Cher Public

Gee, our old Chagalls hang great

It’s time to call out the canard again, a whole row of them in fact: a series of “What’s wrong with the Metropolitan Opera?” editorials by “writer, speaker, consultant… compelling teacher…. [and] expert on everything Italian, the person other so-called Italy experts turn to for definitive information,” Fred Plotkin.

Now, don’t get La Cieca wrong. Fred is an intelligent guy with excellent taste, and he’s not an axe-grinder. But I do think he’s reasoning from a fundamentally flawed premise, which is that the way to remedy problems in the present is to somehow return to practices that worked (or that you remember as having worked) in the past.

Fred wants his old Met experience back, or rather he wants feel the same things going to the Met now that he did when he went there 30 years ago. But that’s not artistic vision so much as it is simple nostalgia. You can’t get that exactly same feeling back for any number of reasons, primarily because you’re not the same person you were half a lifetime ago.

Goodness knows La Cieca isn’t that same bright-eyed girl who stepped off the bus into Manhattan in 1988, and while she now and then dreams of reliving some of the positive aspects of that bygone era (such as the ability to thrive on a diet consisting primarily of cheeseburgers and pepperoni pizza whilst remaining whippet-thin), she realizes that a) it’s impossible and b) even if it were possible, actually living that life wasn’t nearly so rosy as recalling it in tranquility decades later. (No, I would not like to go back to renting that maid’s room on 155th Street with the single window ideally situated to transmit the noise of the West Side Highway, broken only by the nightly wail of car alarms from 9 PM to dawn.)

But, going back to Fred. The solution for the future is not retreating into the past. You may find the Met’s current “dynamic” method of pricing tickets confusing or even unfair, but that’s the way tickets are priced these days, and, frankly, it’s only the olds (and the youngs whose thinking is already as hidebound as the olds’) who continue to rail against this accomplished fact. You may long for the sight of those dusty old paint-by-numbers portraits of long-dead singers in Founders’ Hall, the same couple of dozen of daubs in exactly the same place for decades on end. But for the vast majority of operagoers, these paintings are either irrelevant or actively a turnoff: they look like something from your grandmother’s house or from one of those wings of the Metropolitan Museum you had to go to in junior high.

The Chagalls are great, dated but great, and the point is, you can still see them: you just from time to time can also see a banner, the sort of banner that most arts institutions hang on their portals. Is the art on the banner always up the the level of the Chagalls? No, obviously not. But the purpose of a banner is not to create art that you will return to again and again for 50 years or more (like the Chagalls); it is to create a sense of occasion around what the Met is at least trying to position as a special event, something that will happen for a short time and if you don’t act now, you’ll miss it. Getting people into something as important and excellent as Prince Igor—without having to rely on slow and inexact word of mouth—is a valuable goal and, to my mind, a legitimate use of the company’s public-facing real estate. When an opera company is struggling to sell tickets, the luxury of treating the theater plant as an objet d’art sometimes has to be abandoned temporarily, even if the desecration of the temple causes an unpleasant feel or two in the Fred Plotkins of this world.

And the same thing applies to mattesr more directly relevant to the art of opera. Casting, for example. Fred and any number of other aficionados lament the absence of all sorts of wonderful singers who (they assure us) are banned from the Met for their inability to live up to Peter Gelb‘s shallow standards of prettiness and slimness. But when you ask for the names of these wonderful singers, the answer (not from Fred, who never answered the question) is inevitably, “Mariella Devia. Edita Gruberova, Leo Nucci, Ewa Podles….” In other words, singers of the past who happen still to be singing in the present. We’re assured that there is this vastissimo public out there who would just knock down the doors fo the Met to hear one of these neglected singers if Gelb would deign only to give them a tumble. And yet, when one of these artists, even one so lovely and talented as Ms. Devia, finally does appear in New York, she sells, what, a thousand tickets, 1500? (Surely half or more of the crowd at Carnegie Hall for last night’s Roberto Devereux was paper.)

Or the regie thing. Guys, the battle is over and you lost, or rather, everyone on your side either aged out of the audience demographic or else stopped going to the opera for reasons of their own. There is no significant audience for a new “Zeffirelli” production, and, with only a few exceptions, there is hardly an audience even for the vintage Zeffirelli. (La bohème continues to sell well as a sort of operatic Nutcracker, and the mock-Zeffirelli Aïda at least gets a hand for sheer labor-intensiveness. The Turandot, which felt insincere from the very beginning, is on its last legs). And, more to the point, nobody else is directing opera in this heavily realistic way any more: David McVicar and Richard Eyre, though they have the requisite lack of imagination, are too fundamentally glum to create anything tacky enough to truly delight the Sybil Harrington brigade.

Understand that none of this is to suggest that the Met is doing a perfect, or even a very good job of presenting opera. But whatever the Met’s problems, the solutions lie in the future, not in the past. “The songs Glenn Miller played” were great, but playing them now is nostalgia, not music.

  • eric

    “You can’t get that exactly same feeling back for any number of reasons, primarily because you’re not the same person you were half a lifetime ago”

    What a MEAN thing to say.

    • CwbyLA

      I don’t know if it is mean but it is true. The old timers who have been to the Met a thousand times still expect it to feel like an “event” every time they go there. Well, of course, that is not going to happen. The thrill of being at the Met for the first time will not happen in subsequent visits. As someone who does not live in NYC, every time I visit the Met, it feels like an event to me. I get excited seeing the banners on the facade of the Met and I don’t care about seeing those Chagalls every time I go to the Met. Banners create more excitement. Every time I hear an old fart complain about inaudible singers, I just want to remind them how loosing one’s hearing comes with age. I am sorry to be mean, I guess, but the old people love to complain. I am sure I will be the same when I am old. It seems to be part of the life cycle of human beings. But it seems to me that “Met’s problems” is a matter of perspective.

      The very recent Cosi fan Tutte production at the LA Phil made me think what is actually missing at the Met. That is the innovation! A forward looking attitude. A friend of mine who lives in Brooklyn and had never been to the Met went to the Ring Cycle because of the LePage production. Because it was innovative and futuristic, the kind of thing us youngins’ like!

      I am also appalled how Met does not use social media effectively, or shallI we say they don’t use it at all. The LA Opera’s social media presence is amazing. They have funny posts, backstage pics on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram. I can’t believe Met doesn’t use these tools. Why not post pics from rehearsals, Netrebko lunching with friends in the cafeteria for God’s sake, 20 second video of an exciting moment from a spitzprobe?Those are the kinds of things that will get us, the younger generation, engaged. I feel that the Met and to an extent Carnegie Hall want to rest on their laurels and not innovate. They will be extinct in no time with that attitude!

      • bluecabochon

        The Met has a FB page and Twitter feed, and they do post a variety of things. Have you never checked it out?

        • CwbyLA

          Yes bluecabochon. They appear on my feed. They are not engaging. They are one way information dump.

      • Batty Masetto
        • CwbyLA

          Good one Batty :-)

      • lacotestandre

        Your word choice offends some of us. We’re “older,” not your “old.” Before you know it, you “youngins'” will be “older.”

      • kennedet

        I wish ageism remarks were treated like homophobic remarks on this blog. Maybe it would be a learning lesson for some. CwbyLa: Your first paragraph was extremely ageist and what guarantee do you have that you will live to be old? “I am sure I will be the same when I am old” sounds very disingenuous based on your previous statements. Have some respect.

        • “Old timers” is not an ageist term. Proof: an elderly person attending a performance for the first time at the Met would not be called “old timer.” On the other hand, someone who’s, say, 35 and has been attending performances regularly since the age of 15 could be called “old timer.” In the context above, “old times” is more or less synonymous with “veteran.”

          • armerjacquino

            Yes, but

            Every time I hear an old fart complain about inaudible singers, I just want to remind them how loosing one’s hearing comes with age. I am sorry to be mean, I guess, but the old people love to complain.

            is a tidge on the ageist side.

            • manou

              Ageing is better than the alternative.

            • kennedet

              “A tidge on the ageist side”!!?? CwybLa steroetyped us by making false statements about what we expect to hear when we go to the Met, also name calling, accused us of being hard of hearing if a singer is inaudible, how we love to complain, etc.

              Yes, I prefer a Chagall over a banner any day of the week. What is most offensive is your weak attempts at sensitivity…”I don’t meant to be mean but”…followed by your predjudices towards older people. This is a classic case of ageism.

            • armerjacquino

              It’s a bit hard to tell who you’re addressing in that post.

              Also, google ‘ironic understatement’.

            • Porgy Amor

              accused us of being hard of hearing if a singer is inaudible

              I do not consider age-related decrease in hearing acuity to be something shameful. It is, unfortunately, a scientific and statistical reality, and it does affect people who go to the opera…as well as, sometimes, people who conduct opera (memories are resurfacing of a beloved octogenarian maestro’s Don Giovanni some years ago).

              In any case, “She was inaudible” carries limited weight with me when I read it from someone I don’t know, in reference to performances I did not attend. Of course, anyone’s experience at a performance is of interest and valuable to a discussion, but there are too many variables at play. All it means to me is that it was true to that person, from his or her seat in a particular venue, when a particular work was being done. I make up my mind about a singer (whether L. Price, whom I love, or Gheorghiu, whom I cannot stand) based on what comes through loud and clear.

            • kennedet

              Maybe it’s inaudible because of faulty technique and lacks projection. If that’s the case, it has nothing to do with age, which further negates the ageism charges. I’m done.

  • redbear

    The figures in the Guardian about comparable opera companies has one important change. La Scala, in the last decade, went from 100% government to 50-50 public-private. Thankfully they had Stephane Lissner who before ran the privately supported Aix en Provence festival and was used to fundraising. Lissner arrives at the Paris Opera as boss in exactly 54 days (yes, some of us are counting) and some expect the flat budgets for the past several years to get a boost from private sources.

  • La Valkyrietta

    Here’s the opinion of an opera zombie. There are still pleasures to be gotten at the house. I don’t expect them to be the same as over fifty years ago when in a short period, as a bright eyed innocent young newbie at the Old Met, I would be thrilled by Nilsson in Tristan, Simionato in Aida and Siepi and Della Casa in Nozze, and in subsequent years in so many fabulous evenings that would be too long to list, but I am happy opera continues. I remember a very good friend of mine with an almost infinite collection of recordings, thirty years ago, mourning the death of opera and saying it would not exist in ten years but, well, it does still exist.

    There are unpleasant changes. The banners are a nuisance if you are on the dress circle or balcony levels, or even grand tier, during intermission, and want to flatter your field of vision with the plaza and the fountain. No pleasure, you get a sort of blocking type of gauze that degrades the experience. Do those banners attract new public? Well, good for the house if they do, but they do nothing to enhance the experience of a member of the audience in the often long intermissions. The HD intrusion is also not fun. All those machines in the house are mostly a bother if you are there to see the opera. I know, they have gotten them to be quieter and less intrusive, but they are still a nuisance. And when you realize that the action on stage is changed and arranged to be cinematic rather than theatrical, you as a member of the audience can’t fail to be annoyed.

    Still, opera exists and I trust a solution will be found to make it go on. It is easy to save money and make opera better. As far as I’m concerned, the Met would have saved sixteen million dollars, and made more money, if instead of that machine Ring, it would have done that Proms Barenboim concert Ring, for example. Instead of going fifteen times to see those operas, I would have gone twenty five times.

    I not only remember the good singing of years ago, but that of recent years. No stage props were more memorable or exciting this past season than Jonas, Javier or Joyce, to name just three. If there was not a little boy or girl somewhere that became ipso facto an opera fan for life on those performances, then I must say that there is not only no hope for opera in the future, but that humanity has gone to the dogs, and I beg the excuse of the memory of P. G. Wodehouse’s pekingeses.

    • Here’s the problem: you don’t really like opera. You like opera music performed in an opera house.

      • Rory Williams

        Wow, that’s a really stimulating formulation, LaCieca. Not meaning to offend LaVal and others in any way, but that really speaks volumes about this sort of wrangling, and statements like, “I just close my eyes.” Those are mystifying to me, although I understand sincerely meant. But you are really on to something here about negation of the theater experience.

        • armerjacquino

          It feels to me that the attitude in question is one which is about not thinking. ‘I know what happens in this opera, I know what I want to see and hear, and I don’t want anything that differs from and challenges the production I carry permanently in my head’.

          • Rory Williams

            Yes, AJ! Here in DC we have good Shakespeare all over the place, and I really can’t recall anyone ever saying, “But Hamlet didn’t have on tights!” Why is opera different? I don’t mean to trivialize LaVal and other’s argument, but I think you & La Cieca are really onto something here. And I don’t really know what to do with statements like, “And I do miss Tebaldi.” If people were telling me “You’re an idiot, take the bus the NYC and hear X now, immediately!” I would think that has some value. The dead, not so much. For example, I believe all the Parterriat who heard Rysanek live that she was amazing. She mostly isn’t on recordings, and since I don’t have access to the Tardis anymore I will never hear her live. So I’m not sure what beating me over the head with her has to do with anything except “Everything good happened before you were born, so suk it up and, by the way, get off my lawn!”
            OK, rant over.

            • armerjacquino

              Agreed. There’s also the ‘in the house’ fallacy which states that absolutely no judgement can be made on any singer unless one heard them live. Obviously someone who heard a singer under live conditions is at a huge advantage, but things like tuning, phrasing, flexibility and commitment are perfectly discernible via recording or video.

          • If the production of “challenging” art were really an important criterion at the MET, we’d see a much greater emphasis on 20th- and 21st-century opera there. We wouldn’t have one quarter of a season’s repertoire dominated by a single composer. We’d see a greater emphasis on exploring less familiar repertory.

            The conventional objection to this has been: well, if it’s too challenging, not enough tickets will be sold and the whole enterprise will founder.

            I’m all for theatrical experimentation. But I’ve noticed that the Parterre advocates of so-called “regie” opera are usually less vociferous in calling for a significant expansion of the repertoire in a modernist and contemporary direction at the MET. It seems to me that a disproportionate number of the new production “successes” of recent years have been of 20th-century works or of MET-neglected 19th-century ones (House o.t. Dead, Nose, Satyagraha, Prince Igor).

            • Lohenfal

              M. Croche,

              When this whole debate about the Met took off a few weeks ago, I did mention in one of my posts that I wanted to see more opera from before 1800 and after 1900. As a subscriber, I see the situation all too clearly. The last Mozart (!) opera they gave me was in 2008, but they’re trying to atone by giving me 2 next season. Of course, I used the exchange privilege to see the Mozart I wanted, but should this really happen? There’s virtually no Baroque opera save for Giulio Cesare, and little of the 20th century.

              However, I think I’m in the minority of the Met audience. Most of the people I’ve met there seem to be contented with the rather limited repertoire. That’s why I feel that the problems the Met faces are largely bound up in their core audience, which is definitely not for adventure, either in programming or in staging. Perhaps the biggest failure of the last few decades was in not developing an audience more receptive to “new” things, of every kind.

      • Leontynes Weave

        The theatrical experience and the musical experience in opera are inextricably bound. But it’s considered silly around these parts to discount an opera with bad singing and orchestral playing when there are naked people and/or program notes that explain that characters have been the subject of sexual abuse.

        • Rory Williams

          Until you can produce evidence of this “silliness” in these parts rather than airy allusions, I have to think “straw man.”


        • It’s considered silly to resort to weak passive voice when you can’t scrape together an example of this silliness you claim to see all around you.

          • Leontynes Weave

            Odd. I thought we had played this game before.

            Here are some of your recent tidbits of wisdom on the “correct” way to appreciate opera.

            “My contention is that a short, plump woman is particularly difficult to costume in the role of a young man, particularly since there is a long tradition that this particular role (Octavian) is cast with an artist with the physique du role.”

            “The rest of your either/or reasoning is pointless to address, because what it comes down to is the canard that “opera is about nothing but singing,” which is nothing more than a provincial camp attitude.”

            “I think this fetishization of fat singers is basically a camp attitude, a way of enjoying opera without buying into it as serious art.”

            So preferring overweight singers who can do vocal justice to their parts to lesser singers who look the part is a campy way to experience opera, but Rusalka can be turned into a sexual abuse victim despite this being nowhere at all present in the score or libretto?

            • No one said “vocal justice” or talked about voices at all in that discussion, except in your fevered imagination.

              And you utterly and completely miss the point of the Rusalka production in question, which obviously you didn’t even bother to view before you started shrieking about.

              I’m through even trying to debate with you: it’s plenty for you to just invent the other side of the argument and then fly into a frenzy over things nobody ever said. You can play this game all by yourself.

            • Leontynes Weave

              No one said anything about doing vocal justice to a role? That was the entire point of all of my posts on the Tara Erraught “controversy.” Observe.

              “There has never been a great host of morbidly obese, immobile people on the operatic stage in any era but the convention has been that if the overweight singer is the superior singer they get the gig. If a mezzo really looks like a teenage boy (as I’ve yet to ever see happen) and sings certain parts extremely well then so be it. If not and there is someone who can sing it better who isn’t physically ideal the lesser singer should be passed over.”

              This is not time you’ve patronized people who prioritize the musical performances in an opera over the visual aspect. You are no position to tell someone they don’t really like opera just because they don’t cream their panties for every new production no matter how patently absurd or at odds with the text, or when the singing is so abysmal it ruins the entire evening.

              I did indeed read your response to the the Rusalka article. I simply disagreed with you. Believe it or not there are people with opinions contrary to your own. I don’t think there is nothing wrong with regie or contemporary productions. There is something wrong with being very open to any type of production, but then balking when a singer does not meet the most archetypal representations of a character. And you never really addressed the larger points in the Rusalka article which were as follows:

              1. that critics would have thrown a hissy fit had a contemporary opera such as Two Boys been set in the 1500s and

              2. the reason that people are not coming to opera is not because of traditionalist productions but because they are not exposed to or familiar with the musical language of opera.

              The fiction that the visual aspect of opera is primarily what draws in newbies may be popular among narcissistic stage directors, but it isn’t working. We can continue defending the vagaries of weird productions, but the bottom line is that the reason people aren’t interested in seeing Rusalka is because they don’t want to sit and listen to Dvorak for 3 hours, not because there was an actual forest on the stage. If you’re at a point wherein you are discussing a production of an opera in great detail you have probably already seen the opera several times and are familiar with the plot and the music. If you can’t get people in the opera house because they have never heard any of this music, what does it even matter how provocative the production is?

      • GaGa

        There’s an element of truth in what you say, La Cieca. I must confess that I go to the opera for the music; the dramatic element interests me much less so. In fact, that is probably why I never attend the theater. But I’m still happy to give the Met my patronage. We don’t all go to the opera for the same reasons.

  • La Valkyrietta

    La Cieca,

    How terrible an accusation. I don’t feel it is true. I do prefer going to the Met than to see an opera in concert form, other things being equal. These days, sure, I feel that often I get in opera productions a travesty that does not enhance the experience. And I do miss Tebaldi.

    • steveac10

      I for one see fewer staging travesties now than I did in my youth. One of my earlier experiences was the Met tour of Onegin. The cast was actually pretty good, but the production was older than I was. There were good individual performances, but the orchestra scraped, the chorus wobbled and every time someone on stage touched the set, I swear I could see dust fly up from it (and that production was not replaced for almost another 20 years. I heard some nice singing -- but a concert performance would probably have illuminated the score better. It was all very dreary, gray and threadbare. Luckily, I had already fallen in love with opera because of an amazing choir director, and a local opera company (originally the Center Opera, now the Minnesota Opera) which was all about singing actors and an engaging theatrical experience. At the time they did not book much outside talent, they had a true repertory company and they all sang everything from baroque to out there new works. Had my initial experiences been that dusty Onegin, the 1970’s paper bag Aida with a “B” cast, I might never have stuck around to discover there was more.

      • mia apulia

        you go back as far as Horspfal, Steveac10?

        • steveac10

          Nope -- my First was Postcard from Morocco. I had a crazy Aunt who somehow guessed a 7th grader would like it. She was right. I also remember a truly funny Viva la Mamma they sent out in a stripped down production to high schools in the region.

          • mia apulia

            ah, a youngster compared to this old guy!

  • La Valkyrietta

    I see I have been mentioned in some posts so perhaps I should defend myself :). I don’t think I am too reactionary. I did enjoy ‘Two Boys’. But why bang on me? Bang on Gelb! :) I have no interest one way or another in what they do in opera, I just go to the opera for esthetic thrills, and I treasure those.

    Take ‘Salome’. Karita Mattila is wonderful. I always go to see her when I have the chance, and I did see her in Salome. The production is not ‘traditional’, as I would prefer, but it worked for me. I accepted it for what it was and enjoyed it. She did the dance of the seven veils in a believable way. Fine. Is it the ‘Salome’ to take to a desert island? Well, not for me, after having seen Nilsson, who was not as slim, the production was not as slick, but Nilsson was someone to remember an cherish all your life. I think this preference makes me just a bigger lover of opera. If not, then I agree with La Cieca, I do not like opera, I like Nilsson. I mean, Doctor Frankfurter might prefer something visual like an old Steve Reves movie, but I am happy with Nilsson. It is a question of preferences.

    It is all right with me, parterre posters, if you like the mice, the puppets, the buzzards, the blood pools, the toilets. Fine, enjoy. I will not enjoy a travesty without closing my eyes, and I will keep waiting for those productions where I see something resembling the conception of the original composer and librettist or, if not, something pretending to enhance it. It is just like going to a museum. I don’t mind if a Vermeer has been placed in a modern frame that some artist thought would compliment it. Now, the moment someone painted a skyscraper in the Vermeer picture, I’m out of that museum. Vandalism. If it is sanctioned by the curator, well, I can’t go to the police, but I don’t have to enjoy it. Same with some reggie.

    • CwbyLA

      La Valkyrietta, i am asking this not to be rude but out of sheer curiosity. Are you missing Nilsson the singer or how she made you feel about Salome? It is pribably not a fair question since Nilsson is one of the greatest singers of the 20th century. The reason I am asking is because I saw that Salome production with Matilla. It was my first Salome. I absolutely loved it. I will never forget it. I have not seen Salome after that but when I see it again I am pretty sure in my subconscious mind I will compare it to my first Salome with Matilla. In fact, this happened to me with Onegin. The first production I saw was the one from the Met with Fleming and Dima. I had never even heard the opera in complete form before. The power of the final scene is still embedded in my memory. My heart was racing. I felt chills down my spine. I saw two other Onegin productions since then. The most recent one was with Netrebko. I think Netrebko was fantastic, amazing, whatever you want to call it. I can’t think of a better singer who will essay the role better than her today, including Fleming. But, of course, this time I knew the story and while I was extremely affected by the final scene, I did not feel the same way as before. The novelty was not there. Therefore, Fleming will probably always be “my” Tatiana and Dima will always be “my” Onegin. The same goes for Matilla as “my” Salome. It is like what Maya Angelou said: “you never forget how people make you feel.”

      • La Valkyrietta


        Your point is very good. People are often so impressed by the singer that introduces them to a work, that chances are said singer will forever be the favorite in said work. Nilsson was one of the first singers I saw when I started to go to the Old Met, in Tristan, and later on she introduced me to Salome. She is my favorite Salome and I can’t tell you if it is because Nilsson is Salome or because Salome is Nilsson, that would take psychoanalysis. When I think about it, I just consider myself lucky that I got to see her in many things. I have enjoyed Salome performances without Nilsson, but I always think of them “not quite”. Perhaps I am wrong. I think there is no one alive now who saw Olive Fremstad. She created the role at the Met. She also did not do the dance of the seven veils (Bianca Froehlich did take those veils off in that single performance), and she was outstanding. Is there someone who saw both Birgit and Olive in the role and left a record? I doubt it. In any case this hypothetical person would have gotten in both cases Biblical sets.

        I think perhaps what one should do on going to the opera is forget you have seen the work before, put your mind on blank and see what is presented to you as if it was something you had never heard or seen. Later, after the end, compare, if you wish. I know I do not always practice what I preach. For example, I knew what the La Sonnambula production was in March, so I went to the house just to hear, not see. I wanted to enjoy the music of one of my favorite operas and I knew, having seen it before, that production to be the pits of travesties. It is not because I do not like opera that I did not look at the stage, but because I like that opera too much. Fortunately, later, I did look at Cenerentola, so I did experience Camarena body and soul. Anyway, I bring this up to illustrate an exception to your rule. I have seen Cenerentola and Sonnambula many times before, and Camarena was as satisfying a Ramiro and Elvino as any I remember seeing. This reminds me that Olive Fremstad sang Wagner roles that had been previously sang by Lilli Lehmann, Milka Ternina and Lillian Nordica, and she was nonetheless very much acclaimed in those roles.

        • Clita del Toro

          First singers in a role, in, my case, did not necessarily influence which becomes a favorite. My first Arabella, Steber, not my favorite; my first Amelia in Ballo, Milanov, not my favorite; same goes for my first Lucia, Mimi, Butterfly, Leonora, Falstaff, Scarpia….on and on. And all those “firsts” were major singers at the Met. Just saying……

          • CwbyLA

            You are right Clita. Same goes for me. Not all the first singers are favorites. For example, Christine Gorke in Norma. I guess once you hear a great singer in a work for the first time, it is hard to erase that memory even in subsequent great performances.

            • Clita del Toro

              Yes CwbyLA, LOL, my first Norma was Callas.

            • CwbyLA

              I audibly gasp!

    • armerjacquino


      There’s only one version of a painting, so if you alter it the original is lost for ever. This obviously doesn’t apply to the performing arts.

    • Grane

      Salome is an interesting example, Valkyrietta. I am usually regie-averse--not because I object to a new take on the opera, but because I usually feel beaten over the head with the director’s statements. I did like Salome, though. Maybe because the opera is such a weird psychodrama anyway, so it’s interesting when the director gives it a specific context and--dare I say “concept?”

      Also to defend myself against accusations of fuddy-duddyism, I did think the traditional Rusalka at the Met reminded me just a tad of this Fed Ex ad:

      • La Valkyrietta


        Funny cartoon.

        Maybe I sin of fuddy-duddyism, but I hate to think of that. I don’t like insults though I find them funny, mostly.

        As to Salome, I should repeat I love Karita and think of myself lucky when I have the opportunity to see her. I never would have dreamed of not watching her at the Met in Salome, with my eyes open, even if I knew ahead of time that I was going to be transported to some modern apartment and be in a Nazi milieu, or whatever that was. She was impressive and effective doing the dance of the seven veils (Mary Garden also did it, I read) as well as in the rest of it. But I still think Nilsson is the Salome to die for and in this case, unlike Olive Fremstad, we have ample existing recordings too. The Belle Époque words transported to a Bible setting and Nilsson suit me fine. Why involve the Nazis in it? Because the Wilde French was translated to German? Is Germany just Nazis? No. I read that the lady in Paris who danced the dance of the seven veils (Madame Trouhanova) to Olive’s Salome wore a different costume and took curtain calls. Would that be considered violent enough to qualify as regie? How about doing it in the original French of the play, disregarding the Strauss German of Hedwig Lachmann’s translation? What is the way Salome should be done? In my arbitrary opinion, the German Strauss used, the Bible sets Strauss had in Dresden and, if the soprano can and will do the dance of the seven veils, so much the better, otherwise a dancer can take over, as in the Dresden premiere. As to who sings Salome, well, Marie Wittich, Olive Fremstad and Birgit Nilsson are no longer with us, so I am happy with the ladies of today, but less happy with settings in a modern duplex in Trump Towers or in a posh tower in Haifa.

        • Grane

          What can I say…The Salome with Mattila was an example of an updated production that I liked and that worked for me, while the Rusalka was a traditional one that I found a bit lame. Usually I am probably more on your side. I don’t think I’d like to see Rusalka as a sex abuse victim, and I don’t think I could bear the Bieito Entfuhrung, though I’ll refrain from commenting on operas I haven’t seen.

          Rusalka may have suffered from dear Renee’s coy mannerisms, much as I love her voice. I’d be interested to see a version of this opera that has a traditional lake, forest, castle, etc., but that hints at deeper psychological complexity without dictating to the audience what that has to be. Suggestions, anyone?

        • Jamie01

          I consider concert performances of opera to be much more than ‘opera music performed in an opera house.’ Even without costumes, scenery, or a full stage to move around on, a committed singing actor can fully inhabit the role and sell the drama.

          I got as much of a chill from the look in Nina Stemme’s eye when she said, “Du hast einen Eid Geshworen, Tetrarch” at the Cleveland Orchestra Carnegie Salome as I did from Mattila at the Met.

        • Krunoslav

          The Nazis would not have cared for Hedwig Lachmann, the daughter of a cantor--and, incidentally, the grandmother of Mike Nichols.

  • Buster

    Doris Soffel discusses the new Leipzig Frau ohne Schatten. So glad she is still singing this role:

  • antikitschychick

    am late to the discussion and have been trying to catch up with the posts…just wanted to say there were some very good points made by Leontynes Weave and marczilla about the current problems within the music school/conservatory system in US universities. I too have been through the system very recently and have witnessed what they are saying first hand. Every bit of it is true…but the thing is, the Met cannot fix these largely ideological issues relating to the nation-wide dearth of music education. They can try and collaborate with other Opera houses to create some sort of co-op music education program, but without the support of the government and and a very idealistic level of cooperation this will be nearly impossible to implement effectively imho…

    On the other hand, I also agree with much of what Cieca says and I am largely in favor of regie productions, or at least of directorial concepts that highlight a particular aspect of a work or present a re-imaging of it..but I am also a fan of great singing and I do value the musical output in opera, though I do understand that the art form is an amalgamation of different elements and that we’ve gotten to the point where we don’t necessarily have to uphold one above the other. Still, opera is not opera without great orchestral playing, great conducting and great singing. I mean, ok it can still be opera but it won’t be great opera and it certainly wont be high performance art…all in all I’m a bit torn on this issue :-P.

    Moreover, all of the talk about how the house is too big and whatnot got me thinking yesterday about what can be done about that, and I think I have a solution…:-D. Let me elaborate…

    Retrospectively, I think the advent of the HD broadcasts was step in the right direction for the Met and for opera in general because they were able to effectively use the one great resource that has and will continue to create great affluence and progress for the civilization we live in. That resource is of course technology. What I think Gelb and co. need to do know is create a form of technology that they can patent, market and thus ultimately profit from (if we are going to continue with the current form of neoliberalist plutocracy in which arts organizations must be privately funded). Thus, instead of creating a modern production for a Ring cycle or a particular work, they should create a device, operating system or mechanism that can create multiple sets/backdrops synthetically or through green screens and holographic projections and sell the technology to other smaller houses that would like to use it.

    With the HDs, they couldn’t really turn that into a brand because other opera houses can replicate the technology on their own, which is not by any means a bad thing, but neither is it a good thing that while other houses in Europe and elsewhere are flourishing, the Met is going bankrupt. Now, just to be clear I am not saying that the Met needs to be #1 or anything of the sort. I am happy that other houses are thriving and that the art form is not in as dire a state as it is here in the US. But if the Met is the organization that is going to continue to provide innovative and lucrative ideas they need to stay afloat somehow. Thus, they need to start patenting their technologies.

    Now, instead of down-sizing I actually think the Met can stay at its current size or even slightly expand a bit but implement a physical restructuring by dividing itself up into 2 or three auditoriums. One can be kept for un-amplified grand opera, one can be created for amplified/holographic/live streamed opera from anywhere in the world and another small hall can be used for miscellaneous performances, such as rehearsals, recitals, baroque operas, and recreations of past performances based on preserved video footage. This they can do via 3D holograms. It might take a century or two before the technology is properly developed but it’ll happen…eventually lol.
    Also, they should start working with NASA to have an opera live streamed from Space. Aida or Lucia would work well :-D.

    This might sound far-fetched now but I honestly believe we’re not too far off from making this possible. So my main point is that they need to look to the future and do some re-structuring/re-branding.

    Finally, I agree with CwbyLA that they could be doing MUCH, much more with social media…I mean, they have many of the world’s greatest opera singers at their disposal at any given time. It dont take a labor negotiation to get a group selfie. Just sayin.

    • armerjacquino

      The Theatre Royal Plymouth (bear with me) is a 1380 seater which has a hydraulic roof system enabling it to convert into a smaller auditorium seating 787. It’s been like that for 30 years or so. I’m surprised more theatres haven’t followed suit: would be a great idea for opera houses.

      • antikitschychick

        that sounds like a fabulous and highly useful invention and yes the Met should definitely implement that sort of technology as it would allow the possibility of much more varied rep including musical theater. Thanks for sharing that armerjac :-).

  • redbear

    Here are some simple facts which, for me, are central to the discussion of the Met and their problems. A quote from Christopher Koelsch, CEO of Los Angeles Opera: “When the 2008 worldwide crisis hit,” he remembers, “we at LA Opera had to pivot to become a much different company, going from a $60 million budget to $40 million. It wasn’t easy.” At the same time the Met’s total expenses, in 2008, were 274.7 million and in 2011, 324.1. Did the Met think the laws of gravity did not apply to them? LA is now presenting some operas in churches and small auditoriums. The “Streetcar” was done in a stripped down version with the orchestra on stage. Without any kind of new thinking and pretending that your full season is sacred, the precipice is indeed looming.