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TV’s “SundayArts”: The Philippe Show Presents…the Philippe Show

Gerard Mortier, subject of yesterday’s “SundayArts” profile that was overtaken by events

Metropolitan Museum director Philippe de Montebello‘s first outing as a TV host, on New York Public Television‘s (WNET‘s) SundayArts program yesterday, turned out to be an extended infomercial for his institution, with a focus on its current exhibition, The Philippe de Montebello Years. He highlighted his cherished 2004 acquisition, Duccio‘s “Madonna and Child.”

It was another edifying explication from the Philippe we know and love. But what will be really interesting is seeing what happens if he ventures out of his comfort zone. Will he leave 1000 Fifth Avenue to give us insights and appraisals concerning objects and exhibitions at other institutions? Qui vivra verra.

But wait! Stop the video! Can’t a program that purports to be a news show (even if that news is “merely” cultural) manage to substitute a different segment for one that’s been completely overtaken by events? Unfortunately, Philippe’s debut occurred on an installment of SundayArts that included a major gaffe.

De Montebello’s Met tour was followed by a “feature profile,” introduced by co-host Paula Zahn, of Gerard Mortier, described as “the new general manager and artistic director of the New York City Opera, who will take up residence at the start of the 2009 season.”

Not any more: As Daniel Wakin reported in Friday’s NY Times (Dan had a very busy day), Mortier announced that he had decided to leave before he started. He complained that the company couldn’t give him the money he needed to realize his vision.

In the pre-recorded segment, he spoke of “always reject[ing] what was done before me,” and “rejecting the hypocrisy of a bourgeois world” (as long has he has the money to realize his non-bourgeois vision, it would seem). He even rejected his would-have-been counterpart at the Metropolitan Opera:

Where I have a completely different opinion from my colleague Peter Gelb…is that I never would think of bringing people to the cinema to discover opera. It’s completely wrong. The importance of opera is that, as public, you feel the stage people singing, so you feel your reaction will have a consequence on the singer.

Whatever people think of Gelb’s other innovations at the Met, his Live in HD initiative, begun almost two years ago and extended to a large number of theaters here and abroad, has been a tremendous hit and an almost universally acclaimed outreach program.

Maybe Gerard just wasn’t right for City Opera. Judge for yourself. You can see the complete (outdated) Mortier profile here. But at this writing, I couldn’t find a Philippe video on the SundayArts website.

an ArtsJournal blog