Tuesday, February 23, 2010

The MET wants a little Broadway, more per ticket and cannot *do* routine

The MET is increasingly leaning toward the talents that Broadway has to offer - at least in the directoral sense. In a recent post, Broadway.com reports:
Tony Award winners Bartlett Sher (South Pacific), Nicholas Hytner (Carousel) will be among the Broadway veterans lending their talents to the The Metropolitan Opera for their 2010-2011 season, which was announced February 22. Hytner’s production of Verdi’s famed Don Carlo will take the stage beginning November 22. Sher’s new production of Rossini’s Le Comte Ory will follow in the spring, debuting March 24, 2011.
Uber-Bloggess La Cieca is reporting that Bartlett Sher has signed a new 3 show deal with the MET - returning in 2013-2014 to direct two productions and in 2014-2015 for a third. One of these Sher Shows is rumored to be (actually, a reliable source of Mme. Cieca's has insisted that it *is*) the new production of the MET's Cash Cow La Bohème that is slated for 2013-2014.

In addition to announcing the 2010-2011 season, the MET also announced that it is raising it's ticket prices. From the NY Times:
The cost of an average individual ticket will rise by 11 percent, while subscriber tickets will go up an average of 6 percent. The Met said it had not made “across the board” increases in four years, although individual categories have gone up. It boasted that about one-third of tickets would cost less than $100 and said that discounts for students, under-30s and last-minute buyers would continue.
And finally, (as in - this is my last point) another Zeffirelli production gets the ax - La Traviata. A modern-dress La Traviata will be directed by Willy Decker. [Pictured at right is Anja Harteros as Violetta in the MET's La Traviata by Marty Sohl/MET Opera.]

Is anyone really surprised by this news? No.

The Met has slowly been phasing out the lavish spectacles of Italian operas directed by Zeffirelli. They've been around for centuries decades and many are based on the productions Zeffirelli did for Callas in the '50s so she wouldn't have to "do routine". While these productions are true to old school operatic form, Gelb's MET is moving toward appealing to younger audiences.

In addition, the older Zeffirelli productions don't read very well in HD and considering there are set to be 11 HD Transmissions next season, the productions need to be able to look good while being beamed to hundreds of thousands of audience members.

It is worth noting that the replacement of the Zeffirelli productions is being met with the outrage of his supporters and other traditional opera fans.

I mean, come on. We all know what happened after the new Tosca debuted.


In the comments regarding this article (click 'comments' below) - some mentioned Russian singers, some mentioned their dislike of the choices made by Peter Gelb's MET and others have made some interesting points regarding the HD Broadcasts.

Well it just so happens that yesterday, the New York Observer published an article about Russian mezzo-soprano Olga Borodina entitled From Russia, With Love. In it, Ms. Borodina touches on a few of these points herself.

From the Observer article:
It seems improbable that Ms. Borodina, age 46, could find many shortcomings in her singing: Hers is one of the world’s great voices, an instrument of richness, steadiness and power. She may have a reputation for cancellations, and can occasionally, it seems, be difficult ...

... Her appearance alongside her husband, bass Ildar Abdrazakov, on the very short list of performers who agreed to donate part of their fees back to the Met because of the economy might be at odds with this imperious image, but she sounded sincere when she insisted that they made the gift “because we love the Metropolitan Opera. It is like our second home.” She said that the Met sent letters to its singers proposing a 10 percent donation. “It was offered to everyone, and some people didn’t agree,” she said. “Some people refused to do it.” Sadly, more than some: Out of a roster of hundreds, only 25 artists are on the list...

...There’s a sense in which Ms. Borodina, one of the dominant singers on the international scene since her breakthrough in 1992 at Covent Garden, is of another era. She is striking and attractive onstage, but she doesn’t have quite the lithe, model-esque figure or physical abandon of Anna Netrebko, Natalie Dessay or Elina Garanča, her successor in the Met
Carmen run. She looks, for better or worse, like an opera star. And though she says, counterintuitively, that film allows her to hide a few unwanted pounds, she doesn’t much like the HD broadcasts that are proliferating these days: “I think that this kind of production loses a lot for the theater audience, because details which are possible and good onscreen are impossible to read when you are in the hall. I still think that opera productions should be done for the audiences in the theater, and the screen should adjust to that. I don’t like this idea during the last few years that practically all productions are done for high definition, so all details are done with high definition showing in mind.”

Unlike many opera singers, she enjoys going to the opera, particularly for Verdi, and she has an old-fashioned taste for the real thing. “Live performances only,” she interjects in English, before going on in Russian. “It’s very important what Olga says now,” the translator says solemnly a few seconds later. “She loves the real performance. When you feel the vibration coming from someone else’s voice and it penetrates you and the voice is really great, it gives you unbelievable joy.”
Lastly, whatever your opinions are of the MET and it's administration, it is hard to argue with the fact that the MET, under Gelb's management, has increased new productions (good, bad or otherwise), brought up box office sales, managed to regain much needed exposure in the press locally, nationally and internationally, and has introduced ground-breaking live high-definition transmissions into movie theaters around the world.

Nothing can replace the live performance. In addition, there are some bi-products of the HD Broadcasts that, while seemingly unavoidable, are difficult for purists of all things operatic to wrap their brains around ... but, sometimes [taking a deep, centering breath] the gains outweigh the loss.

Let's just hope that the "loss" isn't a loss of artistic integrity, loss of musical integrity as set by the composer or loss of that which makes opera stand apart from other cultural institutions.

It is my hope that someone who sees a MET production in HD will be inspired to go to a live local performance of an opera in their area and can feel the joy that comes from the vibration of the live performance.


Anonymous said...

The cheapening of performances at The Met is most disturbing. How far into disaster will Peter Gelb be allowed to drive our national opera house? The quality of performers at The Met has hit an all time low ... thank you Peter Gelb.

Gelb insists on hiring skinny Russian singers whose voices are barely heard in the back of the house. Shameful. And shame on you Peter Gelb. Why don't you go to work for Barnum & Bailey before you destroy The Met. You're a much better fit for the circus.

Dr said...

For the love of The Arts, get Peter Gelb the hell out of the New York Metropolitan Opera. Now.

Lori said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
barit1 said...

Bravo Peter Gelb! It's (and btw, that is the contraction for "it is" - not the incorrect way of showing possessive case for the word "it" as was erroneously repeated in the article above. Editing, anyone?) about time someone had the balls to break out of the Met's stodgy productions from 30 years ago. If opera is to survive, it must be fresh and it must be relevant.
Bartlett Sher's productions of Il barbiere and Hoffmann are two of, if not the absolute best, productions of opera that I have seen in decades. If this is the direction that the Met is headed, then thank God for Peter Gelb.

Rachel Velarde said...

One of the problems, I believe, IS the HD productions (although I've been taking full advantage of them). The Zeffirelli productions are so old that they don't stand up to the scrutiny of the HD cameras. One of my best friends from high school works in the costume shop as a lead, and she has told me that for Aida, they had to REMAKE every costume, as the old costumes were not up to standard. I'm sure the same is true of the set department. This remaking costs almost as much as a brand new production (and maybe more??). Especially with "modern dress" productions, I'm positive the costs plummet. But, that's NOT what opera is about.
Some modern dress productions work. Some "updated" productions work (I'm thinking of "The Music Man"-esque production of Elixir Arizona Opera did last season - the production is owned by Opera Fort Collins, I believe). I haven't gotten to the MET for years (I saw the HORRIBLE Trovatore there in 2000 - and the only reason we didn't walk out was the $90/ticket price; I would've hated to pay that for some of the worst seats in the house instead of the very back row of the orchestra), but am watching the HD broadcasts. I am very disappointed in the MUSICAL values. Gelb needs to take a look at Greg Sandow's recent blog postings on why classical music is so boring to young audiences. http://www.artsjournal.com/sandow/2010/02/performance_reborn.html
Putting on a show (I LOVE the rigmaster comment, anonymous) will not compensate for boring singing. Neither will overacting. The VOICE must also be able to act.

Rachel Velarde said...

Oops, I meant ringmaster. :-D

James Newman said...

Thank you for all of your comments. Also, a special thanks to barit1 for pointing out the grammatical error. While I generally edit with a fine toothed comb - sometimes I get a little overly-excited and things just slip by.

If you haven't already, please read the update posted above.

Lori said...

I can appreciate Opera Insider's views of needing freshness in the productions,new costumes, new settings, new staging etc. As a fan however, I already have access to Broadway, Vegas and other such productions. I come to Opera for the great singing, the other worldliness of it, and the grandness. I have had a lifetime of Pop Culture and I long for Higher Culture at this point in my life. You might assume that the fan has as much experience as you do as a pro. We are not all bored by the classics or classic productions. I have yet to even see that many Opera's! Leave some of it intact!

barit1 said...

Mr. Newman, I am the one who should apologize for the unintended bitchiness of that editing remark. I, too, sometimes get a little overly excited in my remarks. My tone was provoked by the negativity of the comments toward Mr. Gelb from your readers not yourself, who as you duly noted has done many wonderful things for the company and the art form. I will also concede that not all of Mr. Gelb's choices of directors (Luc Bondi, to be sure) have been as wise.

Still, I anticpate the productions by Sher and Hytner and encourage your readers to give them a chance and if they are so moved, to encourage Mr. Gelb to continue in this direction. I feel passionately that productions such as these will save opera.

Miss said...

Thank you, Mr. Newman, for opening this dialogue. As The Met goes, so goes opera in America.

Sadly, its future has been entrusted to Peter Gelb who is not the ideal steward. His tawdry productions cheapen the opera art form. He has no discernable respect for voices worthy of gracing the greatest stage in America. Gelb's focus on putting 'faces' on stage is an abysmal raping of that which is The Met.

The risky and ill planned financial wheeling and dealing orchestrated by Peter Gelb have left The Met is a precarious financial position. What he has done is irresponsible and frightening and it leaves The Met quite vulnerable.

Sadly, The Met will not be what it once was. Thank you Peter Gelb for these destructive means. Here's hoping you see the door very, very soon.

Joseph Grienenberger said...

I don't understand this at all. How is setting something in modern-dress going to [1] make the opera more popular and [2] save costs as several commenters stated?

As costs go, any set and any costume is going to take money to create and build -- they a major part of any production's budget.

As for modern-dress appealing to younger audiences, I think that's rubbish. People of all ages can appreciate a performance set in another time -- good grief, the characters in the immensely successful "Lord of the Rings" film trilogy weren't running around in jeans and tee shirts. If you dress up opera singers in modern clothes and put them on modern sets, yet their singing and acting are not engaging, the results are going to be a ridiculous waste of time and money.

If you want to appeal to younger audiences, then make the productions vivid and engaging. Sure, a self-indulgent ARTISTE can stand there and do his/her old-school vapid operatic emoting and consider themselves to be doing something great, but the audience will be bored. So many people working in theatre/opera forget that they are there to serve the audience, not their egos. I'm not saying productions should aim for pandering to short attention spans by making things big and bombastic and distracting; that's handled by mindless summer action movies where things blow up every four minutes.

Many of us who transitioned to working in opera after working in theatre often garner critical praise for our acting skills -- that we made good music AND were theatrically believable. This is why I always tell newbie opera singers to take acting classes as well as voice lessons -- because they should not trust what their old-school, NON-PERFORMING voice teachers tell them about "park and bark" being the way you're supposed to sing. Due to theatre and film productions becoming much stronger in terms of realistically believable acting over the past 30 years, audiences have become accustomed to that -- which makes opera singers' stodgy 19th century "acting" styles increasingly laughable.

Theatre people always talk about "telling the story." That means that you can't just go out there and emote -- you have to use your acting skills to create the world of the play for the audience. If opera producers want to appeal to new audiences, they need to hire artists who will tell the story rather than sing beautifully and offer a few hand gestures. Look at some of the superb singing actors found in opera, such as Sheryl Woods, Patricia Racette, and Rodney Gilfrey, not to mention the phenomenal [and now retired] Teresa Stratas.

Think about it -- if the music is the only thing that's important in opera, then why the hell should we bother with sets, costumes, blocking, and lighting? -- just throw the orchestra onstage and let the singers stand there and bellow. But if you want to produce an engaging opera, then do the work necessary to make it interesting to an audience -- as I said before, the audience must always be the primary focus of anyone involved in an opera production; if an artist just wants to showcase their precious talent, then go do a solo concert and get out of the way.

Lastly, regarding the part about how "Zeffirelli productions don't read very well in HD" -- bump up the lights! In my nearly 30 years of working in theatre and opera, I have never understood why operas are always so damnably dark! There are a plethora of phenomenally talented lighting designers nowadays who can create striking lighting designs that convey mood without making things dark and muddy.

Anonymous said...

I find it interesting that you are all so focused on the present as if this monster suddenly appeared at Lincoln Center. It didn't. The people in charge of the artistic department of the Met have been there for thirty years. They knew nothing about opera when they started and they know nothing about opera now. It's that simple. It took a while for their incompetence to become apparent to the general public, but people like me were ranting and raving about this thirty years ago. No one ever listens to the voices crying in the wilderness. Quit your bellyaching and support your local opera company. You'll probably find more artistic worth there than at the Met.

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