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*+-In the affair over John Adams’ opera, The Death of Klinghoffer, the participants have succeeded in making themselves look very bad indeed, above all Abe Foxman of the Jewish Anti-Defamation League and whatever kindred organizations which have not been specified in the reports—with Peter Gelb straggling obsequiously behind them. It is appalling that a special interest group can dictate what a major arts institution can present to the public, and that the chief officer of the institution should accept it so easily. Peter Gelb stated that the cancellation of the HD transmission was necessary to save the production itself at the Metropolitan Opera—which implies that the revered old house operates under the external control of groups like the ADL, which likes to consort with governments on a quasi-equal footing, but which exercises no legal power equivalent to that of a national government, certainly not that of the United States or Israel.
*+-The most recent piece of bad news in the opera world is that the Metropolitan Opera has succumbed to pressure from several Jewish organizations and cancelled the international Live in HD telecast and radio broadcast of its new production of John Adams’s complex and controversial 1991 opera/oratorio The Death of Klinghoffer—which is about the Palestinian terrorist attack on the cruise ship Achille Lauro in 1985. And because Adams, librettist Alice Goodman, and stage director Peter Sellars had the chutzpah to dramatize the points of view of the terrorists as well as the victims, some people, including Leon Klinghoffer’s two daughters, felt the opera was anti-Semitic.
*+-The Mark Morris Dance Group was back in Boston with the East Coast premiere of a major new work, Handel’s ravishing pastoral opera Acis and Galatea, under the aegis of the Celebrity Series of Boston, one of the co-commissioners. I loved it. Or to put it more accurately, I’m in love with it, and saw three of its four performances at the Shubert Theatre. Morris has now staged several complete operas and one Handel oratorio. At least two of these are generally regarded as his masterpieces: Purcell’s one-act opera, Dido and Aeneas (1989), in which all the singers are offstage and the dancers play the main characters; and Handel’s L’Allegro,il Penseroso ed il Moderato (1988), in which the singers are also offstage, and there are no characters. But in Rameau’s delectable Platée (1997) and in Morris’s productions of Gluck’s Orfeo ed Euridice (Handel and Haydn Society, 1996; the Metropolitan Opera, 2007), singers played the leading roles and appeared on stage along with the dancers.
*+-A few minutes after the final curtain of Two Boys descended, after composer Nico Muhly received his ovation and joined the cast for their curtain calls, I think I figured out the true nature of this opera. This was the first main stage Metropolitan Opera production of the estimable Met/Lincoln Center Theater New Works program. Two Boys has been in the works for over five years, and had its world premiere at the English National Opera in 2011. The Met has given it serious encouragement and high-end attention. The opera has a libretto—based on an actual crime in 2001, in Manchester, England—by playwright Craig Lucas, a Pulitzer and Tony finalist; was directed by Tony Award-winning Bartlett Sher (South Pacific); and conducted by David Robertson, music- director designate of the Sydney Symphony Orchestra, a musician especially admired for his performances of contemporary music. The intricate production design by Michael Yeargan, which includes a gloomy police office with overhead fluorescent lights, and projections of computer screens and internet chat rooms (by 59 Productions), is certainly not cheap looking (as was Yeargan’s set for one of the Met’s few other premiere’s in recent decades, John Harbison’s The Great Gatsby). Care and money had clearly gone into this production.
*+-“So we beat on, boats against the currents, borne back ceaselessly into the past.” Nick Carraway’s concluding insight in The Great Gatsby is one of the great closing sentences in literature, and one of the great images of our human helplessness to escape the past. It’s also the line that ends John Harbison’s Gatsby opera, which—13 years after its premiere at the Metropolitan Opera—just had its first complete Boston performance, in a concert version produced by Emmanuel Music (the musical organization Harbison co-founded in 1970 with Craig Smith at Boston’s Emmanuel Church, mainly to play all of Bach’s cantatas as part of every Sunday’s liturgy). Harbison is now Principal Guest Conductor at Emmanuel, which has long been associated with his music, including the very first public performance, in 1997, of the first two scenes from The Great Gatsby.
*+-Parsifal Richard Wagner, libretto and music Metropolitan Opera Production – François Girard Set Designer – Michael Levine Costume Designer – Thibault Vancraenenbroeck Lighting Designer – David Finn Video Designer – Peter Flaherty Choreographer – Carolyn Choa Dramaturg – Serge Lamothe Cast: Kundry – Katarina Dalayman Parsifal – Jonas Kaufmann Amfortas – Peter Mattei Klingsor – […]
*+-Vivica Genaux has recently appeared in a George London Foundation recital at the Morgan Library, and Vivaldi’s opera Ercole has recently been released in a superb recording by EMI with Europa Galante led by Fabio Biondi, in which she sings the part of Antiope. This is the third and final part of an interview held on December 13, 2011.
MM I remember when I heard you in Paris in L’Italiana in Algeri—and I have to apologise that I never got a review out for that performance, which was great—but you were having some trouble at the time (At least it was announced in the house.), and all one noticed in the performance was that you were a little quiet for part of an act, and then you were right back into it.
*+-Even if the performance had not been as great as it was, we both, as newcomers to Khovanshchina, would have left the Met in a state of uncritical awe. Mussorgsky’s historical tragedy, although the composer left it unorchestrated and unfinished at his early death, leaving a great deal of work for others, including Rimsky-Korsakov, Ravel, Stravinsky, and Shostakovich in their separate efforts, has all the potency the greatest music and the most powerful human drama can lend it—all within a setting of the grandest spectacle. As the Met presented it earlier this month, its four and a half hours sped by, as we followed the hopeless and ultimately disastrous adventures of key players of various factions in the unstable years of Peter the Great’s minority. Even Mussorgsky’s finished opera, his acknowledged masterpiece, Boris Godunov, does not leave us with such an overwhelmingly cathartic effect as the inexorable succession of assassinations, executions, and suicides with which Khovanshchina concludes. Mussorgsky, who wrote the libretto as well as the music, seems to have captured the tragic essence of history in it. There was a specific reason why the final effect of the Met performance was so moving, but to explain it, a little background is in order.