Viewpoint: Bringing Opera to the People
On Sunday evening, April 21, OPERA NEWS will pay tribute to this year's five OPERA NEWS Award honorees — David Daniels, Mirella Freni, Simon Keenlyside, Eric Owens and Dawn Upshaw — at a gala dinner at the Plaza in Manhattan, hosted by Patricia Racette. This is the eighth time that we have gathered to celebrate a quintet of distinguished opera artists. The preparation of the April issue, which contains tributes to the five winners written by the editors of OPERA NEWS, always summons up memories of past OPERA NEWS Award galas — Leontyne Price's spontaneous decision to offer part of her acceptance in song; Renata Scotto's acknowledgement of a standing ovation with a spectacularly graceful bow; James Levine's affectionate tribute to “Jacks,” his nickname for honoree Marilyn Horne; eloquent acceptance speeches from Riccardo Muti and Peter Sellars. In one sense, the OPERA NEWS Awards mark the culmination of the magazine's year; in another, they are a chance to be respectful of opera's past, positive about its present and optimistic about its future. The gala is a night when authentic legends rub shoulders with artists whose international careers are just beginning, and an occasion for us all to thank the artists who turned us into opera fanatics.
The research involved in preparing this issue usually sets me off on a browse through the Met's database (www.metopera.org/archives) that lasts for hours. I'm supposed to be in search of statistics and verifying facts, but what I am actually doing is daydreaming with my fingers on the keyboard, thinking about the performances I've seen at the Met — and the performances I haven't. Out of curiosity, I checked to see what was happening at the Met one hundred years before this season's scheduled OPERA NEWS Awards. On the last Saturday in April in 1913, the company was finishing up its annual tour stop in Atlanta, Georgia — a city that always treated the Met with great hospitality, and which received the best available singers and conductors in return. The Saturday matinée on April 26 was Lucia di Lammermoor,with Frieda Hempel, the brilliant German coloratura, and Umberto Macnez, an Italian tenor best remembered for singing Hoffmann in the Met premiere of Offenbach's opera during his single season with the company. The evening performance in Atlanta was Tosca, with Emmy Destinn, Enrico Caruso and Antonio Scotti, a cast that probably made the mid-spring Georgia heat rise more than a little — and that makes one wish time travel were possible. Fifty years later, the company was again on tour: on April 27, 1963, the Met was in Cleveland, Ohio, for an eight-performance run at the Cleveland Public Auditorium. The bill of fare on that Saturday afternoon was Il Barbiere di Siviglia, with Robert Merrill, George Shirley, Giorgio Tozzi and Laurel Hurley; the Met's evening tour performance was Otello, with Fausto Cleva pacing Zinka Milanov, Mignon Dunn, Arturo Sergi and Anselmo Colzani.
The weekend after the OPERA NEWS Awards, one of our 2013 honorees, David Daniels, will take on the title role in Giulio Cesare when David McVicar's production of Handel's opera has its first presentation as part of The Met: Live in HD on April 27. On that afternoon, when Daniels and his colleagues are singing in New York, they'll be applauded by audiences in Atlanta and in Cleveland — and in theaters all across North America and in more than fifty foreign countries. It's just like the old days — only more so.
F. PAUL DRISCOLL
The opinions expressed in OPERA NEWS do not necessarily represent the views of The Metropolitan Opera Guild or The Metropolitan Opera.
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