Newspaper article International New York Times

With Women in Command, the Met Addresses Gaps in Its History ; A Season of Pioneers Features a Finnish Composer and Conductor

Newspaper article International New York Times

With Women in Command, the Met Addresses Gaps in Its History ; A Season of Pioneers Features a Finnish Composer and Conductor

Article excerpt

It's a season of pioneers: the first opera by a woman at the house since 1903 and the fourth-ever female conductor there.

Better late than never. That's a fair way to characterize one of the most important events of the new season: the Metropolitan Opera's first production of the Finnish composer Kaija Saariaho's "L'Amour de Loin."

Since its acclaimed premiere at the Salzburg Festival in 2000, this mystical work, a tale of medieval love, has been presented in Paris; London; Toronto; Santa Fe, N.M.; and elsewhere. That it took the Met so long to stage it would not seem such an oversight if the company had been consistently giving audiences an array of other new works.

With this production, the company addresses some dismaying gaps in its history. "L'Amour de Loin" ("Love From Afar") will be the Met's first opera by a woman since 1903, when "Der Wald," a one-act fairy tale by the British composer Ethel M. Smyth, was presented.

"L'Amour de Loin" will be conducted by another Finn, Susanna Malkki, in a belated Met debut for this formidable, charismatic artist, the new music director of the Helsinki Philharmonic. The Met has a sorry history of engaging female conductors. The gender barrier was broken in 1976 by Sarah Caldwell, but only at the insistence of Beverly Sills, who agreed to sing in "La Traviata" on the condition that Ms. Caldwell be hired to conduct. Simone Young was next, 20 years later, making an auspicious 1996 debut in "La Boheme." But she last appeared at the house in 1998. In 2013, the excellent British conductor Jane Glover, an early-music specialist, became the third woman to conduct at the Met, though her assignment hardly explored her gifts and even carried a hint of playing to female stereotypes: a family-fare version of "The Magic Flute" trimmed down and performed in English. …

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