Monday, May 01, 2006


View from the Chorus

While NY Times readers were getting their update on the Metropolitan Opera's Joseph Volpe-Peter Gelb transition on Page One of this Sunday's Arts & Leisure section (perused by subscribers on Saturday), I was getting the inside gossip from a longtime member of the chorus. Resting between Lohengrin and Tosca, she happened to be dining at the table next to ours in Bistro Cassis, a thronged pre-theater eatery (excellent duck).

We struck up a candid conversation, and in her own best interests, I'll protect her anonymity (even though she gave me her business card after I asked her name and informed her that I was an arts writer). Let's just say that she raised her well-trained voice in strong support of the impending change in the general managership, and she firmly believes that artistic director James Levine would join the chorus in that refrain. In suggesting that Volpe has at least as many detractors as admirers, the Times got it right.

I observed to her that I attended the Met a lot less than usual this year, because there's so little of Levine (spread thin between the Met and the Boston Symphony) and so many no-name conductors. The chorus's sentiments exactly, she agreed. (There's even less of Levine than was planned, as he recovers from rotator-cuff surgery.)

But she unleashed her most full-throated criticism at Valery Gergiev, whose work I had admired as the one consistently satisfying element in the bizarrely staged Tchaikovsky rarity, "Mazeppa," on March 25

"You don't conduct like this," my confidante declared, loosely wiggling her fingers up and down, in mockery of Gergiev's minimalist style. She indicated that he's hard to follow, and that some orchestra members had declined to work with him.

That chorus member and this audience member, alike, are eagerly awaiting the arrival of Riccardo Muti in the Met's pit. The overture to "La Forza del Destino," his brilliant encore March 4 at Carnegie Hall with the Vienna Philharmonic, outshown everything on the printed program and promised us the grandest of Grand Opera when he arrives at Lincoln Center. La Scala's loss, our gain!

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