Saturday, March 15, 2008

Some Thoughts

The first of November, 1962, I attended the season primaof Don Giovanni at the old Met with Maazel conducting.It was the evening Eleanor Steber showed the world she could nolonger sing Donna Anna. I thought at the time, and still think,that it was an entirely unnecessary calamity, and that Metmanagement abrogated its responsibility by letting her go onin Act II. It had been very clear throughout Act I that she was inunusually poor form. She looked terrible; the voice was forced,the top notes raw and shrill; trouble was everywhere evident.In the masked trio her B-flats were not reached, and theOr sai had been horribly labored and shrill. Seeing a comment last night from someone asking "why didVoigt go on in Act II Tristan when she was in obvious distress?,"I was reminded of that eternal question. Singers themselvesare rarely objective about how they sound; that old point hasbeen made countless times. But with the Met Tristan it comesup again, as it did earlier in the season with Norma. For all the marketing brilliance and the lauded promotionalefforts of Intendant Gelb, it seems time for a firmer artistichand to take hold at the Met to strengthen casting andestablish solid depth in covers. The way usually employedto achieve this on covers is to hire two first rank singers,and divide performances between them, each coveringthe other. How long has it been since the Met did that? For example, with Brewer and Voigt both announcedfor Isolde, and covering each other, with Heppner fallingout, he could have been backed by Moser and Forbis(tenors who have succeeded with Tristan within thepast few seasons), already engaged to sing some Tristans;it's done all the time outside the Met, and there would havebeen no disruption. I could with a little thought name threeor four other tenors who have proven records as Tristanin recent seasons -- it's not as if there are none! But -- opera is not really a rational business, is it. IfI had to pin the blame on anyone for recent artistic lapsesat the Met (there have been quite a few), it would haveto be Levine, whose attention is too widely spread betweenBoston and NY, and who tends to play his favorites whetherthey are up to the game or not. Wonder what MercedesBass thinks of all this?JIM/santa fe

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