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 entering his 16th year 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 company’s extraordinary musical standards. 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. The series has sold more than 29 million tickets since its inception in December 2006 and reaches more than 2,200 screens in more than 70 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.
In 2016, Mr. Gelb selected Yannick Nézet-Séguin as the third Music Director in Met history, bringing to the company one of the world’s most brilliant musical leaders and an artistic partner who shares his vision for an ever more dynamic Met that reaches as broad an audience as possible. Maestro Nézet-Séguin officially assumed the post beginning with the 2018–19 season.
Mr. Gelb has made a priority of revitalizing the repertory with new productions of both classic operas and modern masterpieces. Since he took over in the 2006–07 season, the Met has added more contemporary and modern works to its repertory than in any previous era in company history, presenting many of the most important operas written in recent decades and acting as a driving force for new compositions through the Metropolitan Opera / Lincoln Center Theater New Works Program and other commissioning initiatives. The company has also reimagined the theatrical and dramatic possibilities of opera’s canonical works with more than 80 new stagings by some of the world’s greatest theater, film, and opera directors, including David Alden, the late Patrice Chéreau, Willy Decker, Sir Richard Eyre, François Girard, Michael Grandage, Nicholas Hytner, William Kentridge, Robert Lepage, Michael Mayer, Sir David McVicar, the late Anthony Minghella, Mark Morris, Tom Morris, Jack O’Brien, Jeremy Sams, Peter Sellars, Bartlett Sher, Susan Stroman, Dmitri Tcherniakov, Mariusz Treliński, Deborah Warner, Zhang Yimou, and Mary Zimmerman, among others. In addition, Mr. Gelb has created a series of abridged, English-language adaptations of classic operas, perfect for audiences of all ages. Beginning in 2006 with Mozart’s The Magic Flute, the series has expanded to include Rossini’s The Barber of Seville, Humperdinck’s Hansel and Gretel, and Massenet’s Cinderella.
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 700 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 on its website once a week. Other initiatives launched by Mr. Gelb include free dress rehearsals for the public; a free live transmission of the opening-night performance onto giant screens in Times Square; an immensely popular rush tickets program that offers select seats in prime locations for weekday and weekend performances at dramatically reduced prices; and the commissioning and presentation of exhibitions and artworks by leading contemporary artists—by such artists as George Condo, John Currin, William Kentridge, Kerry James Marshall, Julie Mehretu, Elizabeth Peyton, Julian Schnabel, Dana Schutz, and others—around the opera house.
In 2020, the Met was thrust into the greatest crisis in its history when the Covid-19 pandemic forced the cancellation of the final three months of the 2019–20 season and the entire 2020–21 season. Within days of the closure, Mr. Gelb organized the launch of Nightly Met Opera Streams, free encore presentations of complete performances from the company’s voluminous archive, streamed online. These streams continued uninterrupted for more than 16 months while the house was dark, reaching over 20 million viewers around the world and keeping the Met connected with its audience. Another innovative response to the crisis was the At-Home Gala on April 25, 2020, which brought together more than 40 leading opera stars, Music Director Yannick Nézet-Séguin, and members of the Met Orchestra and Chorus for an unprecedented and uplifting live event watched by nearly a million people. In July 2020, Mr. Gelb oversaw the launch of the groundbreaking Met Stars Live in Concert initiative, a pay-per-view streaming series which presented the world’s greatest opera singers in 13 concerts from striking locations around the globe, transmitted live in state-of-the-art HD quality.
Mr. Gelb’s extensive and varied experience in the field of classical music 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.
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 during 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 Wagner’s complete Der Ring des Nibelungen. The 17-hour program was broadcast over four consecutive nights on PBS (and subsequently released on home video), 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 latter two 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. The Met once again won the best opera recording Grammy in 2020 with its audio release of the Gershwins’ Porgy and Bess. In 2011, Mr. Gelb received the Tribeca Disruptive Innovation Award for the Live in HD series.
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. 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 the late writer Barbara Gelb. He is married to conductor Keri-Lynn Wilson and has two sons.