All about Eve - Eve Queler and the Opera Orchestra of New York

By Krauss, Melvyn | The World and I, August 2000 | Go to article overview

All about Eve - Eve Queler and the Opera Orchestra of New York


Krauss, Melvyn, The World and I


For nearly thirty years, the Opera Orchestra of New York has gone where Gotham's major companies feared to tread, discovering new stars and performing neglected works with opera's finest voices.

New York City's opera life is rich and varied. In addition to the world-famous Metropolitan Opera, there is the more accessible New York City Opera, plus several interesting smaller opera companies that fill out the city's operatic landscape. The most exciting and successful of these smaller organizations is Eve Queler's Opera Orchestra of New York.

OONY, as its organizers and fans call it, puts on three to four operas in concert form per year at Carnegie Hall. Since its beginnings in 1971, OONY has developed a large and loyal audience. Its usually sold- out opera concerts are big events in a city that knows and loves opera. Queler plans and conducts all performances OONY puts on.

The secret of Queler's unparalleled success is that she understands what gaps there are in New York's operatic life and strives to fill them. For all the wonderful things that go on at the Metropolitan Opera, that elephantine mainstay of the city's operatic life is slow- moving, highly bureaucratic, and forced by its economics to be repertorially narrow. Queler's forte is that she knows how to take advantage of this.

When it comes to singers, Queler is the first to find them and acts fast. For example, she discovered the Russian baritone Dmitri Hvorostovsky singing at New York's Symphony Space with a small, inauspicious Russian company called "Young Singers From the Bolshoi" before anyone in the West knew his name. Jose Carreras, the third of the Three Tenors, made his U.S. debut with OONY (in Verdi's I Lombardi) at the tender age of twenty-four, when he was known as Jose Maria Carreras. According to Opera News, other Queler finds include Ghena Dimitrova, Gabriela Benackova, Richard Leech, Deborah Voigt, Aprile Millo, and Jennifer Larmore.

Not only does Queler find new voices, but she is able to attract the really big stars in opera to sing with her company as well. The notoriously conservative Metropolitan Opera repertoire provides a giant source of opportunity for OONY in this regard. Queler's modus operandi is to present operas the Met won't do but that big-name singers want to sing and New York's opera-literate audiences want to hear.

Donizetti's Lucrezia Borgia is a case in point. Although this opera gets performed from time to time in Europe, the Met has never put it on. Last winter, OONY had a great success doing Lucrezia Borgia with the American star Renee Fleming in the title role. Fleming had had a difficult time with this role at La Scala, and the OONY performance gave the New York audience a chance to hear for themselves what Fleming could do in this bel canto work.* The reviews were spectacular, and deservedly so. Fleming and Queler had made a big hit.

Massenet's Le Cid is another opera the Met will not put on. It also is an opera Placido Domingo wanted very much to sing before a New York audience. If Queler had offered the Spanish star Ernani, A Masked Ball, or Manon Lescaut, he never would have accepted. These were the type of roles he had been singing at the Met during the 1970s. But the chance to sing the title role in Le Cid brought Queler and Domingo together at a fee that the always tight-on-money OONY could afford. The collaboration was a much-praised 1974 performance that was recorded live on the Carnegie stage.

Unlike Domingo, two of his countrymen, bel canto superstars Montserrat Caballe and Alfredo Kraus, did not appear often at the Met during the 1970s. The reason is that New York's premier opera house was not doing much bel canto opera of any sort--known or unknown--at that time. Queler knew an opportunity when she saw one. If New Yorkers wanted to hear these artists, they had to either go to OONY or book a flight to Europe. Without Eve Queler (and Beverly Sills at the New York City Opera), bel canto in New York would have been "no canto. …

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