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Thread: NY Times article on the state of the Metropolitan Opera - interesting

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    Opera Lively Site Owner / Administrator / Chief Editor Top Contributor Member Luiz Gazzola (Almaviva)'s Avatar
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    NY Times article on the state of the Metropolitan Opera - interesting

    Zachary Woolfe from The New York Tiimes has published an interesting article about the health of the Metropolitan Opera, after having attended all 26 productions of this season that is ending now. With the season winding down, it is indeed a good time for looking back and gauging the season, and this article is a neat tool to help us do it.

    Here is the link to the article:

    I haven't seen all productions like he did, but I've seen many. I agree with most of the points he makes, but not all. I think it would be interesting to examine his claims one by one, and see if I agree with each one or not. Others then might give their own opinions on the ones they saw, which might generate an interesting discussion.

    So, let's proceed one by one.

    He claims that:

    The Death of Klinghoffer was "literal-minded" with "corny CNN-style realism." - No clue, I haven't seen it.

    Otto Schenk's now defunct Meistersinger production was "slack" and "storybook simple" in his opinion, and had it's last revival "not a minute too soon." I couldn't disagree more. That production was one of the few ancient ones that had merit. It was very beautiful and realistic, allowing the opera to blossom as intended. It will be missed.

    He added that Michael Volle who stepped in for two performances as Hans Sachs was outstanding. I agree 100%.

    He said "The director Mariusz Trelinski’s ingenious pairing, new to the Met, of Tchaikovsky’s “Iolanta” and Bartok’s “Bluebeard’s Castle” at least had a point of view." True. That was a smart pairing and it made sense with the Darkness/Light theme, as I stated in my review and as Nadja Michael said in her interview with Opera Lively, just published. Agreed.

    He added that "Otherwise it was up to revivals of Verdi’s “La Traviata” (in Willy Decker’s stark staging) and Humperdinck’s “Hansel and Gretel” (macabre as directed by Richard Jones) to inspire fresh thoughts." I'd tend to agree with both statements, since I adore the Willy Decker Trav, and even though I haven't seen the Hansel und Gretel, I know of it and have seen many fragments, and he seems to be right about it.

    About The Rake's Progress, he said it was welcome. True. That was an A++ production.

    Then, he said that Levine by conducting six operas was "back in business" but not as consistent given that he left so many operas to other conductors. True. A singer (I won't say who; it was "in off") told me that maestro Levine has been picking what he *wants* to conduct. Well, rank hath its perks, and his health has been poor, so I understand.

    He then praised maestros Yannick Nézet-Séguin and Michelle Mariotti. I agree about the former, but I *strongly disagree* about the latter, and even question if Mr. Woolfe has a good grip on what constitutes good conducting. He says that he did well in Il Barbiere. He absolutely did not. There were *numerous* conducting problems in that show with several instances of the orchestra running ahead of the singers with synchronization problems, and erratic tempi. That was a colossally sloppy job (which I attribute to the maestro's inexperience; he is quite young) and it is just preposterous to issue such a misguided opinion in nothing less than the New York Times (although - who knows? - it is likely we saw different performances and the maestro's success or lack thereof was not the same, so maybe I shouldn't be so vehement in my disagreement). He added that Mariotti did well in La Donna del Lago. I didn't see that one at the Met (did see the same production in Santa Fe with about the same cast but the conductor was Stephen Lord).

    He praises Emmanuel Villaume in Manon which I didn't see. He says that "James Conlon milked Shostakovich’s “Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk” for every drop of savage energy." Very true. In my review of it I especially praised maestro Conlon.

    About Fabio Luisi, he said he has "long associated with polished but sedate performances" - I couldn't agree more - but then he added that "he finally hit his stride with a hurtling “Macbeth,” a detailed double bill of “Cavalleria Rusticana” and “Pagliacci” and suave leadership of the second cast of “The Merry Widow.” I agree with the suave leadership of The Merry Widow but absolutely do not agree that he was good in Cav-Pag, or maybe I should say, at least not in Cav given that he did improve in Pag. His Cav suffered from the exact same issue of "polished but sedate" and was not how Verismo needs to be conducted. I also agree that surprisingly, he did very well in Macbeth.

    He then addressed Sondra Radvanovsky and Piotr Beczala in Ballo as possessing "verve and nerve" which is very true, and added that David Alden's production was "creeply surreal" which I understand in the good sense (he did praise more explicitly the production, later on) and I agree.

    Next, he called Lady Macbeth of the Mtsensk District's revival raucous and vibrant. Agreed. That show was fabulous.

    Manon with Diana Damrau and Vittorio Grigolo was praised for their chemistry - I didn't see it.

    Roberto Alagna was commended for giving it all to his Don José, and Nadja Michael for doing the same to her Judith. I agree in both accounts.

    Sonya Yoncheva was highlighted for a good Mimi - eh... I wasn't impressed. She is also said to have sung a good Violetta - I didn't see that one.

    Ailyn Pérez's Micaëla had "focus and purpose" - definitely. Paul Appleby was a bright spot in Die Meistersinger as David and in The Rake's Progress' title role - again, I couldn't agree more, and I'm happy for Paul for getting the recognition.

    He says: "Tamara Wilson, joining a run of “Aida” in the title role, made a far more passionate pair with the mezzo Violeta Urmana than Liudmyla Monastyrska and Olga Borodina had earlier in the run" - IDK, I haven't seen this Aida. Who wants to see another Met Aida? These fillers are usually dreadful, and if I were Mr. Gelb, I'd scratch them altogether and include more contemporary opera.

    He was unable to see Michael Fabiano's performances. So was I. He heard that they were good. Me too. I believe it, since I've seen this singer in Santa Fe and he was great.

    He gives lavish praise to Macbeth with Anna Netrebko, Zeljko Lucic, Joseph Calleja and René Pape, and again I totally agree, since this one for me was a tie with Piotr's and Sondra's Ballo for the best singing at the Met, this season.

    A sick Calleja is given a pass in Lucia - I didn't see it.

    Domingo is bashed for Ernani (I didn't see it), and so is Marcello Giordani for Aida - while I didn't see it, I believe him, because Giordani is clearly past his prime (and his prime wasn't that good to start with). Marcelo Álvarez on the other hand gets a positive for Cav/Pag, and yes, I agree, although in my night he only sang in Cav (but did very well).

    Mr. Woolfe says that Eva-Maria Westbroek was powerful in “Lady Macbeth” but was a sour Santuzza in “Cavalleria Rusticana. Agreed, and agreed. Santuzza is just not a good role for Eva-Maria. Racette is deemed "squally" in Pagliacci, and there, I don't agree. Maybe she had different success (or lack thereof) in different evenings. In mine, she was good.

    Speaking about the visual impact of some productions, Mr. Woolfe says that memorable sights this season included the mirrored, sloping walls of Un Ballo in Maschera and the spooky forest of Iolanta and Bluebeard’s Castle. Agreed, and agreed. Both productions were visually stunning and had the most beautiful sets of the season.

    What he says about five other sets, I agree with one, I didn't see another one, and I disagree with three:

    "A dark, leaden “Le Nozze di Figaro” on opening night; a ship’s deck in “The Death of Klinghoffer” marooned between realism and stylization; staid flats for “The Merry Widow”; a dimly lit, stage-filling turntable in “Cavalleria Rusticana”; and, worst of all, almost nothing to evoke the natural world so integral to “La Donna del Lago.”

    For me, he is right about Nozze; Klinghoffer is a not-seen, but the Merry Widow sets were beautiful, the Cav sets with the "dimly lit" problem were also beautiful with the candles, and I think La Donna del Lago wasn't that bad - although maybe I thought better of them because I saw them in Santa Fe, and the open air theater with the background of the beautiful mountains and the sky did add to the visual impact of that show.

    He puts down the English-language script for The Merry Widow and yes, it was the aspect I gave the worst score to, in my review of it.

    He calls the Grandage production of Don Giovanni unsalvable, and I tend to agree, but then he commits a colossal blunder, saying that "the Met keeps casting it meekly." Whoa! The Met had Peter Mattei and Luca Pisaroni in the two leading roles. It doesn't get any better than that for Don Giovanni. Sure, the other singers weren't as good, but it is weird to call "meek" a casting that has two of the best specialists in the opera's two principal roles.

    He says the matinee of Die Zauberflöte had young singers who were out of their league. Oh well, what opera company doesn't give some opportunities to their young singers when they have them in their Young Artists Program? As much as I haven't seen that matinee, I find that this comment is likely to be mean-spirited. We often do give a bit of a pass to developing voices.

    The journalist goes out on a leg and commits another phenomenal blunder - he says that the only major company that exceeds the Met in sheer volume is the Vienna State Opera. Whoa! It seems like Mr. Woolfe has never heard of companies such as the Mariinsky, the Bolshoi, and the Deutsche Oper Berlin. Well, they are major companies, Mr. Woolfe, and just consult their calendar and do some counting. Even the Hungarian State Opera in Budapest, and many other European repertory houses with fixed ensembles - although arguably they aren't "major" - present many more operas and performances than the Met.

    He does say that the Met's level of quality is steady and dependable, and I agree.

    He makes some comments about future productions. We aren't there yet, so, I won't agree or disagree. I'll say that I do expect that Lulu and Elektra will be good.

    So, of all the statements he made, let's see what is the concordance rate for me.

    I singled out about 50 statements. 10 of them I can't say anything about them because I didn't see the performances. I agree with 30 statements, and disagree with 10. I disagreed more often with his assessment of conductors, and of the visual merits of some productions. I agreed a lot more with what he had to say about singers, with some exceptions.

    My two strongest disagreements were with his assessment of maestro Mariotti's performance (but then, like I said, these things do vary since conductors are also human beings and are perfectly entitled to a bad day, and there's no guarantee that we saw the same show), and with the laughable statement that the Vienna State Opera is the only major company with more volume than the Met. I also think that bashing the young singers was rather distasteful, as a matter of principle. Even though I haven't seen the specific performance he singled out, I'd be pretty confident with my disagreement, because even if I had seen it and and felt the same way about the singers, I wouldn't have said it this way. Well, there's a reason why they were out of their league: it's because they are young. They will hopefully grow into that league. It is still commendable, for young singers, to be able to have a role at the Met. Hmm... oops. I see now that I'm being inconsistent. Maestro Mariotti is also young. OK, so, I'll suspend judgment on Mariotti and see how he evolves with time.

    Will anybody else take a shot at commenting positively or negatively on Mr. Woolfe's statements?
    Last edited by Luiz Gazzola (Almaviva); May 10th, 2015 at 09:25 PM.
    "J'ai dit qu'il ne suffisait pas d'entendre la musique, mais qu'il fallait encore la voir" (Stravinsky)

  2. #2
    Opera Lively Staff Member Top Contributor Member Hoffmann's Avatar
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    I can only comment on the three I saw this season: Carmen, Don Giovanni and La Donna del Lago.

    I agree that Ailyn Perez' Micaela was a stand-out in Carmen, but I also thought Elina Garanca deserved a positive mention and, I generally liked the production. Considering that I tend to turn up my nose at Carmen, that's saying something!

    Don Giovanni? I loved the DG! The production is good - not great, but does an excellent job clarifying the relationships between all the characters, which typically is lost on me. Peter Mattei and Luca Pisaroni were superb, but the women, as Luiz suggests, weren't very impressive. Nonetheless, I walked out into a very cold night very happy.

    La Donna del Lago? I was so happy to see this opera staged, I didn't care about the production. I thought the production was serviceable, at best, but agree with Luiz that it likely would have been a lot more impressive on Santa Fe's smaller outdoor stage than at the Met. Michele Mariotti conducted the Met orchestra with a light hand and at much lower volume than is customary, to allow for the lighter voices on stage. I found this disconcerting, but necessary. Joyce DiDonato and Juan Diego Florez were terrific. More Rossini, please. Maybe Semiramide next time!

    I'm not a fan of Sondra Radvanovsky's bel canto, but say what you will, it is loud. I think her voice is far more suited to Verdi, but that's just me. I will not be making the trip to NYC next season for her Donizetti queens. I'd rather walk to Queens.

    I see Luiz' point about Aida. The only Met production of Aida I've seen was ca. 1980 (the performance where Carlo Bergonzi's voice cracked on the high C in 'Celeste Aida'). It still was a pleasure to see him sing, but Aida was none other than Met stalwart and go-to second stringer Gilda Cruz Romo, an acquired taste. Mignon Dunn was a terrific Amneris. The crowd booed Giuseppe Patane for conducting the orchestra too loudly. I still remember the shredded program confetti glittering in the spotlights. I think Aida is a crowd pleaser for opera neophytes, the rest of us would be happier with something more challenging. Maybe a stellar Pelleas et Melisande.

  3. #3
    Opera Lively Site Owner / Administrator / Chief Editor Top Contributor Member Luiz Gazzola (Almaviva)'s Avatar
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    Yes, you have a good point with Elina Garanca; I focused on what he said, but we can also disagree with what he left out. Elina did deserve at least an honorable mention for her sexy and beautifully-sung Carmen.

    I think that the Grandage DG production is a bit bland, with that 3-story facade. There's been so many creative stagings for DG, the Met needs to get a better one going, for such an essential opera. But yes, it's serviceable.
    "J'ai dit qu'il ne suffisait pas d'entendre la musique, mais qu'il fallait encore la voir" (Stravinsky)

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