Sometimes when you need it most, fate steps in and helps you out. In this case, fate came in the form of philanthropist Ann Ziff, who recently gave an astounding $30 million to the Metropolitan Opera. It’s always vogue to support art and music, and Ms. Ziff has certainly done that. Her timely donation is the largest single gift from an individual in the Met’s history, and it couldn’t have come at a better time for the opera house, which is projecting a deficit of up to $4 million for the current fiscal year. The general manager, Peter Gelb, says, “It came at a time when the Met is sorely in need of cash. We have been in a position of significant financial challenge… and [it is] an important gift from a longtime supporter of the Met.”
So just who is this mysterious and benevolent benefactor, and what led her to donate such a staggering amount of money to the struggling opera house? The widow of William B. Ziff Jr., Ms. Ziff is currently the secretary of the Met’s board, and will take over the role of chairwoman next year. She is also a vice chairwoman at Lincoln Center, and a recent member of the Carnegie Hall board. Supporting music, especially opera, is clearly a cause close to her heart—Ms. Ziff’s mother was Harriet Henders, a soprano who performed with conductors like Arturo Toscanini and George Szell.
Ms. Ziff made the donation on behalf of her family, and it will be used to help cover the Met’s $300 million annual operating expenses. She says, “Whenever I give a gift like this—especially at this time—it needs to be unrestricted. I’m glad I can help the Met. If the great arts organizations of the world start cutting back, we’re cutting back on cultural heritage.” Her generous donation represents the start of a $300 million fundraising drive over the next five years, and has spurred other board members to donate to as well, raising another $30 million. It is these donations that help make it possible for the revered opera house to experiment with new ways of attracting interest and revenue. The Met’s high-definition transmissions of live performances into movie theaters, for example, would be impossible without support from benefactors like Ms. Ziff. Although ostensibly a donation to The Met, it is the public who will reap the benefits of this generosity, in the form of many an operatic aria to come.