Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Is it time for Peter Gelb to appoint a Director of Productions?

Peter Gelb in the HD control truck.  Photo by Ken Howard.
Much has been cussed and discussed over the last year+ regarding James Levine's position (or lack thereof) at the Metropolitan Opera. The 68 year old Maestro and music director of the Met has had to pull out of more and more performances due to ill health.

Not that he would wish ill-will to anyone - BUT, I doubt that the Met's principle conductor is crying over any spilled milk at this point.

Anyway, can I just say for the record that, coincidentally or not, all of this drama surrounding the musical staff at the Met is providing one helluvah smoke screen for it's general manager, Peter Gelb, to hide behind.

That is ... until the other day. Anthony Tommasini gave his interesting take on Peter Gelb's tenure over the last few years.
Since arriving in 2006, Peter Gelb, the Met's general manager, has assumed responsibility for new productions. He recruits directors, talks through their concepts and puts production teams in place. So far, the results have been frustratingly mixed.

Mr. Gelb, who previously was the president of Sony Classical, has raised the stakes by talking big. He has pledged to bring cutting-edge theatrical thinking and technical capabilities to the house, and to make the Met a place where opera will be presented as compelling theater. He has also been on a mission to re-energize the art form by recruiting directors from theater and film, even some with scant experience in opera.

Yet measured against the promise, his spotty performance as de facto director of productions raises concerns. It may be time to revive an experiment in which the director John Dexter served as the Met's official director of productions from 1974 to 1981, then as production adviser until 1984. Not many opera companies have a full-time director of productions. But in its budget and international influence, the Met is the largest performing-arts institution in the United States and should set the standard for excellence and innovation in opera.

Dexter, who died in 1990, gave the Met some landmark productions still in use, like Poulenc's
Dialogues of the Carmelites, which is breathtakingly spare. He was not all-powerful and may have claimed too many assignments for himself. Still, a theatrical pro was in place to maintain standards and foster innovation.

The assumption that major directors from outside opera will automatically bring fresh thinking to bear is questionable. It is just as likely that a newcomer may be intimidated by the towering masterworks of the repertory and their rich performance legacies, not to mention being daunted by the sheer dimensions of the Met's stage.
In fact, it would seem that all these people can think to do is put together a flat, tiered set of balconies and doorways - which, according to Tommasini, appears to be the new default mode for scenery at the Met. Just to illustrate the point, take a look at the strikingly similar set design in the following four photos ... noting, of course, the numerous flat walls with oodles of doorways, tiers etc.

The Met's Damnation of Faust - 2008

The Met's Peter Grimes - 2008

The Met's Tosca - 2009

The Met's Don Giovanni - 2011

Do *you* think it's time for Gelb to turn the producing over to a Director of Productions? Before you decide, hop over and take a gander at Tommasini's article. It's an interesting read.

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