In an advance article for the upcoming 1995 Proms premiere of Elliott Carter's Adagio tenebroso, the distinguished music critic (and later Carter's librettist) Paul Griffiths wrote:
[Carter] tells the story of how [in 1994], when he was working with Daniel Barenboim on the first performance of his Partita, Barenboim half-jokingly suggested he ought to write a comic opera next, and he half-jokingly said he would ... if Barenboim could get him a commissioning fee of a million dollars. A little later, Barenboim came back from Europe to report success: Berlin would pay the required sum. (Times of London, 12 September 1995, italics mine)
A million dollars for a 40-minute long avant-garde opera? I found it hard to believe, but then I recalled having read somewhere that only a couple of years earlier New York's Metropolitan Opera paid $325,000 commission fee to Philip Glass for his opera The Voyage. And if Glass could get this much for stretching a few triads worth of musical material over three hours of rhythmic monotony, Carter's reported commission fee for What's Next does not seem all that striking.
Still, I wonder if the actual fee paid to Carter by Berlin's Staatsoper Unter den Linden was indeed the sum mentioned in Griffiths' article.