I'm not sure what to make of the announcement that Peter Gelb, head of the Sony Classical label, will be the next general manager of the Metropolitan Opera. I was expecting the house to go in a more safe, predictable direction and hire Placido Domingo. That they picked Gelb is an encouraging sign that they're thinking outside the parterre box. On the other hand, Gelb's record as a label head has been rather mixed. He is responsible, among other things, for James Horner's godawful Titanic soundtrack. I have nothing against movie soundtracks — they should all be put on CD for fans to enjoy or discard — but I do have a thing against promoting Hollywood hackwork as a leap forward in contemporary composition. There is, note, a long tradition of profit-shifting at Columbia / Sony — using blockbuster pop records to pay for more abstruse classical fare. Goddard Lieberson used the My Fair Lady soundtrack (a wonderful thing in itself) to underwrite the complete Stravinsky and Webern. Bob Hurwitz and Manfred Eicher have done something of the same at Nonesuch and ECM. But two big differences between, say, Nonesuch and Sony: 1) their "pop" releases are superior; 2) the classical releases are usually superior, too. (Footnote: Allan Kozinn, of the Times, once made an inspired analogy between Lieberson's strategy and Wotan's, in the Ring — building Valhalla with other people's money.)
Still, I'm cautiously optimistic. Greg Sandow testifies that Gelb is an energetic, curious man. (I don't know him.) He obviously has a surer understanding of the infinitely changeable, unpredictable twenty-first-century music market than Joe Volpe and James Levine ever did — or Placido Domingo, for all his big-media celebrity, ever would have. Gelb already has a relationship with Julie Taymor, whose Magic Flute was hailed almost everywhere but at the Times. With solid artistic administration under him, with canny choices in commissioning and recent repertory (maybe we'll finally get to see some John Adams at the Met), Gelb should be fine. If he starts talking about a James Horner opera, though, we're up the creek.