Peter Gelb’s career has followed a singular arc that began with his teenage years as an usher at the Metropolitan Opera and led to his appointment, in August 2006, as the storied company’s 16th general manager.
Now in his ninth season at the helm of the Met, Mr. Gelb has overseen the launch of a number of initiatives aimed at revitalizing opera and connecting it to a wider audience since the start of his tenure. One of his fundamental goals has been to recruit the world’s great theater directors to enhance the theatricality of the Met’s productions and complement the extraordinary musical standards established by Music Director James Levine. Mr. Gelb is also committed to securing more engagements each season from the world’s top singers. One of the most successful and trailblazing of his new initiatives is The Met: Live in HD, a Peabody and Emmy Award-winning series of live performance transmissions shown in high definition in movie theaters. Through the end of the 2013–14 season, the series has sold more than 15 million tickets since its inception in December 2006 and is currently seen on more than 2,000 screens in 69 countries across six continents. The Met’s HD programs have raised global awareness of opera, inspiring other institutions throughout the world that are in need of revitalization.
Mr. Gelb has also made a priority of revitalizing the repertory with new productions of both classic operas and modern masterpieces. Since he took over with the 2006–07 season, the Met has presented 55 new stagings by some of the world’s greatest theater, film, and opera directors, including David Alden, Patrice Chéreau, Willy Decker, Richard Eyre, François Girard, Michael Grandage, Nicholas Hytner, William Kentridge, Robert Lepage, Michael Mayer, David McVicar, the late Anthony Minghella, Mark Morris, Jack O’Brien, Jeremy Sams, Peter Sellars, Bartlett Sher, Dmitri Tcherniakov, Deborah Warner, Zhang Yimou, and Mary Zimmerman, among others.
Mr. Gelb has also capitalized on new media technology to share Met performances with a wider global audience than ever before. In September 2006, Sirius Satellite Radio (now SiriusXM) launched Metropolitan Opera Radio, an around-the-clock channel broadcasting live performances each week as well as historic performances from the Met’s vast radio archive. The Met Opera on Demand streaming service, available on any computer or iPad, makes more than 400 HD, standard-definition, and audio performances available online in stunning high quality on a subscription basis. The Met also presents free, live streaming of performances from its website once a week. Other initiatives launched by Mr. Gelb include a commissioning program for new operas; free dress rehearsals for the public; a free live transmission of the opening-night performance onto giant screens at Times Square and Lincoln Center Plaza; an immensely popular rush tickets program that offers select orchestra seats for weekday and weekend performances at dramatically reduced prices; and the Arnold and Marie Schwartz Gallery Met, a contemporary art exhibition space in the Met lobby that presents new work connected to Met productions by such artists as John Currin, William Kentridge, Julie Mehretu, Elizabeth Peyton, Julian Schnabel, Dana Schutz, and others.
Mr. Gelb’s extensive and varied experience in the field of classical music has prepared him for the considerable challenge of overseeing both the artistic and the administrative aspects of one of the largest performing arts institutions in the world. As an award-winning producer of films, recordings, radio broadcasts, telecasts, concert events, operas, and festivals, he worked with many of the world’s leading artists prior to becoming general manager, including Vladimir Horowitz, Herbert von Karajan, Mstislav Rostropovich, Luciano Pavarotti, and Plácido Domingo.
His close association with Maestro Levine extends back two decades and spans recordings and film (Fantasia 2000).
In 1992, Mr. Gelb produced both the stage and film versions of Julie Taymor’s first opera production, Oedipus Rex, for Seiji Ozawa’s Saito Kinen Festival. Also for that Japanese festival, in 1994 he commissioned an early opera staging by Robert Lepage, La Damnation de Faust, a reconceived version of which premiered at the Met in the 2008–09 season.
As president of CAMI Video, a division of Columbia Artists Management that Mr. Gelb founded in 1982, he served as executive producer of the Met’s television series “The Metropolitan Opera Presents” for six years. He produced 25 televised productions for the Met, including the landmark 1990 telecast of Richard Wagner’s complete Der Ring des Nibelungen, conducted by Maestro Levine. The 17-hour program was broadcast over four consecutive nights on PBS (and subsequently released on DVD), making history for monolithic programming of opera on television. While at CAMI, Mr. Gelb produced and occasionally directed more than 50 programs for television featuring such artists as Herbert von Karajan and Mstislav Rostropovich. His television productions have earned 13 primetime Emmy Awards, including six for Mr. Gelb as a producer and director.
Among Mr. Gelb’s Emmy Award-winning films are Soldiers of Music: Rostropovich Returns to Russia (1991) and Vladimir Horowitz: The Last Romantic (1985), both with Maysles Films. Mr. Gelb received a Peabody Award for his four-part television series Marsalis on Music (1995), in which jazz trumpeter Wynton Marsalis introduces young audiences to the full experience of classical music and jazz. He has also won Peabody Awards for the 1986 concert film Horowitz in Moscow and for the Met’s Live in HD series. In 2001, he co-directed and produced a 90-minute documentary entitled Recording The Producers: A Musical Romp with Mel Brooks, about the making of the hit Broadway show’s cast album. The film was awarded a Grammy in 2002. Three of the Met’s Live in HD productions released on DVD—John Adams’s Doctor Atomic, Wagner’s Ring cycle, and Thomas Adès’s The Tempest (the last two both directed by Robert Lepage)—won consecutive Grammys for best opera recording for the company and for Mr. Gelb as executive producer between 2011 and 2013. He also received the Tribeca Disruptive Innovation Award for the Live in HD series in 2011.
From 1995 until joining the Met, Mr. Gelb was president of Sony Classical, one of the largest international classical record labels. He led the company through a period of notable growth and creativity, expanding the focus of recording projects to include best-selling film music, among them the Academy Award-winning scores for Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon by Tan Dun, The Red Violin by John Corigliano, and Titanic by James Horner, while preserving the label’s tradition of recording Broadway musicals and maintaining an extensive catalogue of classical works by many of the best-known artists in the world. He also initiated Sony Classical’s program of commissioning new music, something no other classical label had attempted in recent years.
Mr. Gelb’s career in classical music began at the age of 17 when he went to work as an office boy for Sol Hurok. Training from an early age under the legendary impresario instilled in him the kind of entrepreneurship and creative acumen that has since distinguished his work, from managing the Boston Symphony Orchestra’s historic 1979 tour to China at the end of the Cultural Revolution, which made headlines around the world; to reviving Vladimir Horowitz’s concert career in 1980 and producing the famed pianist’s historic return to Russia in 1986; to the Tan Dun premiere Symphony 1997, featuring Yo-Yo Ma, which Mr. Gelb commissioned in partnership with the Chinese government to be performed at the handover of Hong Kong to China.
Under Mr. Gelb, the Metropolitan Opera has once again taken a leadership role among opera houses and other arts organizations, not only in the U.S. but around the world, providing a model for other groups with its groundbreaking artistic and public initiatives. Mr. Gelb today shares his message regularly through keynote addresses and discussions at conferences in the U.S. and abroad, including at Harvard University, Yale University, MIT, New York University, the Miller Theater at Columbia University, Showa University in Japan, the European Opera Conference in Paris, the Chautauqua Institution, the American Symphony Orchestra League, the Association of Performing Arts Presenters, the American Academy in Berlin, and the MIDEM conference in Cannes. He has received honorary doctorates from Hamilton College and from the Macaulay Honors College of the City University of New York.
Time magazine named Mr. Gelb a 2008 honoree of the Time 100 list of the world’s most influential people. In 2010, France honored him as an Officier dans l’Ordre des Arts et des Lettres, and in 2012 he received the Diplomacy Award of the Foreign Policy Association. Most recently in 2013, he received the Sanford Prize from the Yale School of Music and was named Chevalier de la Légion d’honneur by the French President.
Mr. Gelb is the son of the late Arthur Gelb, former managing editor of The New York Times, and writer Barbara Gelb. He is married to conductor Keri-Lynn Wilson and has two sons.