Pl·cido Domingo Is Reportedly Leading Candidate for General Manager Post at Metropolitan Opera
Friday, October 22, 2004
New York Times / International Herald Tribune
By Robin Pogrebin and Daniel J. Wakin
The Metropolitan Opera has narrowed its list of candidates for general manager, one of the most powerful arts jobs in the United States, and it includes the tenor Pl·cido Domingo, two officials at the opera said.
Domingo is quietly pursuing the position, meeting individually with several Met board members, the officials said. In addition, he spent time with members of the board's search committee on October 6.
But Domingo made it clear in a letter to the committee that he was appearing "based on my capacity as the head" of the Washington and Los Angeles Operas, and said he had refused to speak earlier with headhunters so that his comments would not be construed as criticism of the outgoing general manager, Joseph Volpe, and the music director, James Levine.
Domingo declined to be interviewed but said through a spokesman, "Having made artistic and business plans at both the Washington National Opera and the Los Angeles Opera as far ahead as 2008ñ09, I have every intention of following through with these plans." He did not elaborate.
The board is believed to want to settle on a choice as early as the end of the year, to give the new general manager time to arrive for next season. That would provide a season's overlap with Volpe, who plans to retire at the end of the 2005ñ06 season. He has been with the company for 40 years, the last 14 as general manager.
Other candidates on the list, according to the officials, include Deborah Borda, executive director of the Los Angeles Philharmonic; Lesley Koenig, general manager of the San Francisco Ballet, who directed CosÏ fan tutte for the Met in 1996, and Peter Gelb, president of the Sony Classical record label, who is expected to become head of the merged Sony and BMG classical division. Borda, Gelb and Koenig did not return calls seeking comment.
The lineup could change over the next several weeks. Given the clashing interests of those involved ó the candidates, the institutions and the officials who run them ó it is difficult to foresee an outcome.
For Domingo, the timing would be right for an appointment at what in many ways is his artistic home. His contracts as general director of the Los Angeles Opera and of the Washington National Opera expire at the end of next season. It is unclear how that would square with the Met's desire to have the incoming general manager overlap with the outgoing one, if Domingo has commitments elsewhere.
Domingo also has a longtime relationship with Beverly Sills, the chairwoman of the Met, who is on the Met's five-member search committee. William Morris, the Met's president, is also on the committee, and he and Sills probably have the strongest voices in choosing Volpe's successor. Sills declined to discuss the search. Morris did not return calls seeking comment.
Domingo is an attractive candidate for the Met, arts professionals said. At a time when competition among American cultural institutions for donors and audiences has increased, stars count for a lot in fund-raising, ticket sales and word of mouth. More than ever, arts institutions are looking to woo large donors, said James Conlon, who was brought to the Los Angeles Opera by Domingo to take over as music director in 2006. "Pl·cido is a genius at that," Conlon said. His career and long association with the Met also make him uniquely qualified, he said. "Pl·cido knows the art form from the inside, as no one else can," he added.
Conlon said he asked Domingo in the spring, when they were discussing the music directorship in Los Angeles, about rumors that he would go to the Met. "The message was, 'I don't really know if that's going to happen,' " Conlon said.
He added that working with Domingo was a major factor in drawing him to Los Angeles, but that he was "fatalistic" about the prospects for Domingo's departure: "If it happens, it happens." But they might have a reunion: Conlon, after 20 years as an opera and orchestra music director in Europe, is considered one of the best American conductors in his generation and has been rumored as a possible successor to Levine.
But the possible appointment of Domingo raises questions. It is unclear what would happen to his dates as a performer and a conductor, which extend into 2008, and include dates at the Met.
And for all his charisma and talent as a musician, Domingo has never had to deal with the daunting administrative responsibilities of a behemoth like the Met, where the general manager must negotiate with 18 unions and understand the needs of world-class musicians, designers, directors and often temperamental opera stars. The job also requires negotiating with the other institutions at Lincoln Center and with officials of Lincoln Center itself, of which the Met is a constituent.
Domingo has enjoyed some success in Los Angeles, where annual revenue grew by 85 percent over the last three years, to $42 million, and subscribers grew to 16,000 from 15,000. Indicating just how touchy the issue of Domingo's future is, the Washington opera refused even to provide financial or attendance figures for this article. "The Washington National Opera does not want to be a part of a New York Times guessing game over the Metropolitan Opera leadership," the opera's president, Michael Sonnenreich, said through a spokeswoman.
But as an institution, the Met dwarfs other companies. It has a budget of $204 million, an endowment of $285 million and 45,000 individual subscribers. After two years of $10 million annual deficits, the Met had a $2.9 million surplus last year and expects to break even next year. In his years as general manager, Volpe has only expanded the job description. Having worked his way up from stage carpenter, he has become the most powerful player at the Met, as well as the campus tough guy at Lincoln Center.
Volpe said he had agreed to help with a transition, and asked whether he would consider extending his tenure, should the Met fail to select a new general manager soon, he said, "It's my belief that they will find one."
(C) 2004 International Herald Tribune. via ProQuest Information and Learning Company; All Rights Reserved