Cher Public

When we deaf awaken

Open your eyes, sleepyheads! In the news this morning, our own JJ raves about Satyagraha at the Met (“a masterpiece of musical and visual art”); the ever-articulate Nico Muhly takes aim at the Met’s production values (“Mercedes Bass or Anne Ziff paid for the opera. What do you think is going to happen?”); and NYCO’s orchestra and chorus offer to work for free.

  • Will

    The more I read of comments by Nico Muhly — and there is an increasing number of interviews — the more impressed I am by his common sense and his refusal to get involved in some of the less productive aspects of operatic life in NYC. Most of all I like that he sen no careerist goals for the trajectory of his career but just did things that engaged him with people he wanted to work with no matter who they were. May he always have this lack of pretension and affect.

  • armerjacquino

    I don’t think that’s Muhly taking aim at the Met; it’s Muhly taking aim at those who take aim at the Met.

    • Well, I think it’s a mixture of the two, depending on how you define “The Met.” The real issue, and I am so glad Muhly broached it, is the onerous dependence on private donors to support a big arts organization. It wouldn’t be quite so bad if more of those billionaires who have to be courted were of the Agnes Varis variety, but they’re not: a lot of wealthy people have rather bourgeois taste, and that sensibility explicitly or implicitly gets imposed on projects they support. (How impressive too that Muhly got all this across in about 1/3 as many words as I just used.)

      • Quanto Painy Fakor

        I really don’t understand. Is Muhly saying negative things about the generosity of Mmes Ziff and Bass? Sounds that way to me. They don’t impose artistic decisions in exchange for their philanthropy. They don’t even want their pictures front and center on every lobby level of the opera house as did Vilar (not talking about the MET here).

      • iltenoredigrazia

        Chacon a son gout, n’est-ce pas?

      • luvtennis

        La Cieca:

        I also took from his statements that he acknowledges the futility of criticizing MET productions without recognizing all the factors that drive the fundamental conservatism that informs ALL MET artistic and musical decisions. As Mr. Muhly points out, unless you can figure out a way to fund the productions that don’t involve large sums of money and elderly wealthy white women, you should probably just move on to a more fruitful topic of discussion.

  • Quanto Painy Fakor

    “Muhly: I’m so uninterested in the blood sport of hating the Met’s operas. I feel like a lot of the anger that’s directed at those productions could be better directed at the way that they’re paid for. Mercedes Bass or Anne Ziff paid for the opera. What do you think is going to happen? Is Peter Gelb, the Met’s general director, going to hire Bob Wilson to have Anna Netrebko frozen in a single pose for 45 minutes as she sings Donizetti? That’s just not how the arts work here.”

    What is that incoherent reference to Mmes Bass and Ziff all about?

    As for City Opera paying for health insurance… that’s highly doubtful
    I have been paying 100% of my own health insurance for more years than I care to remember it’s now approaching $1,200 per month. It makes for sense for performing artists and arts workers to have their own health insurance and, if possible, have their multiple employers pay them directly what would have been in former times a benefit.

    Good luck to all of us in the future.

    • Indiana Loiterer III

      What is that incoherent reference to Mmes Bass and Ziff all about?

      Simple--as long as Mmes. Bass and Ziff pay for the productions, they aren’t going to pay for Bob Wilson, etc, etc.

      • Uninvolved Bystander

        I am asking this question seriously and respectfully: Why is Robert Wilson considered cutting edge and/or avant-garde? I find his productions to be as predictable in their ways as Zefferelli’s productions are in his way.

        • Indiana Loiterer III

          Because some people who pay attention to opera haven’t kept up with theater since the 1970s, when Robert Wilson could be said to be “cutting-edge”.

        • Not to put words in anybody’s mouth, but perhaps Wilson is being used here as shorthand for “any director working in a nonrepresentational style.” I’m no fan of Wilson’s either, and so I’m perfectly content with his absence from the Met’s future plans. However, I don’t necessarily agree with the reason for that absence, which has little to do with “predictability” and much to do with his perceived avant-garde scariness.

          • iltenoredigrazia

            I read it as “like the Lohengrin productin by Wilson.”

      • Quanto Painy Fakor

        You mean The US Government should pay for drek from Robert Wilson?

        • iltenoredigrazia

          Well, ideally the public should be the one paying. But then, I doubt that they would be willing to pay for a new Wilson production either.

  • Quanto Painy Fakor

    “Under the proposal, the unions would then work with the opera’s general manager, George Steel, to select repertory”

    I have nothing against trombones and piccoli, but the thought of trombonists and piccolo players determining the operatic repertoire is really quite delicious.

    • m. croche

  • Best response ever to the perennial question:

    Tarmy: So what do you think the future of classical music is?

    Muhly: I have no idea.

    Love it!

  • La Valkyrietta

    What about the past of classical music? I hope the Royal Opera House in Oman eventually does a decent Ring, otherwise classical music will continue to be deleted, as it were, it would seem :( .

  • verliebtenmadeleine

    Great review! I took the train down to see ‘Satyagraha’ on Friday night and I concur entirely; probably the purest fusion of music and stagecraft I’ve seen. The piece, in a funny way, reminds me of ‘Parsifal’ in its propensity to slow time itself; I wasn’t bored for a second throughout the 4+ hour evening.

    Whatever your opinion of Gelb, one must accede that he’s done some extraordinary things for contemporary opera; in just a few seasons we’ve had ‘Doctor Atomic’, ‘Nixon in China’, ‘Satyagraha’ -- all of which, happily, were included in the HD broadcasts -- plus the Muhly and Golijov commissions, as well ‘The Tempest’ which I believe is scheduled for next (?) season. Now they just need to do ‘L’Amour de Loin’ and I’ll be in avant-garde heaven.

  • operagirl40

    Regarding Alan Gordon’s statement, “but it’s a last-ditch alternative to a management plan that would drive City Opera out of existence.”…….for GOD’s SAKE ………. LET IT DIE !!!

    • brooklynpunk


      Why such NEGATIVITY towards any attempt to keep a cultural institution ALIVE..????…

  • Batty Masetto

    Does anybody know the full reason why Glass composed Satyagraha in Sanskrit? His site says that he didn’t want to upset the rhythm of the text. But given the sparse numbers of Sanskritist operagoers, that necessarily seems to imply that he didn’t mind that most of us would not understand what was being sung. Maybe he even intended as much. And if that’s the case, does the Met offer surtitles? Or are we meant to meditate wordlessly as we listen to the words? That at least was how it worked out when I saw it years ago in SF. I didn’t know whether I was fascinated or bored out of my mind. At any rate it was an unusual operatic experience -- usually I can tell the one state from the other.

    • brooklynpunk


      To answer you question, in true Glass-ian style…:



      I am so looking forward to getting to SEE this, this time around….

      The translations are, I believe, in the MET playbill..and also on the MET website……

    • m. croche

      Glass did the same thing is next (to mind, somewhat more successful opera) Akhnaten -- the text is ancient Egyptian mingled with a couple other ancient semitic languages.

      I think “respect for the text” is, where Glass is concerned, a sufficient reason to perform the works in the original. The excerpts used for Satyagraha are comparatively short. Nowadays there are plenty of sites that offer word-for-word exegeses of the Bhagavad Gita. In my experience, it’s worth the effort to learn something of the original text and see what Glass does with it -- he really does make an effort to “set” the text, though usually in a typically understated way.

      As for “operagoers” -- I don’t think that it’s the worst idea to push operagoers literary horizons out of their comfort zone. Obviously, there’s only just so much pushing you can do -- Glass’ subsequent operas have had more conventional diction. But coming off the 70s, I’m sure Glass thought that the type of operagoers that might appreciate him would also have some familiarity with Bhagavad Gita to start with.

      I don’t know whether they’ll broadcast subtitles. My understanding is that there aren’t subtitles for the live performance -- the relevant texts are projected across the back of the stage. If you can take the chance to snag a libretto and study it some in advance, not only will you get the opportunity to come closer to some remarkable poetry, but you’ll also have a more immediate reaction to the performance.

      • Batty Masetto

        MC, surely you must know by now that a little bit of foreign language doesn’t exactly scare me off! I’ve even read the Gita, though certainly not in Sanskrit. But I’m wondering if incomprehensibility isn’t in fact meant to be part of the aesthetic, since only a very limited audience would ever have been able to understand the text.

        Even more so now that you mention Akhnaten -- the Egyptologists themselves don’t agree on how ancient Egyptian was pronounced, though you can certainly get dogmatic (and contradictory) manifestoes out of a fair number of them. So Akhnaten is composed in a language that very possibly nobody would ever have understood, not even the ancient Egyptians.

        Is Glass intentionally pushing the routine incomprehensibility of operatic diction to some kind of meta-extreme?

        • m. croche

          Is Glass intentionally pushing the routine incomprehensibility of operatic diction to some kind of meta-extreme?

          Two thoughts:

          1) I think Glass is a serious and thoughtful artist, especially where the theater is concerned. I don’t think he’d be attracted to a purely negative goal of “incomrephensibility”. I’m pretty he sincerely believed that Sanskrit is a world language and as such was fair game for theatrical treatment in New York. It’s up to the rest of us to catch up.

          1.5) I suppose it’s also worth pointing out that Glass is Buddhist, so I’m not sure there’s a categorical difference between Glass using Sanskrit in Satyagraha and Reich using Hebrew in Tehillim.

          2) But I think there’s probably also an interest in “estranging” effects. The choice of language(s) certainly is going to throw an operagoer off-kilter. But “off-kilter” is not the same thing as “knocked flat-out unconscious.” The analogy that most immediately springs to mind is Stravinsky’s Oedipus Rex -- Greek tragedy done up, oddly and for no apparent reason, in Latin.

          3) Yes, the ancient Egyptian pronunciations of Akhnaten will be disputed, but isn’t this true to some degree for all ancient languages, including Greek, Latin, Hebrew, Chinese etc.? (Assuming, for the moment, that any language before the rise of modern state education has “one” correct method of pronunciation.)

          • m. croche

            (regarding 1.5: which is not to say that the Bhagavad Gita is Buddhist, just that the language is similiar.)

          • Batty Masetto

            Only to answer 3, because the others make perfectly reasonable sense to me:

            At least we know where the vowels lay in Greek and Latin, so there’s a sporting chance at saying something an original speaker might be able to recognize. In hieroglyphics, while a certain consensus has developed within the field, we often can’t be quite sure where the vowels go, or which ones belong there. Apparently rigorous scholarly transliteration often avoids the vowels entirely. So it’s not just a matter of scholarly disputation in that case. The choices really could make the difference between at least an approximate comprehensibility and gibberish.

            Not that I’d sneeze at a chance to visit ancient “W3s.t” (Thebes), however the hell it was really pronounced.

          • Pelleas

            Well, Tibetan and Sanskrit aren’t really similar, or part of the same language family, but anyway.

            Hinduism and Buddhism do share similar spiritual roots, though, since the Buddha was born and lived in a Hindu society prior to enlightenment; there are common ideas concerning cosmology and afterlife, as well as practice. Most Buddhists have come across a certain amount of Hindu sacred writing if they’ve spent any significant amount of time looking into the tradition.

            The mantra, of course, is common to Buddhism, Hinduism, and, at least at the stage when this piece was written, Glassism.

          • m. croche

            Hinduism and Buddhism do share similar spiritual roots, though, since the Buddha was born and lived in a Hindu society prior to enlightenment; there are common ideas concerning cosmology and afterlife, as well as practice. Most Buddhists have come across a certain amount of Hindu sacred writing if they’ve spent any significant amount of time looking into the tradition.

            Well, then I must have this wrong. My understanding was that a number of Buddhist texts, including Mahayana sutras, were preserved in Sanskrit and the Sanskrit texts traveled to China and Japan. From what I recall (probably wrong) Japanese Buddhist monks recite from the Sanskrit.

          • m. croche

            Batty: I imagine Glass was going for the most commonly-accepted realization of Ancient Egyptian c. 1982. The phrase he uses in the liner notes is: “their sounds and cadences as understood by contemporary scholarship.” I think that’s all fair enough -- seems a tacit acknowledgement that the text pronunciation is contingent.

            I’m sure Glass is sophisticated enough to know that most historical knowledge is partial, subject to revision. And even though he ascribes to Akhnaten central historical importance, he acknowledges that there are huge lacunae in the historical record. Some new archaelogical find could come along and alter our understanding of Akhnaten and his place in history. So the work from top to bottom is dependent on a contemporary understanding of the figure and his times. This understanding might well change in the future, but that’s the nature of historical inquiry.

            With this in mind, I think the linguistic uncertainties surrounding the realization of Ancient Egyptian add texture to the experience. Keeping them in mind might even be useful in preventing one from approaching the piece as an historical costume drama.

      • Pelleas

        Or maybe I’ve got it wrong m.croche. There’s certainly nothing preventing that!

    • The design of the production uses text (in English translation) as part of the stage picture. It’s projected onto the semicircular surrounding wall, and, in a very interesting touch, sometimes characters will hold up props such as newspapers as screens for projection of the words. It’s a solution that would not work for a more text-intensive opera or one in which there was more conventional operatic dialogue. Here, where there the text is more commentary on the action, it works very well, and the audience’s attention is not divided by seatback titles.

      • Batty Masetto

        Aha. Thank you, Cieca. That certainly seems to indicate that comprehensibility is intended after all.

  • havfruen

    Nico Muhly seems to be by all accounts a talented young man. I just don’t understand why he isn’t directing his talents to Broadway where it seems to me he would have greater acceptance and wouldn’t happen to fight the “production values” he doesn’t care for. Any thoughts?

    • Pelleas

      What about his work suggests that it would be embraced by Broadway producers? If anything, the general taste level on Broadway is even lower than that of the Met’s benefactors.

      Muhly’s got a much better career than commercial American theater would have given him.

    • CruzSF

      I think the answer to your question lies here: Muhly says “My guiding philosophy has been to just do stuff with people I like.” He’s less interested in “greater acceptance” than he is on working on projects that interest him.

  • Quanto Painy Fakor

    Whomever sings in the Adrianna, apparently the event is not sold out.
    $10.00 STUDENT AND SENIOR RUSH TICKETS with ID at Carnegie Hall Box Office on the day of the performance.

    • Nerva Nelli

      “Whomever” is the direct object of what verb here?

      • “Whomever” is used here as a poetic contraction of the more familiar “whosomeever.”

        • Quanto Painy Fakor

          Thank you La Cieca, I always try to be as poetic as possible, but with all the linguistic changes going on these days it’s hard to keep up with the pack.

          • Batty Masetto

            Quanto, i just thought you were writing in Ancient Egyptian.

        • Nerva Nelli

          Um, whatEVER.

          Whom cares anyway?

          Maralin Niska for Adriana tonight!

    • brooklynpunk

      …I have already received THREE separate E-mailings, today, from OONY concerning this discount..!

      What seems odder is--I always THOUGHT that ONLY events directly produced by Carnegie Hall were subject to these sort of discounting offers--?

      There must be an awful lot of empty seats, so far, for tomorrow’s event?

      • bluecabochon

        I didn’t see that many empty seats in the balcony, where I will be sitting, but maybe the other sections are going begging…?

    • spiderman

      if SHE cancels, fly HER in…

  • parpignol

    this may mean I am a total Philistine, but I was bored at Satyagraha. . .

  • ianw2

    Was just reading the excellent Out West Arts review of Satya, and this really struck me:

    Philip Galss’ Satyagraha returned to the Metropolitan Opera on Friday in a revival of the successful 2008 production of the work. Now I want you to stop and read that sentence again and think about it. Would anyone have predicted five years ago that this is something anyone, anywhere would be writing about the Metropolitan Opera today? It’s been a popular pastime lately to rag on the company’s General Manager, Peter Gelb, and his shortcomings…But I think it’s also easy to forget some of the great things that have happened during his tenure

    Worth a read.

  • perfidia

    Is there any chance there will be a DVD of Satyagraha? I loved the sound of the production on the radio. I would love to have an idea of the visuals, even if they won’t have the same impact as seeing the production live or even at the movies.