Friday, January 15, 2010

More on the Overcommitted Tenor

Anne Midgette links to Tim Smith's blog and an LA Weekly piece by Joseph Mailander. Short version: hardly anyone is willing to be quoted on record saying anything that's not positive. Martin Bernheimer opines that perhaps PD is overextended.

Somebody should really ask David Gockley how many opera companies he'd be willing to run at once. He has spent more than 35 years running one at a time, very successfully. I doubt he'd answer on the record.

And I'm deeply amused by Jens Laurson's comment that Domingo is worth his million-dollar salary because he must bring in three times that. Look, David Gockley has hauled in two enormous donations since his arrival in San Francisco: $35 million from Jeannik Littlefield, followed two years later by $40 million from John and Cynthia Fry Gunn. Now that's fund-raising.


Joseph Mailander said...

Hi Lisa,

I'm glad to find this blog, first off. I hope to follow it.

I have always lived in LA but made many trips to visit SF Opera in the 1990's and 2000-2001. What dramatic changes I saw in those years! I saw an Otello about 1994 and one of the "sets" was a projected slide--and of an inverted capital to one of the War Memorial columns at that.

I think that the sub rosa narrative that will emerge in Los Angeles once people get used to the idea that there are indeed options is that Peter Hemmings really left the LA Opera in excellent shape and then...something...happened. I think people did criticize Placido in my piece--Bernheimer did certainly, and so did David Alan Gibb, who runs a competition organization (so does Placido, of course) and I wasn't looking for balance so much as something from everyone I spoke to that might be constructive.

All the best and hope to see something up there soon; it's always a wonderful time out.

Brian said...

Whether or not Gockley thinks he could run two companies, I'm not sure why anyone would want him to given his track record in Houston and SF. If by successful you mean on budget, that is true. But while he may excel in fundraising, he more than makes up for it with a lack of artistic vision and ambition. SFO has gone from an exciting destination for opera lovers to little more than a local host organization for touring productions from elsewhere. He is good at hiring stars and putting them in hits other companies came up with. Outside of the Graham Vick Tännhauser and Bonesetter's Daughter what has he offered San Francisco that is uniquely their own?

As for Domingo, I agree with Laurson. Domingo has brought a huge amount to the table here in LA even if it does at times suffer from benign neglect. It is largely due to him that a company barely 20 years old is already the size of institutions with much longer histories. LAO has not been without its very big ticket donors like the Broads, and even companies like SFO that have benefited from high profile donations have not been immune to the effects of the economic downturn by scaling back productions, laying off staff, and shortening seasons. Personally, I'd rather have Domingo some of the time and a loan from the County than be beholden to a few big ticket donors and a company with middle-brow taste.

Lisa Hirsch said...

Hi, Joseph!

The 1994 Otello was Rossini's, not Verdi's. Do you remember a lion statue that was in every scene? I didn't see the production, but I've read about it.

Yes, David Alan Gibb was critical, but it seemed to be more along opera-fan lines: I don't like this kind of production.

I'm hoping to come to LA for that weekend in April when Goetterdaemmerung and Die Gezeichniten (which I am undoubtedly misspelling) are both playing.

Brian, it depends on what you mean by artistic vision and ambition. Gockley has commissioned more operas by American composers than anyone else, between Houston and SF. It's something like 35 works at this point. They are not necessarily from the composers I would be most interested in hearing, but it's still an important body of work, AND I think that trying to put on new works that please a large number of people is a valid choice.

I also think that in difficult economic times, sharing or renting productions from other companies is a reasonable thing to do. That said, I'd have to go through the last few years' worth of productions to see which are unique to SF.

Similarly, I'd have to go through everything that has played at LAO to see what's original. The Entartete Musik series is great, but Conlon drove that, not Domingo. That Tamerlano production has been to WNO and Chicago already and I think is going elsewhere. The Jenufa I saw was not original to LAO either (Olivier Tambosi; has shown at the Met and elsewhere).

You write about that loan as if it's a little thing. $14 million is a lot of money and the company had already dug a big hole in loans from board members.

CK Dexter Haven said...

My understanding about the situation at LA Opera is that PD's frequent absences were offset for many years by the presence of Edgar Baitzel as COO and head of artistic planning. Mr. Baitzel's sad passing in 2007 was certainly a major blow to the organization, and while I haven't heard anything negative about his replacement, Christopher Koelsch, it has been extremely difficult to fill Baitzel's shoes.

Lisa Hirsch said...

Thanks for adding in that detail, which I haven't seen in the major media. It makes a great deal of sense to me, especially in light of the statement by LAO officials that they had not anticipated the large upfront costs of putting on the Ring cycle.

Joseph Mailander said...

The 1994 Otello was Rossini's, not Verdi's. Do you remember a lion statue that was in every scene? I didn't see the production, but I've read about it.

Thank you for that, and yes. I have excerpted a review from the time:

Howland provided a clumsy but cheap unit set that consisted of two antique portals, a couple of awkwardly raked platforms and a backdrop that accommodated primitive scenic projections. Overpowering everything and everyone was a magnificent statue of a golden lion--36 feet long, two stories high and 3,000 pounds heavy.

Presumably one of the Turkish spoils Otello brought to Venice, the fine feline monster dominated the background for most of the opera. When the curtain rose on the final scene of desperation and murder, however, the stage revealed the huge lion straddling the canopy of Desdemona's bed.

Ah, symbolism. Alas, misplaced symbolism.

On Saturday, the cartoon image produced laughter throughout the house. The response, though understandable, proved catastrophic to the tragic mood the principals were trying so nobly to sustain.

Addendum: in the spirit of cheap and conceptual, our Siegfried has a muppet for a dragon. It can't be more than three feet tall, and it comes flying in on strings from the rafters. When the dragon is slain, however, Siegfried inserts a neon tube into an abstract semi-circle meant to represent, I suppose, the dragon's mouth.

As was true with the Otello: you really have to see it to believe it.

Brian said...

And while we're on the topic of Domingo... I note today that despite any concerns about potential over commitment or overexposure, SF Opera obviously feels he is the single biggest story (and $$ draw) in their upcoming season given that his mug is gracing all of the brochures and such for 10-11.

Apparently Gockley et al have no qualms about jumping on the Domingo bandwagon just like everyone else when he's willing to roll through town (after oh so many years.) Apparently Gockley's fundraising won't be hurt by a little boost from the Domingo magic so easily questioned in other locales.

Lisa Hirsch said...

His last full-opera performances here were in the 1994-95 season.

I'd love to see some hard numbers showing the donations he's responsible for at LAO and at WNO. If he really is a factor, there should be some kind of substantial increase in the number and amount of donors after his arrival in each of those posts.

Lisa Hirsch said...

Joseph - ahahah! Thank you. Muppet for dragon: well, Peter Sellars had muppets as Rheinmaidens in his puppet Ring, which I saw in 1979 in Cambridge.

CK Dexter Haven said...

"I'd love to see some hard numbers showing the donations he's responsible for at LAO and at WNO. If he really is a factor, there should be some kind of substantial increase in the number and amount of donors after his arrival in each of those posts."

Not necessarily. Even if the numbers are flat or down, you could make a decent argument that they would have been worse without him. In LA, don't forget that he held the post of "Artistic Advisor" from the company's inception until Peter Hemmings stepped down. If LAO found a different director after Hemmings left, PD may or may not have kept his position with the company, and who knows what would have happened then.

Anyways, I think you'd have to look at other company's during a similar time span to see if LAO's and/or WNO's donor base has performed better compared to its peers to get a more accurate representation of his impact.

Lisa Hirsch said...

Now that's a very good point, given the pervasive PD presence in LA. What would be the comparably-sized companies? Lyric Opera of Chicago? Seattle Opera? or Santa Fe?