The major news from Boston was the ascendancy of Andris Nelsons, firming up his place as music director of the Boston Symphony Orchestra, which included a quickly agreed upon three-year extension of his contract into the 2020-2021 season. This announcement was soon followed by the less happy surprise for Bostonians of Nelsons also accepting an offer from the eminent Leipzig Gewandhaus, the orchestra whose music director was once no less than Felix Mendelssohn, to take on that very position, beginning in the 2017-2018 season, thus dividing the loyalties of the young maestro (who just turned 37), though evidently with the possibility of collaborations between the two orchestras. (Remember when some people were complaining about James Levine dividing his time between the BSO and the Metropolitan Opera?)
I need more than two hands to count the number of operas I’ve attended in Boston so far this year. Two productions by the Boston Lyric Opera, our leading company; nine (four fully staged) by our newest company, Odyssey Opera; a brilliant concert version by the BSO of Szymanowski’s disturbing and mesmerizing King Roger; all three of Monteverdi’s surviving operas presented by the Boston Early Music Festival, performed in repertory for possibly the very first time; a rarely produced Mozart masterpiece, Die Entführung aus dem Serail, in a solid and often eloquently sung concert version by Emmanuel Music; the world premiere of Crossing, 25-year-old Matthew Aucoin’s one-act opera about Whitman in the Civil War, presented by A.R.T.; and the first local production of Hulak-Artemovsky’s Cossack Beyond the Danube, the Ukrainian national opera, by Commonwealth Lyric Theatre (imaginatively staged and magnificently sung). Not to mention several smaller production I couldn’t actually get to—including an adventurous new work, Per Bloland’s Pedr Solis, by the heroic Guerrilla Opera, which I got to watch only on-line, and Boston Opera Collaborative’s Ned Rorem Our Town (music I’m not crazy about, but friends I trust liked the production).
A lot of opera! But how full is the cup?
In the wake of Opera Boston’s sad demise, the appointment of Gil Rose, who had led the company so brilliantly, as Artistic Director of the Monadnock Music came as cheering news. With the 2012 summer season beginning, we can look forward to the fruits of the board’s wise decision. The summer schedule is an eclectic masterpiece which accurately reflects the taste of the more sophisticated music-lover of today, especially in Boston. In comparison, other festival programs seem stodgy. Its mix of modern, contemporary, classical and opera continues the tradition established by James Bolle, who is primarily a composer himself, extended by a few programs of baroque music on period instruments, a significant strain in contemporary performance.
When lamenting the fall of Opera Boston, one thing I never doubted was that the company’s Artistic Director, Gil Rose, would find an equivalent, if not better gig soon enough, but I didn’t expect it to come so soon. The Board of Directors of Monadnock Music has named Gil Rose as their new Artistic Director. In that capacity, he will be responsible for season programming, engaging artists, conducting on occasion, and helping to design and oversee education and outreach programs, among other duties. While this is a happy outcome for Monadnock Music, which has had its share of administrative upheavals since the retirement of its founder James Bolle in 2008, the fate of Opera Boston remains a tragic event in the city’s musical history. Boston wants and needs opera, and Opera Boston was ideally suited to her sophisticated tastes. On the other hand Mr. Bolle is highly-regarded as an opera composer, and opera has been a component of Monadnock’s summer schedule in the past. Gil Rose’s appointment may be a propitious sign for its return.
Opera Boston board chair Winifred P. Gray and board president Gregory E. Bulger have issued a statement that Opera Boston faces “an insurmountable budget deficit” of $500,000 and will cease operations on Jan. 1, 2012.
The announcement cited “lackluster fundraising in a tough economic climate” as the main reason for the closure. The staff was notified yesterday.
“The Board realizes that this development will come as a shock to the Boston arts community, and it is not a decision we made lightly,” Gray said in this morning’s statement. “The Company has had many artistic triumphs in its recent history, and has many fans. However, as the end of the year approaches, we find ourselves in a financially untenable situation, and the responsible thing is to work with our creditors and cease operations.”
Shakespeare’s Much Ado About Nothing centers on Hero and Claudio, two young lovers who are thrown into disarray by a villain who leads Claudio to believe that Hero has betrayed him. There is a lot of marvelous business with the local constable, Dogberry, and his friends, who disrupt the villain and save the day. And then there is a parallel lovers’ story involving Beatrice and Benedict, two highly clever people who like to spar with each other, seeming to hate each other, and yet are eventually brought to realize that they like each other tremendously and wish to be together. The brilliant dialogue of this pair and the course of their development crucially influenced Jane Austen in her depiction of Elizabeth and Darcy in Pride and Prejudice, and her depiction of other prickly remarkable couples who are really meant for each other, and such depictions in later fiction and drama, including classic Hollywood films such as The Philadelphia Story, His Girl Friday, and The Awful Truth (Cary Grant in every case, plus Katharine Hepburn, Rosalind Russell, and Irene Dunne, respectively).
The Boston musical season is now rolling along, with almost too many good things occurring to keep up with. The best news, and a great relief, has been the return of music director James Levine to the Boston Symphony Orchestra after many months off for back surgery and recuperation. Levine looks older, with more loose flesh around the face, and he walks onstage and off carefully with a cane (though at moments he just rests it on his shoulder and goes securely on). He seems to feel good, and once seated and starting to conduct shows great animation and involvement, indeed passionate involvement, in the work at hand. He has the orchestra playing spectacularly. He has really taken them beyond themselves, and they know it and seem to feel proud of it, as they should.
Among the many things I admire about Opera Boston is the consistency of their priorities. A great deal of care and expense goes into casting vocally and dramatically excellent singers appropriate for their roles. Music Director Gil Rose maintains a strong orchestra, and he is an impressive musician and conductor in his own right. Budgetary restrictions are more apparent in sets and costumes—this in turn touches the stage direction as a whole. In last year’s season, for example, the first act of Der Freischütz was perfectly viable, while the Wolf’s Glen scene was pretty much a shambles, a seemingly a desperate attempt to make the most of inadequate resources with precious gimmicks. Opera Boston’s production last spring of Shostakovich’s The Nose was more successful: brilliant stage and costume design and brilliant direction were noticeably, but acceptably compromised by budget limitations. As impressive as the intelligent programming and musical results are, a hint of well-intentioned “making do” remains in the physical production, and that was painfully apparent in Opera Boston’s recent production of Rossini’s youthful opera seria, Tancredi.