Editor's Desk

Director's Cut

(News, Observations, Brian Kellow, Arts Journalism, New York City Opera) Permanent link

It's refreshing that New York City Opera has been leading arts coverage recently. I only wish it were for different reasons. At a press conference on July 12, NYCO's artistic and general director George Steel said, in response to a question from The New York Times's Daniel Wakin, that the company had no plans to dispense with the services of music director George Manahan. Members of the press corps who are inclined toward skepticism may have noted that Steel seemed peculiarly vague about how many months Manahan had to run on his contract. 

Only three weeks later, the company announced that the position of music director was being eliminated. I have commented in other sections of OPERA NEWS on Steel's lack of candor in certain areas, and I'd prefer not to return to the subject here. What troubles me is this: what kind of future does NYCO have without a music director in place? One very important thing that music directors do is to block ham-handed artistic decisions from being put into play. If music directors are any good, they examine the artistic health and future of the opera company as a whole entity. (Obviously, guest conductors don't necessarily bring this concern to the table; often, they are focused on maximizing their isolated appearances at the opera houses, their eye very much on their own future.) An opera-house orchestra usually absorbs — for better or worse — the artistic personality of its music director. Without a single person at the helm, an orchestra runs the risk of sounding like a pack of musicians on a freelance gig. If all this isn't a compelling argument for the existence of a music director, what about this one (since money seems to dominate conversation in the opera world these days)? Music directors come armed with their own network of major donors. I know that New York City Opera is dealing with punishing financial realities, and I feel for the company. But for Steel and the board to treat this central position as if it were a mere vestige seems more than foolhardy. It seems maddeningly self-defeating. spacer

BRIAN KELLOW

Small World

(News, Louise Guinther, Cinema, Live in HD) Permanent link

This week, the "Arts, Briefly" section of The New York Times included the rather offhand announcement that the Met "recently reached an agreement with the authorities at the Cairo Opera House to show productions there this season." Audiences in distant Cairo will now be privy (via the company's series of Live in HD transmissions) to a whole slew of performances taking place on the Met stage even as they watch.

We take such technological marvels in stride nowadays, but what, one wonders, would Verdi have made of this development? Back in 1871, it took endless, painstaking negotiations to arrange for the world premiere of his Aida at Cairo's Khedivial Opera House, and in the event the proposed January opening fell victim to the Franco–Prussian War, which trapped the sets and costumes (not to mention the scenarist, Auguste Mariette) in Paris. Verdi had to wait another eleven months before the project came to fruition, and it took place without the composer in attendance, as he had decided the trip was too arduous to be worthwhile.

Could any of the participants in that cultural milestone for Cairo have imagined that one day whole seasons of opera from another continent could be wafted over the airwaves to Egyptian shores? spacer 

LOUISE T. GUINTHER

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Front-Page Opera?

(News, Observations, Elizabeth Diggans) Permanent link

In 1993, OPERA NEWS published an article called "Front-Page Opera," in which we asked fifteen writers, reporters and other notables what twentieth-century news events they would like to see as opera topics. With the success of Nixon in China and The Death of Klinghoffer, the 1986 New York City Opera staging of the premiere of X (The Life and Times of Malcolm X), plus a couple of works in the pipeline dealing with the kidnapping of Patty Hearst and at least one on the Manson family, we thought at the time we might be on to something. Was the availability of twenty-four-hour news so exciting that opera librettists would be turning exclusively to CNN for ideas? Well, it would seem not.

The undeniably operatic life of Nelson Mandela (with the bonus character of his now ex-wife Winnie) was a suggestion that did end up onstage, if not yet in major international houses. The fall of the Romanovs, another proposed storyline, received royal opera treatment with the debut of Deborah Drattell's Nicholas and Alexandra at Los Angeles Opera in 2003, with Plácido Domingo (well, really, who else?) in the pivotal role of Rasputin. One of our contributors felt strongly that the lives and deaths of the Ceausescus, the evil husband-and-wife dictators of Romania, would be ideal grist for the opera mill. This one never happened — probably because nobody could think of a Romanian soprano to play the missus.

Not one of the group we asked in 1993 mentioned J. Robert Oppenheimer and the birth of the atomic bomb as a promising opera topic. Oops. In fact, none of the suggestions we received has inspired an opera with broad, mainstream appeal, let alone multiple productions.

Nobody considered TV talk-show hosts potential title characters, so Jerry Springer: The Opera, London's long-running, Olivier-Award winning musical wasn't on anybody's radar. Apparently we didn't realize that tabloid topics and "real" news would become almost indistinguishable within a few years. After all, could any of us have predicted that an opera about the life of Anna Nicole Smith would find its way to — of all places — the stage of the Royal Opera House in 2011?

Maybe we should forget the news (and what passes for news today). It does seem that now, perhaps more than ever, novels — from The Little Prince to Moby-Dick — lure librettists. This is by no means a new trend, but a surprising number of the resulting operas display considerable (for these times) staying power. So former Book-of-the-Month Club selections make for good operas, right? Not everybody would agree on that (check out the OPERA NEWS Archives and read Joel Honig's "A Novel Idea," OPERA NEWS's Aug. 2001). spacer 

— Elizabeth Diggans

New OPERANEWS.COM

(Website Information, News, Adam Wasserman) Permanent link

On behalf of the editors of OPERA NEWS, I'd like to welcome everyone to our new website. It's certainly been a long time coming, and we're thrilled that it's finally here!

We hope that the overall user experience with the website has been substantially improved through our renovations. Your best bet for perusing the site is the gray navigation bar towards the top of the page, which will allow you to access any and all content contained in a given issue — both the print and online edition.

Our performance-reviews landing-page — accessible via the "In Review" tab — now features a streamlined tab-based navigation that easily allows you to toggle between reviews by our critics covering "North America," "International" and "Concerts and Recitals." Likewise, Our "Recordings" section will allow you to look at all the categories ("Opera and Oratorio," "Choral and Song," "Recital," "Historical" and "Video") that comprise our media reviews.

The "Audio" and "Video" sections of the homepage will allow you to preview clips from new CDs and DVDs, hear excerpts from live interviews (don't miss feature editor Brian Kellow's chat with Simon Keenlyside, up there now ) and see some of our archival behind-the-scenes footage. There'll be more to come in these areas of the site, in particular. Everything you see here can also be accessed via the "Watch & Listen" tab in the navigation bar.

There are still a number of elements in the site that we're in the process of tweaking and getting used to ourselves. But should you encounter anything particularly amiss, drop an email to info@operanews.com explaining your issue and the page you've encountered it on.

Adam


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Current Issue: April 2014 — VOL. 78, NO. 10