22 December 2007

Ecco il Sidestep

The saga of the peripatetic New York City Opera continues. According to a story in today's New York Times (another Saturday newsdump! Well, at least someone has figured out how the media works here in the city!) Anyway, according to this NYT story, Gérard Mortier is kicking around a few ideas for keeping the NYCO brand from vanishing from the public consciousness during the company's "hiatus" awaiting the reconstruction of the New York State Theater (and, not so incidentally, the official beginning of his regime in the fall of 2009). The company is looking at "probably" four productions in various venues, including "possibly" Carnegie Hall, the Beacon Theater and "other Lincoln Center halls." Oh, and don't rule out the Apollo Theater or the Hammerstein Ballroom, either. (To tell the truth, at this point La Cieca wouldn't be surprised if she heard "Yankee Stadium" or "Splash.")

Well, let's table the venue discussion for a moment and move on to repertoire. Just what sort of operas might we expect in this transitional year? Of course, nothing's set in stone yet. Well, maybe that's an understatement. It appears, in fact, that nothing's even scribbled on a Post-it at the moment. In the Times interview, Mortier coyly suggests Mefistofele "because of its association with the house in performances by the bass Samuel Ramey."

Or, on the other hand, what about Rienzi -- assuming, of course, that one could count on "finding strong enough singers." Hey, what about a children's opera for the holidays, that might work, and, just to mix things up a bit, "a major American opera." But here's something you put in the bank: the repertory "must be great things," says Mortier.

Susan L. Baker, City Opera’s chairwoman reassures us that there will be some kind of announcement about next season in January. Or, failing that, February. Count on it.

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06 December 2007

Dark year for NYCO?

UPDATE: La Cieca has just heard that the "dark season" is not a done deal just yet. The NYCO board meets next week to make that decision. (Given how late in the game this is, most likely the "decision" will be no more than a formality. But La Cieca will keep her ear to the ground, not to mention her shoulder to the wheel and her nose to the grindstone. She also intends to free her mind with the intention that her ass should follow.)

La Cieca has been hearing whispers and grumblings from here and there for a couple of months now, so maybe it's time to go out on a limb and predict that the New York City Opera will take a season-long hiatus in 2008-09. Yes, that's right, no season at all, not until the opening of Gérard Mortier's first year of direction in the fall of 2009.

The primary reason driving La Cieca's gloomy prediction is the lack of any sense of what the repertoire or casting would be for 2008-09, even as 2007 draws to a close. NYCO, like other opera companies, has a fairly long lead time in planning upcoming seasons. Their practice in recent years has been to lock in repertoire and casting more than a year before the beginning of a given season.

For example, it was fairly common knowledge by the summer of 2006 that the current NYCO season would include Vanessa, Cendrillion, King Arthur and so forth; major casting was already set by then as well. Repertoire choices for Mortier's first season leaked several months ago: 2009-10 will feature The Rake's Progress, Einstein on the Beach, Nixon in China, Věc Makropulos, Pelléas et Mélisande, Aufstieg und Fall der Stadt Mahagonny, Saint François d'Assise and Death in Venice.

No such details have surfaced about plans for 2008-09; in fact, an informant tells La Cieca that ever since early last summer "managers have been attempting to nail down the schedule and engagements for their artists, but have been met with stone cold silence from the [NYCO] administration."

This same source continues with a little speculation that your doyenne must say she finds reasonable enough:
The official reason given [for the cancellation of the 2008-09 season] will be that Mortier wants to freshen up and fix the hall in conjunction with NYCB (and they certainly will take the time given to do some work on the State Theater, remove the sound system, etc.) but the real reason was he was so patently appalled by every performance he saw this year and last that he wants a literal fresh start for the entire company, and wants no attachment whatsoever to the past artistic administration.

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21 September 2007

Oh! che volo d'augelli

La Cieca's little bird sang true: yesterday it was announced that James Robinson will be the new Artistic Director of Opera Theatre of Saint Louis.

Moving on to another story that you heard first from your doyenne, ze bad-boy of ze opéra Gérard Mortier spilled his plans for his first NYCO season yesterday. In 2009-2010 he will offer Stravinsky's The Rake's Progress, Philip Glass's Einstein on the Beach and John Adams's Nixon in China. Ian Bostridge will slouch into town to headline a production of Benjamin Britten's Death in Venice.

Also in 2009-2010, the Park Avenue Armory and Drill Hall will serve as venue for Messiaen's St. Francis of Assisi. Future commissions include a new Glass opera, plus a work from Bernice Johnson Reagon of Sweet Honey in the Rock. A full account of Mortier's press conference may be found at The New York Sun.

Meanwhile, the intendant's latest effort in Paris, a new production of Ariane et Barbe-Bleue, was not, as they say, taken in with pleasure. The headline for the Musical America review reads "Another Mortier Disaster at the Bastille."

UPDATE: La Cieca just changed the headline for this article (from "Charmant oiseau") to reflect the fact that yet another birdie has opened her little beak, spilling more details of the first year of Mortierie. Further twentieth-century works on the schedule include Vec Makropoulos, Pelléas et Mélisande, and Aufstieg und Fall der Stadt Mahagonny, the last of which will be performed by alternating casts at City Center. (Hmm, did someone say Patti LuPone?)

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26 March 2007

You are dead, you know

In yet another dazzling example of counter-intuitive programming, the New York City Opera has decided to exhume their quarter-century old ticky-tacky Hal Prince staging of that overexposed snoozefest Candide to replace their scuttled new production of Ragtime. (Gee, how long is it since we last heard Candide here in New York? It must be twenty minutes at least.) If La Cieca didn't know better, she'd think Paul Kellogg was trying to bring the company crashing down (a sort of sound-enhanced Götterdämmerung) before that meanie Mortier can get his hands on it...

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06 March 2007

The good news about Mortier

Well, let's say the first bit of good news associated with the Mortier appointment. La Cieca is talking about how NYCO is no longer pursuing its bratty, entitled "I SAID I want a BRAND NEW opera house or I'll THROW all my BOWTIES on the FLOOR" attitude of the past decade or so. La Cieca frankly grew weary and then bored and finally indifferent as to what was going on "across the Plaza" because the NYCO slowly ceased to be about opera as they became so utterly fascinated by real estate.

Now, La Cieca will be one of the first to jump on the bandwagon when, as, and if NYCO starts producing such interesting must-see opera that they (as it were) earn a new theater. But it's going to take a major force of will on the part of Mortier and the board to pull the company up even to "pretty good" standards over the first few years following 2009.

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02 March 2007

Sky scheduled to fall in 2009

It's still two years before the dreaded Mortier monster is due to descend upon the city, but right-wing thinktankstress and Giuliani enabler Heather Mac Donaldisn't wasting any time getting the hyperbole rolling. From The City Journal ("the best magazine in America" -- Peggy Noonan), a sample of Mac Donald's heady prose:
While Belgian-born Mortier’s fellow students were trashing universities and other sites of the “establishment” across Europe in 1968, Mortier was disrupting opera productions he considered too conservative, according to a New York Times magazine profile. Now he sits atop the world he once sought to overturn, exploring, as he puts it, “socio-political associations” in opera. Mortier is the musical equivalent of the academic tenured radical—Roger Kimball’s famous phrase for 1960s campus protesters who now run universities.
H-Mac goes on to invoke the usual gang of boogeymen: Peter Sellars, Calixto Bieito, Pamela Rosenberg ... you know, the hate-music leftist crowd. The point that none of these three has the slightest influence in American music or theater at the moment seems to escape Ms. Mac Donald. But, after all, logic has so little place in scare tactics, does it?

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28 February 2007

Avant garde

La Cieca hears that incoming NYCO intendant Gérard Mortier is wasting no time in putting his stamp on the company, even though his tenure is not due to begin until 2009. La Cieca's source whispers that Mortier is sending Kevin Murphy (currently head of the music staff at Paris) to New York to replace the City Opera's "entrenched" John Beeson. Kevin Murphy is the husband of Heidi Grant Murphy, who perhaps not coincidentally has been singing a lot in Paris lately, where reportedly she has met with something less than universal acclaim.

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First Opera Professional: Mortier will be a disaster at NYCO! He has the worst taste in singers of anyone in the business!

Second Opera Professional: Oh, then he must have done the casting for for their 2007-08 season.

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27 February 2007

The dotted line has been signed

The New York Times reports that Gérard Mortier will become general manager and artistic director of the New York City Opera in 2009. Of course, you already knew that, didn't you?

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To infinity, and beyond!

The delectable details of the 2007-2008 season at the Metropolitan (discussed this morning in a press conference with Peter Gelb, James Levine and representatives of the new season's production teams) may be found on the Met's web site. Our publisher JJ was there in the flesh, and he forwards his impressions:

The biggest news this morning was something unspoken. Instead, it was Levine's body language, which (in contrast to previous years) suggested he is both comfortable and secure working with Gelb. Levine stayed for the entire press conference and was particularly attentive when Phillip Glass was speaking.

The press conference was as carefully staged as a Met performance. In fact, a lot more carefully than Simon Boccanegra. The meeting began at exactly seven minutes after 11 a.m.

Mr. Gelb reflected on the successes of the current season, which include:

  • An increased audience for the HD simulcasts, now up to 250 screens for Eugene Onegin
  • The box office (though "not necessarily a thermometer") is running nine percentage points higher than this point last season
  • This season so far 61 performances have sold out, in contrast to 20 sellouts for the entire 2006-2006 season
  • Eight HD presentations are booked for next year
  • Opening night 2007 (new production of Lucia di Lammermoor) will be simulcast in the plaza, and the Met is in negotiations with NYC to show it in Times Square as well.
James Levine chimed in that what he finds "even more exciting" than the many innovations this year is that he sees a strong sense of follow-through. It is one thing to get new audiences into the theater the first time, but to sustain that audience you must offer them quality. He adds that he is pleased with how Gelb works with him on a day-to-day basis on solving problems. Levine will conduct the new productions of Lucia and Macbeth next season, plus revivals of Manon Lescaut and Tristan und Isolde, as well as the Met Orchestra's Carnegie Hall series.

Tweaks to next season include revival of the Anthony Minghella Butterfly with Patricia Racette and Roberto Alagna, Barbiere and (as reported by La Cieca a while ago) The First Emperor.

Mary Zimmerman (funny, unpretentious and smart) talked about her production of Lucia. Scene changes in this staging will be done "a vista."

Glass and associate director and designer Julian Crouch introduced Satyagraha. The composer stressed the political and social content of the work, and Crouch talked about how the set materials of corrugated iron and newspaper were suggested by the themes of the opera.

Stephen Wadsworth waxed un peu teachy-teachy on the subject of Iphigénie en Tauride ("Gluck was an ethnic Czech, did you know that?"), but, as Dawn Fatale pointed out, at least the set does not include a built-in shower. The edition of the score will be based on Gluck's Vienna revision, in which Oreste is a tenor, presumably in order to facilitate the participation of Placido Domingo.

The other producers appeared on video. The most buzzworthy statement from this segment was from Adrian Noble, who says the design of his Macbeth is suggested by photographs by Diane Arbus.

The cutest stage director of the whole group was Laurent Pelly (La Fille du Régiment), with Crouch and Richard Jones (Hansel and Gretel) tied for second.

Zoe Caldwell will the the Duchesse de Krakenthorp.

In response to reporters' questions, Gelb said that the Met has negotiated rights to release all its archival performances on CD, DVD, download on demand and "media not yet invented." Anne Midgette asked if there were updates on new commissions by the Met, but Gelb declined to comment, saying that the Met would have a statement later this season.

And then, finger sandwiches and coffee on the Bass Grand Tier, where yet another of parterre.com's web of reliable sources noted that the Gérard Mortier/NYCO deal is all but signed on the dotted line.

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21 February 2007

Huis clos

Now who, of all people, do you think spent all day today in a hush-hush meeting with George Manahan over at the New York City Opera? (Do you remember the New York City Opera? It's that other company in Lincoln Center, the one people used to pay a lot of attention to before Peter Gelb took over the Met.) But back to the subject at hand. Manahan's all-day tête-à-tête partner was Gérard Mortier, so La Cieca hears. And so La Cieca repeats, though for the life of her she can't figure out what this is all about. Unless it's the sharing of lousy Francesca Zambello productions between now and 2009, when Mortier departs the Paris Opéra. Or might it have something to do with the years following 2009?

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