Wednesday, February 15, 2006

The MET Opera Reaches Out To Some Absolutely Stellar Theatrical Talent -- But Also Misses The Golden Ring?

..."Many of Gelb's ideas are long overdue. His plans to bring in directors with theater and film experience can't hurt. But only at the Met would choosing a production of "Madame Butterfly" by the film director Anthony Minghella to open next season seem a bold move. This production, which is said to be very beautiful and was well liked at English National Opera last year, was meant to help mollify a London public usually given a heavy dose of controversial fare.

Again, asking Mark Morris to direct Gluck's "Orfeo ed Euridice," starring the incomparable Lorraine Hunt Lieberson, is an excellent idea, but hardly newsworthy — Morris has done it before. Asking James Levine to stay on for the rest of his life as music director (he's committed through 2013) is a no-brainer.

On the other hand, inviting Tony Award-winning director Mary Zimmerman to make a new production of Rossini's magical "Armida," with Renée Fleming in the title role, is inspired, as is teaming Esa-Pekka Salonen with the veteran French director Patrice Chereau for Janácek's "House of the Dead," even if Chereau was a more important force in opera 30 years ago. A "Carmen" co-directed by Matthew Bourne and Richard Eyre (responsible for the hit "Mary Poppins" in London) is good show business, especially since it is scheduled to feature Angela Gheorghiu and Roberto Alagna.

But these productions are down the line. Also some years hence, Osvaldo Golijov has promised an opera for Fleming. John Adams' "Doctor Atomic" will find its way to the Met in 2009, which means that director Peter Sellars will then make his long-delayed Met debut. A new "Ring" cycle directed by Robert Lepage, whom the Met calls a visionary (despite his selling out to Cirque du Soleil to produce the $200-million Vegas extravaganza "Kà" last year), has been announced for next decade. At long, long last, Gelb will put some modern art in his too big, ornate, badly decorated barn." ...

Mark Swed "A sense of adventure lost. And found: Conservatism is once more on the rise in the orchestral world but the starchy old Met, under new boss Peter Gelb, is trying to buck the trend" Los Angeles Times February 15, 2006 via


Personally, I am excited by the prospect of Mary Zimmerman -- whose production of Ovid's "Metamorphosis" I saw at the Berkeley Repertory Theater some years back, and whose beautiful production of Shakespeare's "A Winter's Tale" was a highlight of last season's Shakespeare Theater in Washington, D.C. -- staging the Handel opera "Armida", starring Renee Fleming, for the MET. And ever since I heard the New York Philharmonic perform Janacek's final opera "From the House of the Dead" (based upon Dostoevksy) in 1983, and saw the New York City Opera fully stage the work in 1990, I have been waiting for the Metropolitan Opera to train its immense talents on this powerful 20th century masterpiece. However, with all due respect to French director Patrice Chereau, I would have preferred that the MET Opera had invited South African artist and director William Kentridge to stage this Janacek work. (Mr Kentridge has been widely exhibited at the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the New York Museum of Modern Art; and his stage productions have been seen at the Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts.)

Additionally, the biggest setback to New York City's future cultural life, in my opinion, is that Peter Gelb and his new MET Opera team did not invite architect Daniel Libeskind, who is redesigning the World Trade Center site and who designed Berlin's Jewish Museum, to bring his absolutely stunning Berlin production of Olivier Messiaen's grand opera "Saint Francois d'Assis" to the Metropolitan Opera barn (or to the New York City Armory). [While Mark Swed can call the MET house a poorly decorated barn; it is still a loveable barn to those who admire musical and operatic excellence.]

Perhaps less loveable are the three visual artists whom Peter Gelb has chosen to inaugurate his Gallery at the Metropolitan Opera exhibition program: John Currin, Richard Prince, and Sophie von Hellerman.

Here are links to sample works by each:

John Currin

Richard Prince

Sophie von Hellerman

Richard Prince, Cowboy, color photograph, 1991-92 (appropriated image)

Image credit: (c) Richard Prince. Courtesy of Martin Irvine, Georgetown University. With thanks.


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