Friday, November 9, 2007

Great Ghosts From The Past

By the time Frank and Drew had finished their conversation, the Met’s General Director was running late for his appearance at a guild fundraiser in the Eleanor Belmont Room. After sharing the elevator ride down to the Grand Tier with his boss, O’Connor decided to spend some time browsing through the Met’s Portrait Gallery on the Concourse level. He came here whenever he needed to do some serious brainstorming. The portraits of such operatic legends as Enrico Caruso, Lotte Lehmann, Ezio Pinza, and Ernestine Schumann-Heink always provided a surefire source of inspiration. Whenever Frank needed to calm his emotions, the huge oil paintings of Bidu Sayao as Violetta and Lily Pons as the actress Philine in Mignon (petite women who, though they seemed so fragile and delicate, had made monumental contributions to opera) never failed to soothe his soul.

Since joining the Met, O’Connor had been forced to live in a constant state of crisis management. Why, he wondered, did he remain in this job when the stress was killing him? A stupid question if ever there was one.

He stayed because of his love for the art form.

He stayed because, as his friends always teased him, his heart was in the arts.

Back in the days when O’Connor was too young to resent working long hours (or being forced to report for duty on weekends) he never once objected to the outrageous demands his job made on his personal life. Even after receiving his marketing degree, Frank had never planned to lead a strict 9 to 5 existence. Perhaps that was why his nerves had never felt as raw as they did this morning.

As he stood in front of Franco Zeffirelli's set model for Act II of Puccini’s La Boheme, he thought about his private conversation with Drew Gelfand. The news from the Mayor’s office had been a real shocker; the kind of rabbit punch which could make anyone want to toss in the towel.

In reviewing how he had handled his department’s previous financial cutbacks, Frank had to admit that he had done fairly well. But there was no escaping the bottom line. The deadline for subscription renewals was only three weeks away and, if renewals didn’t match last year’s levels, he’d have no money left with which to sell single tickets for the fall season. He knew all too well that, without sufficient advertising money in his budget, a Marketing Director could only play a passive role in selling the Met to the public.

As he moved toward the large oil painting of Maria Callas as Gluck's Iphigenie (a portrait which had always been one of his favorites) Frank thought back to his first job in the music profession. Before returning to school for a marketing degree, he had been employed as the office manager for the Tiffany Agency. Although he had never really enjoyed the emotional tensions generated by the singers on Preston Alberghetti’s roster, he loved being in the opera business too much to quit.

Then Preston suddenly succumbed to an attack of Pneumocystis carinii pneumonia (one of the first AIDS victims in the world of classical music) and all of the plans they had discussed went up in smoke. Alberghetti’s singers moved on to other agencies and Frank decided to go back to school.

As soon as he had received his marketing degree, O’Connor had taken a job at the Vivian Beaumont Theatre. His connections quickly led to a marketing position at the Met and, shortly after joining the staff of the world’s greatest opera company, Frank found himself being congratulated on his exceptional skill in dealing with the press and various vendors who serviced his department. However, after what Drew told him this morning, he wondered if any of that mattered anymore.

What was going on?

Frank knew he had had difficulty moving from the profit to the nonprofit sector and was still having trouble coping with his loss of financial freedom. But, as a marketing professional, he also understood that unless the Metropolitan Opera began to get more visibility in the press, it would not be able to raise enough money for the upcoming season.

His eyes focused on the portrait of an opera singer long dead and gone. Hell, all of the singers in this gallery were long dead and gone. Only a tiny fraction of the people in the Met’s audience had any idea who the people in these paintings were. And those few who did represented an infinitesimal portion of the public at large.

Could it be, Frank wondered, that despite everybody’s hard work, opera really was a dying art form?

Next: Saturday, March 7th

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