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Viewpoint: Centennial Season

by F. Paul Driscoll

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Bernstein (center) with Rosalind Elias (Meg Page) and Anselmo Colzani (Falstaff) at a Met Falstaff rehearsal, 1964
Louis Melançon/Opera News Archives

LEONARD BERNSTEIN made his Metropolitan Opera debut on March 6, 1964, leading his first Falstaff in the premiere of Franco Zeffirelli’s classic staging. A conductor, composer and educator of unparalleled accomplishment, Bernstein was the most celebrated American classical musician of his generation; his arrival at the Met was the hottest ticket of the opera season. 

Bernstein made a huge hit. In his fascinating critical history of the Met, The Metropolitan Opera (1966), Irving Kolodin wrote, “Bernstein’s conducting [of Falstaff] transcended any of his concert hall achievements in the creation of a musical ensemble that defined his biggest, truest gift as theatrical.… His musical direction was deft, discerning and unfailingly musical.” But despite his triumph, Bernstein’s association with the Met was brief; he conducted just ten Falstaff performances for the company, all of them in spring 1964. (It is interesting to note that Bernstein paced three different Falstaffs during the run and—according to Kolodin—maintained “volatility, lightness and … musical character” in ensemble.) Bernstein returned to the Met after the company moved to Lincoln Center, when he led brief, high-profile runs of new stagings of Cavalleria Rusticana (1970) and Carmen (1972).

Bernstein, who died in 1990, endures as a part of our collective musical life. This season, opera companies and conservatories throughout the U.S. will salute the impending Bernstein centennial, on August 25, 2018, with new productions of Candide, West Side Story, Trouble in Tahiti and A Quiet Place. There can be no better tribute to this singular American genius than his own works. spacer 

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