrible PR move, Gelb. Everyone knows the basics of good press is not to shit on the thing you are trying to sell. Nobody wants to jump on a sinking ship! You are the captain of the biggest most impressive opera house in the world and you are telling everyone that it’s sinking!? Come on, Gelb! You’re making the storm that’s rocking the boat!
How about that metaphor, huh?! You and I have the desire to be good at coming up with metaphors in common. You know that interview in regards to the talks with the unions where you said that you didn’t know what the"operatic equivalent of it taking two to tango" is? Well I think it’s that it takes two to sing a duet. Right? That’s an opera metaphor that you can have for free!
Damn, I hope I didn’t make you feel stupid just now. I was just trying to help for the the next time you’re interviewed about this whole mess. Ugh! Peteeeer! I am on your side! I am trying to help, but I probably just made you feel like you don’t know how to do your job, the way everyone else is making you feel. I am not trying to make you feel bad! You are getting it from all sides right now. Everyone telling you that your plan to save money is just a temporary fix and will only last for five years before more cuts need to be made. Then they tell you that they have a better plan to save money that is smarter than yours. And now there is an outside investigation of the Met finances! It is not my intention to make you feel less than, I promise you. As a super, I totally understand what it feels like to be treated like I don’t know how to do my job or be talked to like a toddler. Most of the time it is probably just easier to pretend that the supers are human props or set pieces and since we don’t talk or sing onstage I think sometimes people think we don’t know how to listen. Like the time in rehearsal for Thais, I was placed on the floor next to Thomas Hampson and Renee Fleming was crossing the stage towards him when suddenly she stopped singing, the piano slowed, and Renee pointed at me, turned to the director, and said “That young lady is in my way.” So cool that she was talking about me, but she could have talked to me and that would have felt better. I scooted out of her way, because at the end of the day, that is my job: make it easy for her to do her job. Just get out of the opera singers’ way and let the magic happen. Here’s a nutty thought… maybe if you looked at it that way, you would have more fun at your job.
But wait, are you not telling me something? Do you not want to be the Managing Director of the Metropolitan Opera anymore?
Now that I think about it, that would totally make sense. You seem to be throwing money around in a last ditch effort the way a Sex and The Citycharacter would to try to her solve problems and it usually doesn’t work, does it? I understand, we were all disappointed in the new Ring Cycle. You tried something new and outlandish, it didn’t work and it cost you. But it wasn’t the fault of the people who worked the show. We were on that stage acting and singing and trying to make it look like a three dimensional world instead of a Duplo set light show. Technicians were behind that pyre pulling it out of the way of those swinging blocks. Debbie Voigt was singing her heart out on top of that idiotic looking horse. In the old Otto Shenk production ofGotterdammerung we would have to run, jump and roll off the stage to get out of the way of the set that was actually collapsing to illustrate the end of the world. I am sure you have heard this enough and I am sorry to bring it up again, but Gelb you have to take responsibility for a fuck up when it is as big a fuck up as your Ring Cycle. If you want to bask in the glory of successes like the recent Rigoletto, you have to admit that you shit the bed with The Ring Cycle. Learn from opera, Gelb. You are Gotterdammerunging the whole 2014-15 season and you are going to drown trying to get the proverbial ring!
I hope you don’t mind that I am being so informal. I want to be able to really talk it out and sometimes get carried away. We’re still cool, right?
It is quite alright if you do not want to work at the Met Opera anymore. I totally get that! You think I want to be a super forever? No way man! It is one of the best survival jobs that I have ever had, but there is no upward mobility for this non-singing actor. I have experienced everything there is for me to experience at the opera. Watching James Levine conduct the stellar, one of a kind orchestra. Wearing gorgeous costumes built by the best costumers in the industry. Flirting with Placido Domingo backstage in Adriana LeCouvreur. Kneeling at the foot of the stage looking up at Lise Lindstrom who stepped in for Maria Guleghina last minute in Turandot to watch her nail each choreographed movement and famously difficult vocal phrases. Witnessing so many diva and divo moments that I could fill a book but it would simply be uncouth to drop anymore names. I am even on the cover of the 2014-15 Season brochure with Ildar Abdrazakov! (I cannot stop name dropping!) I mean my back is turned, but it’s still me. As glorious as my six seasons as a supernumerary have been they can be just as ego battering when a director refers to me as “her” throughout an entire rehearsal process. Hell, most of the time supers have to sit on the floor of C-Level Stage rehearsal room because there aren’t enough chairs! But when I bow out of the 40 plus roles I have had working at the Met, I am not going to take the Met down with me. Nor should you. I mean, I’m speaking to you as a friend who gets you man. If you don’t think you can do anything more at the Met, then you should go find a job where you actually do something amazing. Golly! I should take my own advice huh!?
I hope everything gets sorted out this week and you can finally get some rest. I imagine it’s been pretty hard to sleep at night with everything that has been going on and it being such a stressful week for you. Call me anytime okay? I’m here for you.
Love your Super friend,