Friday, May 30, 2014

New York's Opera Season Ends (I)

Metropolitan Opera, Lincoln Center
We New Yorkers are fortunate to have opera year-round,
as some of the smaller opera companies - upon which we are going to depend more and more - perform during the June-September months.

For the most part, though, we tend to attach our opera "season" to the dates of our great Metropolitan Opera Association, usually from the last week of September through early May, and now that's over. Just three weeks ago I attended the final performance of the season, Bellini's grand old showcase "I Puritani" - a splendid performance bringing back very happy memories (more about that later).

I was impressed with Anthony Tommasini's comments on the season, published in The New York Times. On May 13, he wrote in A Look Back at the Year of Top Voices that - with all the worry about next season's performances - we've had a very good year, topped by the return of James Levine (for which we are all extremely grateful) and Peter Gelb's "fresh theatrical thinking" about presenting works for the Met's audience.

And in this essay Mr. Tommasini's focus on the season was on the singing, a point of view with which I couldn't be more in agreement: " takeaway from the season is that, as always, singing comes first in this art form."

So I'm thinking about what we experienced with our Monday series (and some specifically chosen additions). Coming with our pleasures at the opera house were several HDLive performances (which I note the Met has now started to refer to "movie theater transmissions" - sort of a silly description - it seems to me - but I guess their marketing people know what they're doing). By some people's standards, I suppose that's a pretty full plate of opera but since this is one of the major reasons - well, for some of us - for living in New York we're happy to have it, good singing and all.

And there used to be more. The season began with the sad news that our beloved New York City Opera was entering into bankruptcy and would close, after 70 years for performances. Mayor LaGuardia's famous "people's opera" succumbed to a lot of problems but from what most of us have figured out, it was simply bad management over the past ten or twelve years. We were so disappointed to have this news (at our house we had subscribed to NYCO as well) but the company simply couldn't be saved. I hope someone someday will write a full history of this wonderful company. It meant so much to so many of us. [And until then, we have Fred Cohn's very fair description of the sad story, "The Ballad of NYCO" published in Opera News in January 2012 and two months later Alex Ross's brief commentary remarking on NYCO and the dispiriting New York opera scene in The New Yorker, March 12, 2012.]

And we did have the opportunity for a wonderful send-off, right at New York City Center, where the New York City Opera had first performed. Put on by the musician's union (one of the very unions leading - as Tommasini describes with respect to the Met - "critical labor negotiations that have turned acrimonious"), it was a night to remember. Lots of good singers, wonderful orchestral playing, and a sweet ending when during the curtain calls Pl├ícido Domingo - who started at New York City Opera - kissed his hand and leaned down to plant his kiss on the floor of the stage. A bittersweet evening indeed.

That's enough for now. More about this season's opera experiences below.

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