Wednesday, August 27, 2008

The Met season ahead, part I -- the conductors

Perhaps the greatest performance -- operatic or not -- of the James Levine era here was the Met Orchestra concert of April 29, 2001. Renee Fleming, Olga Borodina, Marcello Giordani, and Rene Pape were soloists that afternoon in an account of Verdi's Requiem still ringing in the ears of those who were there. (All those I've talked to, anyway.) As previously mentioned, Levine, not long upon his own brush with mortality, will lead another performance of that piece next month, with a lesser cast but more specific occasion -- the commemoration of Pavarotti's death.

Tickets to this event will be assigned by a drawing; entries are being accepted now through next week. Despite the early (5PM) start, it should be something.

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Levine also conducts what looks to be the event of the 2008-2009 season: the 125th Anniversary Gala recreating legendary productions of the past. He will also lead part of Opening Night -- less than a month from now -- and some or all performances of just three other things: Damnation of Faust, Gluck's Orfeo, and of course the Ring, which I suppose puts him up to six productions plus galas and three Carnegie Hall concerts. Regrettably, no Mozart operas.

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Other welcome returns are led by Jiři Bělohlávek, whose 2007 Jenůfa was (after some initial roughness) intoxicatingly vital, the most memorable guest-conducting stint I've heard since Christian Thielemann's work on Die Frau ohne Schatten. (Incidentally, the next season's highlight may much depend on whether Fabio Luisi has the pull to get not only Strauss' music but Wernicke's production for Frau revived uncut.) This time Bělohlávek both teams up again with Karita Mattila for Onegin and leads another Czech piece -- Rusalka -- with Renee Fleming. Neither should be missed.

Two others are back in multiple engagements (not counting Opening Night). Marco Armiliato's in Lucia, La Rondine, and Adriana Lecouvreur, and Maurizio Benini in Elisir and Cenerentola. Both Italians are familiar to Met audiences: the former rarely inspiring but always professional, the latter poor to start but showing better in recent years.

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But the season's most notable podium news is its spate of debuts. Scheduled, in order, are Mikko Franck (Salome), Daniele Callegari (Gioconda), Alan Gilbert (Doctor Atomic), Paolo Carignani (Traviata), Daniel Barenboim (Tristan), Lothar Koenigs (Don Giovanni), Riccardo Frizza (Rigoletto and Trovatore), and Pietro Rizzo (Cav/Pag). Apart from old eminence Barenboim (whom I've never much liked in anything but Wagner) and the New York Philharmonic's boss-in-waiting Gilbert, the debutants are relatively young and unknown here. How this new blood does will determine much of the season's success.

Given the uncertainty, it's hard to say how much other, unused conductors will be missed. Among the returnees, I do think Asher Fisch remains as underappreciated as ever, engaged only for the kids' Magic Flute, while the only real disappointment -- Frédéric Chaslin, often dull but blessed with a terrific cast in Boheme -- might have been better-fit for the opera originally scheduled in that spot, Manon (it became Boheme when Netrebko's pregnancy forced her cancellation).

And who's not happy that Placido Domingo's now singing, not conducting in Adriana Lecouvreur? He remains as fine onstage as he is amateurish in the pit.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Thumb in the eye

In its own little way, perhaps this bit of propagandizing is as much demonstrative muscle-flexing as the rape of Georgia itself. For as Europe's dependence on Russian petroleum has convinced Putin of his local invincibility, so perhaps arts organizations' reliance on Russian talent, attendance, and support will keep them from responding to this grossly -- and offensively -- political gesture.

Gergiev no longer has any official position at the Met (his tenure as Principal Guest Conductor ended with a concert this spring) and as far as I can see has not been engaged for any of this upcoming season's performances. But it will be interesting to see what, if anything, other companies do.

(It will also be interesting to see if the Russophile trolls that have flooded blogs since this war started will leave their droppings in the comments here.)

UPDATE (8/26): As for what actually happened...

Monday, August 18, 2008

Hidden price increase

Last week's news of the rebounding dollar and its cause -- imminent recession in Europe, while the US continues in a mere slowdown -- has, of course, the side effect of making transatlantic opera tourism more expensive.

Whether the Met will be noticeably hurt by this reversal of one of the Gelb tenure's favorable winds remains to be seen.

Friday, August 01, 2008

RSS-flavored sidebar

Blogger doesn't make things easy (all sorts of undeclared and undocumented styling of certain elements), but it does make them do-able. Each blog in the sidebar now shows -- and is sorted by -- the time of its most recent post. This does take away a bit of the site's repose, but convenience carries the day for now.

(Though I was able to massage the extra whitespace out of the BlogList widget, some still remains in the Archive list. If anyone knows what Blogger is covertly styling therein, please email or leave a comment.)