James Levine Withdraws from Met Conducting Assignments Through the End of Next Season

The Metropolitan Opera has released the following announcement, which comes as no surprise. What struck me above all is that Fabio Luisi was not able to conduct the last two performances of Siegfried and Götterdämmerung on May 9 and May 12 matinee. I very much hope that the responsible parties will consider Jonas Alber for these dates. Former Music Director of the Braunschweig Orchestra, he filled in for Mr. Luisi when he withdrew from his commitment, as Music Director of the Dresden Staatskapelle, to conduct theRing at the Semperoper in Dresden. I had the good fortune to attend Mr. Albers’ second performance of Das Rheingold and this only performance of Götterdämmerung. This he conducted without rehearsal, and it was nonetheless superb. The Rheingold was the most compelling I have heard in live performance. He was in fact invited to conduct these performances at the behest of the members of the Staatskapelle, who were delighted with his work in their first Rheingold. Albers’ approach to Wagner is grounded in his enthusiasm for 20th century and contemporary music. Textures were transparent and full of finely-wrought detail. See my review of the Dresden Ring for more. I know Mr. Alber is interested in conducting in the U. S., and American audiences should have the opportunity to hear the work of this extraordinary conductor.

Live in HD? Donizetti’s Anna Bolena from the Met in Pixels

The audience poured out of the auditorium, through the lobby, and out into the parking lots with such a happy general purring that it seemed villainous to criticize the brave new entertainment Peter Gelb has brought the world. For almost five years now we have been able to watch High Definition video projections of performances at the Metropolitan Opera in movie theaters and auditoriums like the one at the Clark Art Institute, which I had just vacated. HD Live, as it’s called, has become a hit in most places, I hear—certainly in Great Barrington and Williamstown, where I’ve seen them, mingling with a dense, enthusiastic, mostly mature crowd. It’s often harder to get a ticket to one of these projections than it is to get a seat at Met itself.

What could be more commendable than creating a show that provides so much enjoyment? It brings opera to a vast global audience at reasonable prices, and at various times in the past half-century many have feared opera was in danger of dying out altogether, either from the expense of production and operation or the sheer irrelevance of its elitist origins. The Met opera broadcasts, which began in the early 1930s, changed many lives and, in synergy with the Metropolitan Opera Guild and Opera News, helped raise significant sums of money for the Met during the Great Depression, when the house desperately needed funds and people needed cheap entertainment. Are the times not similar today? The broadcasts only created more opera-lovers, and what possible harm could they do? (Actually I know of one example, but I’ll leave that for another time.) Wouldn’t the HD transmissions, with their spectacular images and vivid sound bring even more good into the world?

Changes and Passages

As sundry acts of God and man are manifested, unexpected changes, substitutions, and permanent transitions abound.

I can’t resist beginning on a happy note: The Berkshire Review for the Arts has exceeded 1,000,000 hits in a month. The numbers game is not our priority here at The Review, but a million is a significant and symbolic number in the esoteric world of Internet traffic statistics.

The Nose, Metropolitan Opera, NYC

In this production, though, a Metropolitan Opera premiere conducted by Valery Gergiev, the main attraction is the design by South African artist William Kentridge. It is a vibrant environment of projected stop-motion animation, graphic odds and ends, charcoal sketches, streaks of red and black, snippets of vintage newspaper and encyclopedia, agitprop slogans in a kitschy font. The dynamic projections, evoking the modernist, avant-garde style of Soviet artists of the 1920s and 30s, take on a mischievous life of their own. At their busiest, eye-candy elements shift and dissemble and transform in mesmerizing ways.

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