Troyens

Troyens

Friday, May 13, 2016

Additional Thoughts on the Met, James Levine, and YN-S

Last month, when James Levine's retirement was finally announced by the Met, Anthony Tommasini and Alex Ross had a mind-meld on one matter.

Alex Ross in The New Yorker:
The chief failing of the Levine era at the Met was the company’s sparse, spotty record with contemporary opera. Not until 1991 did Levine get around to presenting a world première, in the form of John Corigliano’s “The Ghosts of Versailles.” That piece has found a footing in the American repertory, but its successors at the Met—Philip Glass’s “The Voyage,” John Harbison’s “The Great Gatsby,” Tobias Picker’s “An American Tragedy,” and Tan Dun’s “The First Emperor”—are a rather miscellaneous group. Levine’s apparent lack of enthusiasm for such major opera composers as John Adams, Thomas Adès, and Kaija Saariaho seemed to delay their progress toward the Met. Latter-day masterpieces like Bernd Alois Zimmermann’s “Die Soldaten,” Ligeti’s “Le Grand Macabre,” and Messiaen’s “Saint François d’Assise” have gone unheard there.
Anthony Tommasini in the Times:
Still, over the years Mr. Levine conceded that he had not done enough to make the Met a vibrant space for new opera. He described the company as a big, hard-to-push institution, which in many ways it is. Yet in 2013, I was dismayed to hear him address this topic on “Charlie Rose.” Some people, Mr. Levine said, have argued that the Met should present a new opera every year. To that he answered, “I wish I really thought there was a new opera good enough for the Met every year.”
That last remark...it is very sad that what comes to mind as a response is "Jimmy, you needed to get out more." There is no paucity of new operas good enough for the Met. The Met should have been commissioning the great composers of our day and building a repertory of great works.

This brings us to Zachary Woolfe's article in the Times about his interview with Yannick Nézhet-Séguin, music director of the Philadelphia Orchestra and widely rumored to be the prime candidate to succeed Levine. First, there's the dismaying line about Philly being among the most conservative American orchestras: one longs for the days of Leopold Stokowski and his unending thirst for the new. Just look up the number of important early 20th c. works that got their first US performances under him.

Then there's this:
When I asked him, though, which underappreciated composers, works or corners of the repertory he might seek to champion — the Nézet-Séguin equivalents of Mr. Levine’s advocacy for Berg, marginalized Mozart or “Moses und Aron” — he seemed slightly at a loss.
“It’s still a bit at the beginning,” he said of his career. “I’m still at the stage when I enjoy so much broadening my repertory and the orchestra’s. If someone was someday to say, ‘Yannick has helped bring back this composer,’ I’m not sure who it would be.”
I love their operas, but it's sad that Woolfe has to reach for Berg, Mozart, and Schoenberg to find Levine's advocacy for the new and unusual, considering how long Berg and Schoenberg have been gone.

And unfortunately, if it is to be YN-S at the Met, don't expect heaps of commissions or the sudden prominence of, say, Schreker. For that, the Met ought to hire my favorite candidate, James Conlon.

4 comments:

Henry Holland said...

While the Met is finally getting around to L'amour de Loin in 2016/17, I have zero hope that they'll ever do any Schreker, Zemlinsky, Braunfels or after doing a quick search at the Met opera archive, even something as audience-friendly as Die Tote Stadt, last done at the Met in.....1922. [rolls eyes].

The biggest problem with the Met is simple: the house is an airplane hangar, they could easily lop off the balcony and it would still be too big. It limits the repertoire they can do, for one thing; much as I loathe his operas, Handel's stuff just isn't a good fit there. The size forces them to get singers who can reach the back row, not someone who can make a role work at the Wien Staatsoper but not in that barn. The biggest failure of Levine's tenure is, for me, his inability to get the "Mini Met" he talked about for years built. It was supposed to be an 800-1000 seater in the park behind the current mausoleum, for newer works, baroque things and the like.

As you know, Lisa, I'm interested in contemporary operas not by John Adams or Nico Muhly but that's the great thing about the passing of time in the opera world: nobody alive remembers all the bad operas that were premiered in, say 1900-1905, they're in the dustbin of history. It's true that occasionally something will crop up that was considered a failure at it's premiere run and was never heard again or never even got past the rehearsal stage (i.e. Zemlinsky's wonderful Der Traumgörge, Weinberg's The Passenger etc.), for the most part if an opera is forgotten, there's usually a good reason for it. It's a numbers game: in that 1900-05 period, opera premieres were common on the Continent, now they're kinda rare even in Germany and Austria. The economic meltdown has really shrunken the rep in places that used to be pretty adventurous such as the Deutsche Oper Berlin.

NY Bookfile said...




The reason baroque opera -- Cavalli, or Handel -- sounds essentially enervated is that the style of baroque music lacks the flexibility required to respond very far to action. Studying Handel, one comes to distinguish between fairly dramatic music and slightly dramatic music and stiffly dramatic music; one can see and admire the composer working mightily to control his medium. But in the theater the distinctions pale, however well they look in the closet"

NY Bookfile said...

"Much as I loathe his operas, Handel's stuff just"

This makes two of us. Joseph Kerman was not a fan either.

The reason baroque opera -- Cavalli, or Handel -- sounds essentially enervated is that the style of baroque music lacks the flexibility required to respond very far to action. Studying Handel, one comes to distinguish between fairly dramatic music and slightly dramatic music and stiffly dramatic music; one can see and admire the composer working mightily to control his medium. But in the theater the distinctions pale, however well they look in the closet"

John Marcher said...

"Studying Handel, one comes to distinguish between fairly dramatic music and slightly dramatic music and stiffly dramatic music" -- that's the best thing I've read all day. Thank you for that, Bookfile.