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Yellow journalism

Our Own JJ‘s nominee for 2012 Newsmaker of the Year: the Met’s Peter Gelb, “not the cuddliest man in the business, [but] neither is he a coward. The Met is a great opera company, and Gelb is now proving himself one of its greatest leaders.” [Musical America]

64 comments

  • Quanto Painy Fakor says:

  • La Valkyrietta says:

    Doesn’t Gelb in the above photo look a little bit like Parc Jae-sang? Maybe a tad less plump?

  • isoldit says:

    is this JJ’s idea of satire?
    new productions- flops outnumber successes, only successful productions were imported.
    financially- hocking the Chagall’s to pay the bills
    a pricing strategy that is insane and has raised the prices on the cheaper seats much more than the more expensive seats.
    changing prices constantly.
    what makes him such a great leader in your eyes???
    Eurotrash producitons that the majority of the audience is turned off by?
    reckless financial decisions?
    Peter Gelb is just a middle-aged rich kid whose parents used their influence to get him jobs.

  • Gualtier M says:

    A word to the wise: though James Levine’s return is a good piece of news, it hasn’t happened yet. It may not happen and if it does happen it may not last long. Also the current Jimmy is not the old Jimmy. Levine has shown himself increasingly unable to master new scores. So Levine developing and expanding the Met new repertory is out of the question. Gelb, Friend and Billingshurst with some input from Ioan Holender and Eva Wagner-Pasquier will still be doing casting. There will still be a vacuum high up in the artistic direction of the Met. Levine is returning because the Met board and Gelb want him to come back. Jimmy wants to come back to his central vocation in life and his doctors say it is possible. In the long term, it will be necessary within a decade or less than that to find a new music director/artistic director. Fabio Luisi was willing for a time to be in an equivocal, power-free, non-decision-making, disposable stopgap position so he would be placed to be Jimmy’s successor if Jimmy became permanently out of the picture. Now he has sent a message -- “I am in Zurich -- you want me, give me the real job”.

    I have said this before: a diminished Jimmy means more power and control for Gelb. A new music director would want to share power and control over artistic planning. I have a suspicion that most major conductors aren’t interested in playing second-fiddle to Gelb.

    What JJ credits Gelb with is simply doing his job -- the same things that Anthony Bliss and Rudolf Bing and Schuyler Chapin did in the past (with more or less success). I find his intimidation of WQXR and Opera News contemptible.

    Frankly a look over the current season so far isn’t encouraging. Only the “Carmen” revival (despite a few weak links) and the “Clemenza” revival were overall good evenings. I found the score of “The Tempest” off-putting and the libretto so awful that the merits of the production and cast were vitiated. The Lepage “Tempest” production is the best new production so far this season. I hated the new productions of “Elisir” and “Ballo”. Botha and the conductor put paid to the “Otello” revival despite Fleming and Struckmann’s best efforts. The “Turandot” had some good performances but really mediocre conducting by Dan Ettinger (a great haircut in search of genuine talent). The less said about the “Nozze” revival the better and the deadly Grandage “Don Giovanni” production turned a talented cast into “The Night of the Living Dead”. I used to love seeing revivals of “Don Giovanni” with different casts but I don’t think I can sit through the Grandage again. I am hoping against hope that the new “Parsifal” and “Maria Stuarda” will be successes. Despite Dessay, the “Cesare” could be a good evening.

    So what is brave here? And how much and for how long will Levine’s return bring rewards to the Met? Have Gelb’s changes overall brought a raise in standards in the level of productions? The level of singing? He is trying to expand the repertory and things like “From the House of the Dead”, “Satyagraha” and the Donizetti “Three Queens” are to his credit.

    • La Cieca says:

      JJ fortunately has had circumstances turn in his favor since that piece was written. You ask, “what is brave here,” and the answer is, “what is brave here is not opening the season with Patricia Racette and Ramon Vargas in an antique production of Mefistofele that had to be ransomed back from Turin.” That is the kind of thing other American opera companies are doing now. So in that context, Gelb is bold.

      • Quanto Painy Fakor says:

        The Carson production was sort of fun, the concept that once one becomes an angel one thrives in an opera house is very strange. Most memorable was the turntable in the garden scene with everyone spinning to the syncopations in the quartet. A new production of MEFISTOFELE has the potential to rock NY again. I hope the cast will be Netrebko, Schrott and Kaufmann with some really fantastic staging.

      • m. croche says:

        The Met 12-13 season is one of the most boring I can remember. I guess San Francisco’s utter disaster of a 13-14 season can make it look less wan by comparison, but that’s truly damning with faint praise.

        Is there anybody in American opera today who might be considered bold?

        • La Cieca says:

          There is a lot that is dull in the repertoire. But there are new productions of Parsifal and Maria Stuarda with very important artists and a Met premiere of a widely-acclaimed recent work, The Tempest, with a top-notch cast. The Aida this season is a lot better cast than it has been for years, and so should have been the Trovatore at the start of the season had not the Met lost the two major stars in the cast. The new Rigoletto is excellently cast, and, but for Dessay, so is the Giulio Cesare. And how often do you get to hear Francesca da Rimini?

          I am not shilling for Gelb’s Met here: this is a much duller season than it should be and there are some very questionable artistic choices going on here, such as the return of proven losers like Bart Sher and Natalie Dessay. But I don’t think it’s anywhere near as cowardly as the programming at San Francisco and Chicago over the course of several years.

          • m. croche says:

            San Francisco opera has definitely lost it, but using them as a yardstick to measure Gelb’s success will only condemn all involved to further mediocrity. The Met aspires to a position of global prominence, and on that score this season’s programming, it seems to me, fails. I’m hoping things pick up for the Met in 2013-14.

          • Gualtier M says:

            The “Trovatore” this Fall was a mixed bag -- was the loss of Sondra Radvanovsky and Marcelo Alvarez (really such a fave of yours?) in roles that they did two times previously such a dead loss? The debuts of Giannatasio and Yu (and Meade in late January) as Leonora made it interesting at least and both were capable attractive singers. Rad was put to better use in the “Ballo” new production in a Met role debut. Gwyn Hughes Jones was mediocre to pleasant but that is a step up from the likes of Kristjan Johannson or a stressed-out Richard Margison in the very recent past.

          • antikitschychick says:

            Pardon for my blunt intrusion dear Cieca, but I must say I take issue with your categorization of Nat. Dess. as a “proven loser.” Is she past her vocal prime? Yes, but does that automatically qualify her as a “loser” anymore so than the plethora of other artists of the past that performed past their prime? This seems like a huge double standard to me. I mean, seriously, the woman has had surgery performed on both her vocal folds and has had to reeducate her voice twice, that we know of(!!!). If that’s not dedication and tenacity I really don’t know what i…so, in effect, my perspective is the exact opposite; I see her as a hero.

            I do understand that we are allowed to have certain expectations, and our own subjective biases are what ultimately inform whether we will give the performer the benefit of the doubt or not, but calling her a loser seems a bit extreme especially since she has already announced her retirement and is probably just trying to fulfill her remaining engagements (which as we all know were probably cast years ago when her voice was in much better shape than it is now) to the best of her abilities, and I must say, even despite her current limitations, she is still able to wield what’s left of her voice in a manner that allows her to express the music and text and not just sing it, which to me at least, is the mark of a great artist; and opera isn’t really opera without great artists is it?

            Furthermore, it is well known that she has had substantial vocal issues/obstacles throughout her career, but surely no one has the ability to exactly pin-point the exact time frame/period when the rather drastic portion/latter-half of the degradation process will manifest for any given performer, and frankly I don’t think most would want to know such things any more than they would want to know their date and time of death.
            I’m not saying that you have to love her or even admire her work, but I do think she deserves respect for her accomplishments, and calling her a loser seems undeservedly mean-spirited and condemnatory.
            Just my two cents.

          • La Cieca says:

            The Trovatore was planned for Harteros and Licitra. Him I’m not so sure about, but she at least would have been glamorous, and between them that’s at least A-house casting suitable for the opening week of the season.

            Ideally someone should have been able to foresee (or precipitate) the loss of Mattila from the Ballo so all the late-game reshuffling wouldn’t have had to be done. The Met really shouldn’t be presenting Gwyn Hughes-Jones as Manrico or (at this very early stage of her career) Guanqun Yu as Leonora.

          • kashania says:

            As a fan of Dessay, I will say that she has been past her prime for a number of years now. That doesn’t mean that she hasn’t had much to offer during the post-prime years, but I think it’s safe to say that she’s reached the point where her vocal decline is too much to overcome, especially in a role like Cleopatra which requires so much vocal fireworks. I can still see her possibly pulling off a good Melisande but can’t think of too many roles other than that…

          • Cocky Kurwenal says:

            antikitschychick, had Dessay showed the dedication and tenacity you mention when it came to getting herself a secure technique BEFORE embarking on a big career, the chances are she would never have had to have surgery or career breaks.

          • oedipe says:

            I am no specialist of voices and singing technique, but there have been endless debates about Dessay on French opera blogs, and somebody who is a musician and seems quite knowledgeable argued that Dessay-like (very light) voices are generally short lived, they either evolve into something more substantial or they just fade away. Dessay herself has said that when she started considering a move into heavier rep, she was hoping her voice would evolve in the right direction; but it hasn’t…

          • Cocky Kurwenal says:

            Although there may be some truth in that, it was nevertheless audible from day 1 that Dessay’s voice was unstable, and that she was getting away with facility rather than actual secure foundations. The shallow breathing and lack of engagement with her torso always gave it a somewhat sickly feel to me, unstable and unbalanced. The inconsistency in the vibrato alone made it plain. I really enjoyed her when I saw her in Lucia (less so in Fille) but it was in spite of her insecure vocal production which has always bothered me.

          • armerjacquino says:

            Plus- doesn’t Dessay smoke? I know there are shining exceptions like Della Casa who are able to puff away untroubled, but on a bad Dessay night I’d say several of the vocal problems which manifest themselves could have something to do with Smoker’s Throat.

            Similarly, I find it odd that none of the conversations about Voigt (surgery, little black dress, blah blah blah) touch on the fact of her battle with alcoholism- booze is death to the voice.

          • Krunoslav says:

            “I can still see her possibly pulling off a good Melisande but can’t think of too many roles other than that…”

            Poulenc’s Elle
            Berlioz’ Andromache (I’m serious.)

      • kashania says:

        I think it’s all a matter of how the different components of Gelb’s leadership add up (and how one perceives the way they add up).

        There’s no doubt that Gelb has done things that would qualify him as a “great leader”.

        1. His decision to start each season with a new production and all the inherent risks that come with that. Plus his overall emphasis on new productions.

        2. The emphasis on new and rare repertoire — from the Donizetti Queens to works by living composers and everything in between (20th century rarities like The Nose and From the House of the Dead).

        3. The HD broadcasts which have not only changed opera going (jury is out whether it’s for the better or not) but are also now bringing in millions in profit to the Met.

        4. The emphasis on a “star system”. The Met is a great company but it also needs to be a company that features stars. Big names have always appeared at the Met but Gelb’s emphasis on the stars is important. Staging the Donizetti Queens for the company’s leading divas, bringing in star replacements whenever possible when a singer falls sick — these moves bring glamour to the company, a glamour that is further enhanced by the red-carpet treatment of the opening night and the simulcast in Times Square

        But there are also his failures:

        1. The many disappointing home-grown new production. Considering that this includes Lepage’s hugely expensive dud of Ring, I’d say this is important enough to cancel the effects of the first two positive points above.

        2. Gelb’s bullying nature that JJ has described.

        3. Casting. There will always be issues of casting with every GM, and Gelb has fewer great singers at his disposal than, say, Rudolf Bing had. So, my only comment about casting is the continued casting of singers like Erdmann (and to a lesser degree De Niese) who have nothing offer but a pretty face. It’s one thing to cast a singer like Poplavskaya who is vocally inferior but bring artistry to her interpretations, and quite another to cast singers who just look pretty. If Gelb has too many Erdmanns, he will lose much credibility.

        On the whole, I think the positives outweigh the negatives. But the jury is still out as to whether Gelb qualifies as great in the big picture. I think he can swing the pendulum in his favour if he manages the following:

        1. Produce several great home-grown productions.

        2. Music Director. Either James Levine will be able to return and produce high quality work (in which case it will be a matter of how well Gelb manages the transition). Or he will step down and Gelb can make a big statement with his choice of a replacement.

        • Gualtier M says:

          I think that what JJ is praising is Gelb’s program of artistic expansion vs. retrenching and cutting back in the face of a financial downturn. Michael Kaiser at the Kennedy Center in DC has also endorsed this strategy -- that when you are dealing with a recession don’t cut back and give the audience gruel -- you will just lose more of your audience. To get more, you have to spend more. More adventurous programming, more “event” programming, more publicity, more stars and more new productions. We’ll see if this works in the long run. In the short run we have had more disappointing new productions than successful ones. And that takes guts but the article doesn’t articulate that clearly.

          • ianw2 says:

            that when you are dealing with a recession don’t cut back and give the audience gruel

            So the current KenCen programming is… high protein meal substitutes? Kaiser loves to talk about the ‘programming first’ but his programming at the Kennedy Center has been one big snooze fest that leans heavily on loaded foreign governments (Incredible India! Glorious China! Nordic Cool!). I know, because I was one of those foreign governments, and they try to squeeze you dry. Perhaps the last word I’d choose for the Kennedy would be ‘adventurous’.

            I would bet a shiny penny they’ve already got the Brazilian government to pay for a festival in 2016 (“Rio Passion!” “The Mystical Amazon”).

    • Quanto Painy Fakor says:

      “Great haircut in search of talent” that’s a keeper!

  • phoenix says:

    Hmmmmmmm -- of course I don’t agree, but then again I don’t care either, so it’s really not an issue for me ….

  • La Valkyrietta says:

  • Quanto Painy Fakor says:

    Back to reality -- 40 minutes with Yummy Yonas, who explains the issues of Regietheater

    • antikitschychick says:

      awesome interview…ty for posting it Quanto!! It’s really great when singers of his caliber take the time to give such in-depth & detailed interviews in which a REAL effort is made to answer questions that really probe the characters and the drama…Jonas is really articulate and boy does he look hot in that Lohengrin excerpt :-P

  • La Valkyrietta says:

    I love Jonas, but would it not be wonderful if there was just Melchior one evening at the Met just standing and singing with no props and gimmicks? Of course, impossible now, and I know only a few people and I would pay many Franklin notes for that, but what can I say, it would be a million times a better evening than most people and the machine. Of course, we are lucky to be able to see Jonas live. I will see the clip to the end after I get over that comment Jonas made on Melchior. Blasphemy!

  • La Valkyrietta says:

    Thanks for the clip, I enjoyed it very much. I will no longer feel guilty for absolutely loving that Lohengrin pirated in Italian with Tebaldi from the San Carlo in the fifties :) .

    I do like Jonas, and I like Lauritz. I think Lauritz was lucky in that he did not have to torture his mind thinking about how to fit rats and buzzards into his operas :) .