The Metropolitan Opera: Fall 2009 Season

By Neher, Erick | The Hudson Review, Winter 2010 | Go to article overview

The Metropolitan Opera: Fall 2009 Season


Neher, Erick, The Hudson Review


The Metropolitan Opera: Fall 2009 Season

THE 2009-2010 METROPOLITAN OPERA SEASON is the first entirely planned by Peter Gelb, the company's dynamic General Manager. Although GeIb officially began his tenure in 2006, much of the ensuing three seasons had already been scheduled and cast due to the opera business's lengthy planning cycles. His major impact so far has been on marketing and distribution including a vastly increased reliance on technology to reach larger authences. The Met's "Live in HD" telecasts into movie theaters around the world have been enormously successful. Opera outside the opera house had always felt like a shadowy simulacrum in the past, but the HD image and sound are truly almost as satisfying as the live theater experience. In the end, however, a General Manager is judged by the quality of the operas he produces and not in how they are disseminated.

In the last few years GeIb managed to wedge a few new imported productions into the schedule: a ravishing Madama Butterfly and a striking Satyagraha from the English National Opera; a delightful La Fille du Régiment and a luscious La Rondine, from London's Royal Opera House; a dazzlingly theatrical La Damnation de Faust from genius director Robert Lepage, a revision of his earlier Opéra National de Paris production; and a blood-and-guts Trovatore from Chicago, the first successful mounting of the work at the Met in decades. True, the Met's own brand-new productions over the last three years have been variable. GeIb 's first season brought a scintillating Barbiere di Siviglia, a solid Trittico and a mesmerizing Orfeo ed Eurydice, but those productions had been planned and cast by his predecessor, Joseph Volpe. New productions in later seasons were often more problematic: a terribly misguided Peter Grimes, a terribly cast Macbeth, and a muddled staging of a new opera, Doctor Atomic. But again, the blame for these productions could not entirely fall on Gelb's doorstep. Much was therefore at stake in this new season, and it is telling - and worrisome - that, so far, the most successful new work is again one that originated outside the Met (From the House of the Dead) , whereas the two original productions ( Tosca and Les Contes d'Hoffmann) were both troubled.

Gelb's job is not simple. The pull of inertia at an opera house like the Met is formidable. The preceding General Manager, Joseph Volpe, had spent virtually his entire career at the company, steeped in its culture. He ran a tight but stationary ship. Although GeIb had prior professional associations with the Met, even briefly serving as an usher in his youth, he made his career elsewhere and came in as a change agent. Ultimately, he has faced several obstructions: the systemic quagmire at any large artistic institution that deals with recalcitrant unions and opinionated donors, the ever-unstable artistic talent pool, and of course the global recession which has dried up funding and diverted attention and energy. The increasingly diminished profile of the Met's chief public artistic face, James Levine, has also affected the company's work. Levine joined the Met in 1971, became its Music Director in 1976 and Artistic Director in 1986. For two decades, he was deeply involved in the quotidian work of the house: repertory, casting, production. During this time, he worked with a series of short-term, less powerful General Managers and filled the leadership void with his own immense talent. Then came the strong-willed Volpe, and Levine began slowly to withdraw, conducting fewer performances and relinquishing the Artistic Director title in 2004 to become, once again, merely Music Director. He took over the Boston Symphony Orchestra in the same year and has recently faced a series of serious health problems. Last fall he conducted the opening night of Tosca, cancelled the rest of his performances, and returned only for the new Contes d'Hoffmann production in December. Levine's role now seems to be more advisory, and GeIb, for all his intelligence and drive, is not an artist but a businessman. …

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