The Rosenberg Case again. And the Met reopens.
My previous blog entry, on music critic Donald Rosenberg's virtual demotion by Cleveland's Plain Dealer (he is no longer allowed to cover performances by the Cleveland Orchestra -- the city's only internationally celebrated classical music ensemble), provoked several interesting comments, including one from Gary Hanson, the orchestra's executive director. Hanson reports that the orchestra's administration never exerted pressure on the newspaper's staff to muzzle Rosenberg, whose reviews of the interpretations of Franz Welser-Moest, the orchestra's music director since 2002, have often been negative. His statement sends the ball swiftly into the Plain Dealer's court. How could such an anomalous decision -- one that is so embarrassing to the newspaper -- have been made, and by whom, and why? It is clear that the newspaper's editors do not consider Rosenberg to be incompetent: were that the case, they would find a way of letting him go completely rather than simply removing him from the orchestra beat, and they would be acting properly in invoking the right to refrain from explaining their decision. But they surely they know that Rosenberg is not only respected by his colleagues but is also the author of the most comprehensive history of the Cleveland Orchestra ever published. Under the present circumstances, invoking the right to not explain themselves makes them look like two-bit opinion censors.
I apologize to commenter (and friend) David Kettler for my ill-advised, smart-alecky reference to the Rosenberg execution. To commenter H. C. Yourow: I believe that if you look up any of Rosenberg's Plain Dealer articles you will find his email address. (Try www.cleveland.com and take it from there.) And with "Claveciniste du feu" I would politely debate the opinion that "conducting symphonic concerts requires a different level of emotional commitment between the conductor and the players" than conducting opera demands. Some conductors may be better in the pit than on the concert platform, or vice-versa, but the ideal level of commitment is always As High As Possible.
Speaking of opera..... I don't normally attend opening night galas anywhere because I don't like the atmosphere and because I feel about as comfortable in a tuxedo as I would feel in a clown suit, complete with purple wig and red lightbulb nose. Also, the last such event I attended -- the 2004 re-opening of La Scala after the venerable house had undergone major renovations (I was covering the first night for the New York Times) -- was followed barely a month later by Riccardo Muti's resignation as the ensemble's music director, and I don't want to jinx any other arts organization. Nevertheless, I did attend this week's Metropolitan Opera opening night -- a showcase for soprano Renee Fleming, who has long been and is still a great favorite with American audiences.
The program began with Act II of La traviata, in which Ms. Fleming was partnered by tenor Ramon Vargas, who was in fine voice, and baritone Thomas Hampson, who sounded rough-edged. Before I first heard Ms. Fleming as Violetta, a season or two ago, I had assumed that she would fare better in the first act than in the more intensely dramatic second and third acts. I was precisely wrong: there was some insecurity in Act I during the performance I heard, but better technical control and, I felt, more emotional communication in the rest of the opera. In short, the choice of Act II was a good one, although Franco Zeffirelli's lurid set for the second scene always makes me say to myself that this is how Kitty in the old "Gunsmoke" TV series would have decorated her saloon/brothel if she had had a million bucks at her disposal. Tony Tommasini was right when he commented, in his New York Times review, that conductor James Levine's taut, energetic interpretation of this act reminded him of the 1946 Toscanini recording. (In case anyone is interested: like Toscanini, Levine also cut the tenor and baritone cabalettas and had the violins play the accompanying figures in "De' miei bollenti spiriti" with the bow instead of pizzicato.) Fleming was similarly effective in the third act of Massenet's Manon (so was Vargas) and in the final scene from Strauss's Capriccio, but I confess that my appreciation of both of these operas is severely limited. And the nice thing about a blog entry, as opposed to a real review, is that one is free to comment only on things about which one knows and/or cares a lot.
I can't say that La Gioconda, with its insane plot and sometimes mediocre music, is one of my great loves, either, but the Met's performance of it on Wednesday evening was a vocal feast, at least with respect to the three important female parts. Deborah Voigt in the title role, but especially Olga Borodina as Laura and Ewa Podles as La Cieca, provided one wonderful moment after another. (Voigt seemed to take some time to warm up, and her Italian pronunciation isn't always clean.) Carlo Guelfi (Barnaba) was impressive as both singer and actor; Aquiles Machado (Enzo) sang commendably but has a metallic edge to his voice and is not convincing as a stage presence; and to this listener Orlin Anastassov (Alvise), in his Met debut, seemed barely adequate. The dancing of Letizia Giuliani and Angel Corella in the third-act ballet (the Dance of the Hours, rendered unforgettable in the USA by Walt Disney, not to mention Spike Jones and Doodles Weaver) was absolutely extraordinary. Daniele Callegari conducted serviceably. Margherita Wallmann's old production was restaged on this occasion by Peter McClintock.
AJ BlogsAJBlogCentral | rss
Terry Teachout on the arts in New York City
Andrew Taylor on the business of arts & culture
rock culture approximately
Laura Collins-Hughes on arts, culture and coverage
Richard Kessler on arts education
Douglas McLennan's blog
Dalouge Smith advocates for the Arts
Art from the American Outback
For immediate release: the arts are marketable
No genre is the new genre
David Jays on theatre and dance
Paul Levy measures the Angles
Judith H. Dobrzynski on Culture
John Rockwell on the arts
Jan Herman - arts, media & culture with 'tude
Apollinaire Scherr talks about dance
Tobi Tobias on dance et al...
Howard Mandel's freelance Urban Improvisation
Focus on New Orleans. Jazz and Other Sounds
Doug Ramsey on Jazz and other matters...
Jeff Weinstein's Cultural Mixology
Martha Bayles on Film...
Fresh ideas on building arts communities
Greg Sandow performs a book-in-progress
Exploring Orchestras w/ Henry Fogel
Harvey Sachs on music, and various digressions
Bruce Brubaker on all things Piano
Kyle Gann on music after the fact
Greg Sandow on the future of Classical Music
Norman Lebrecht on Shifting Sound Worlds
Jerome Weeks on Books
Scott McLemee on books, ideas & trash-culture ephemera
Wendy Rosenfield: covering drama, onstage and off
Chloe Veltman on how culture will save the world
Public Art, Public Space
Regina Hackett takes her Art To Go
John Perreault's art diary
Lee Rosenbaum's Cultural Commentary
Tyler Green's modern & contemporary art blog