The Fat Lady Sings at the Met, Despite Protests

Met Eugene Onegin 150x127 The Fat Lady Sings at the Met, Despite Protests

THE PR VERDICT: “B” (Good Show) for The Met’s straightforward, on-brand response to protestors. (Pictured: performers in The Met’s production of “Eugene Onegin.”)

As Russia put harsh anti-gay laws into place, celebrities have begun announcing boycotts in protest; Bravo’s Andy Cohen announced he would not co-host the Miss Universe pageant taking place in Moscow while Cher is not including stops in Russia. But when protesters planned to picket the production of Tchaikovsky’s “Eugene Onegin,” The Metropolitan Opera said the show must go on.

The protest centered around the conflict between the composer and the stars of the production. Tchaikovsky was gay; some of the performers in this staging of “Onegin” have been associated with Russian President Vladimir Putin, the man who put the anti gay laws into place.

The Met’s response came from its General Manager, Peter Gelb, in a blog on Bloomberg.com. “As an arts institution, the Met is not the appropriate vehicle for waging nightly battles against the social injustices of the world,” Gelb wrote. “Throughout its distinguished 129-year history, the Met has never dedicated a single performance to a political or social cause, no matter how important or just,” Gelb wrote. “Our messaging has always been through art.” Gelb further pointed out that the Met’s stance on gay rights is reflected through “the choice of our LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender) rainbow of artists and staff.”

THE PR VERDICT: “B” (Good Show) for The Met’s straightforward, on-brand response to protestors.

THE PR TAKEAWAY: Messages can become mixed when they come from the wrong messenger. It’s one thing for performers to choose not to go to Russia in protest; a similar boycott took place when celebrities refused to perform in Sun City, a South African resort, when it was still under apartheid rule. But where is the line drawn? On artistic soil. The Met is in New York, a melting pot for cultures and a place where the arts can unite people of all diversities. Gelb stated the Met’s case respectfully, unequivocally, and quickly. In this case, the hubbub was over before the fat lady sang.

The Ruffled Feathers of Opera News

operanews  The Ruffled Feathers of Opera News

The PR Verdict: “D” for the Metropolitan Opera and Opera News.

What a puzzling (and entertaining) fuss at Opera News, the venerable classical music magazine, published by the Metropolitan Opera Guild, the fund raising affiliate of NY Metropolitan Opera.  Feathers have been ruffled by the magazine’s decision to no longer review the productions of its parent, New York Metropolitan Opera.

Peter Gelb, the controversial head of Met Opera gave an interview to the NYTimes confirming the decision was made in collaboration with the Met’s Guild.  The Editor of Opera News then gave perfunctory confirmation that the magazine is no longer reviewing Met Opera productions.  He also added that no other opera company has been banished from its review pages.

Whispers suggest that the policy is prompted by the Met, annoyed with recent negative reviews of its own productions.  Conspiracy theorists are claiming censorship.   Whatever the case, negative reviews of costly Met Opera productions, published in an affiliate magazine, hardly enhance fund raising.

The PR Verdict: “D” for the Metropolitan Opera and Opera News.  The diva in this case should have let the understudy do the talking.

PR Takeaway.  Who explains an issue to the media is as important as what is said.  To minimise the suggestion that there was undue influence from the Met, the ONLY person who should have spoken to the media was the editor of Opera News . The key message might have been that reviews would no longer be published to minimise conflicts of interest with current fundraising drives.  This was one case where Peter Gelb, General Manager for Met Opera, would have been better advised to be unavailable for comment and let the editor of Opera News do all the talking.

UPDATE : Since publication of the NYTimes article,  Metropolitan Opera has reversed its decision. The Met issued a statement late yesterday that it has changed its decision “because of the passionate response of the fans.”