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Met Opera Finances: James Levine Out-Earning Peter Gelb Is 'Not Unusual'

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In today's opera news, the legendary music director of the Metropolitan Opera, James Levine, reportedly made $2.1 million in 2010, up 39 percent from the year previous, and more than the Met's general manager, Peter Gelb, who made $1.4 million (on a related note: nice millions, classical music professionals!).

The news, which Bloomberg reported in the context of a newly-filed tax return, might surprise followers of the past turbulent decade in the Met's financial history, during which the instatement of Gelb and his spend-money-to-make-money philosophy, while controversial, seem to have produced results. The former Sony Classical CEO's push for unorthodox fare and his "Live In HD" initiative have been credited with enabling the Met to finally balance its books last year, and for the recent windfall in donations. If anyone's pay nearly doubled recently, you might think it'd be Gelb's, vindicated as his spend-money credo has been.

But according to a statement the Met made to the Huffington Post, the two numbers can't actually be compared. The figure given for Gelb's pay refers to his salary, while Levine's refers to his entire compensation. "It is not unusual for the music director’s compensation to be higher than that of the general manager, since James Levine’s pay includes conducting fees and media payments that are not strictly salary," wrote Met Press Director Peter Clarke in an email.

In other words, Gelb's successes directly contributed to Levine making more money than him. The more Met performances Gelb streamed worldwide, the more "media fees" Levine, who is considered a performer in his own right, earned on top of his base salary (which has not been reported).

Levine, who suffered a fall from the podium last year, is on leave until 2013. His current pay status is unknown, as the Met doesn't disclose details of its contracts.