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Netrebko, Putin, Eugene Onegin and Lincoln Center

The Metropolitan Opera Opens Its Season

By: Susan Hall - 09/28/2013

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Anna Netrebko Sings the Letter Song
Anna Netrebko Sings the Letter Song

Jed Bernstein does not move from the Broadway League to succeed Reynold Levy at Lincoln Center until January, but already Lincoln Center tickets are selling on Theater Mania and the push has begun to make the 50,000,000 tourists who come to New York every year add Lincoln Center as a must-see occasion.   The Lincoln Center complex is a dinosaur, and most venues are having trouble attracting audiences. The wealthy patrons who support the Lincoln Center institutions are not going to let it fail, even if it takes unknowing out-of-towners to keep the place alive. 

Alan Gilbert at the Philharmonic knows what he is doing and has been able to attract the young New Yorkers classical music wants as an audience.  If he gets a boost from the tourist trade, the more power to him. He still conducts in a hall where the acoustics are atrocious, even though the Plaza has a splendid new fountain and cosmetic touchups are around every corner. 

Over at the Met, Peter Gelb continues to display his survival skills, even though he may have no others.  Ambassador Nicholas Taubman, who is extremely popular in Romania where he brought US business to the country, has always wanted to give a couple of million dollars to the Met. The usual suspects for funding new productions are wary after surveying Gelb’s track record. Taubman, however, jumped in to finance the new production of Eugene Onegin. Its predecessor was more interesting. Yet Tom Pye’s placement of the story in interiors enhances Tchaikovsky’s music, which is internalized. Although now the serfs enter the house, which never would have happened in Czarist Russia. The intensity of the musical and dramatic arc satisfies.

Anna Netrebko opened the Met’s season for the third year in a row.  Although she has a lovely, rich tone, she cannot sing on pitch unless she has the help of wonderful partners like Pietr Beczala and Mariusz Kwiecien. With all the mystery surrounding the final weeks of rehearsal, and appearing and disappearing directors, no one is saying out loud what one preemininent directors of opera does:  Netrebko is much too self involved to be a dramatic singer.  She can flounce and is often fun to watch in comedy.  Although Leontyne Price did not look the part of Tatiana, she was far superior in the role.

Gergiev’s risk taking and the musical results were striking. Yet the production traveled in too many directions at any given moment.

It was sold out on Thursday and the full house did not look like it was papered.  Is the new Broadwayfication of Lincoln Center beginning to rub off on the Met?  No critic who can be trusted gave more than a tepid review.  Of course, there are the New York Russian operagoers who love opera, their native music, and performers.

Netrebko and Gergiev are both supporters of Vladimir Putin who pushes an anti-gay policy. Gay protesters gathered outside and inside the house on opening night. Gelb donned a pair of rainbow suspenders to show his support for the movement, but explained in a program insert that this debate did not belong in an opera house. 

Opera is a favored by the gay community. James Jorden’s Parterre Box appeals to operagoers around the world, even its rich doyennes. Why? Because there is such a depth of knowledge and passion displayed by his gay readers. If productions at the Met were more reliable, if someone were GM who knew something about opera, or at least admitted he did not, and then rounded up talented support, the Met might have a base that really keeps opera live at New York. In the meanwhile, tourists will go to the Met to check it off on their bucket lists. They don’t really care what they see, so a production like Onegin does not have to be first-rate. 

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