Getting with the Program
Walls, Seth Colter, Newsweek
Byline: Seth Colter Walls
Despite its reputation for being as cutting edge as a fine pearl, Lincoln Center was sort of badass this season. The Metropolitan Opera scored a global coup with its debut production of Dmitri Shostakovich's wild 1930 work The Nose--directed with multimedia panache courtesy of South African artist William Kentridge. Next door, New York City Opera staged a modern version of Mozart's Don Giovanni that was as philosophical as it was sexy. And the New York Philharmonic pulled off perhaps the biggest success of all. Their absurdist production of Le Grand Macabre, the opera by Stanley Kubrick favorite Gyorgy Ligeti, sold out its run and brought down the critical house, with hosannas coming from regional and national critics. But despite all the noise you've heard about populist moves made by the concert hall in recent years--with telecasts and HD presentations in theaters around the country--you couldn't see any of these productions unless you journeyed to Manhattan. To put it plainly: in the 2009-10 season, public television failed to broadcast the splashiest happenings in America's resurgent classical-music culture.
Predictably, it was all about the money. PBS only pays the Met about $100,000 for TV syndication rights to the company's popular Live in HD theater broadcasts; filming each production costs approximately $1 million. That means the Met has been making all its own programming decisions for PBS's Great Performances series, which means a heavy dose of the Italian repertoire that caters to the Met's established--and cautious--audience (next season: Lucia di Lammermoor, again). In a talk given earlier this year, PBS network president and CEO Paula Kerger admitted that when it comes to public arts broadcasts, "we haven't done as good a job as we could."
Though Kerger is relatively new in her role, there are signs that she is overhauling the system. One of the finest American operas of the past quarter century, John Adams's Nixon in China, was not originally on the Met's list of HD broadcasts (and thus PBS telecasts) for next season. …