Since the appointment of Gérard Mortier as general-director-designate of the New York City Opera was confirmed, I've read an untold number of words from a bevy of classical music critics and reviewers commenting on that appointment and what it bodes for the New York City Opera in particular and opera in New York City in general. But none did it so neatly, so succinctly, or so perfectly as this from classical music critic Martin Bernheimer:
The New York City Opera – relatively poor and historically feisty – languishes forever in the shadow of the mighty Metropolitan. Now it finds itself contemplating a cultural crossroads.
The regime of Paul Kellogg, controversial general-director since 1996, lumbers to a somnolent close in June. His successor, who officially takes over in 2009, is none less than Gérard Mortier, the controversial iconoclast who has inspired blood, sweat and tears – also bravos – in Salzburg and Paris. Conservative New Yorkers may regard the Belgian impresario as a dangerous enfant terrible. Others may hail him as a deus ex machina.
Publicity machines are already grinding in high gear. The New York Times ran an editorial welcoming Mortier as a productive counterforce for Peter Gelb, the mastermind making waves next door at the Met. City Opera officials have blown up the editorial for display out front. A Mortier/Gelb rivalry could be stimulating, especially for aficionados of Schadenfreude.
Mortier has been a prime proponent of experiments that exalt in ignoring, if not contradicting, operatic scores. In Salzburg, for instance, he mustered an ugly and leaden Fledermaus predicated on cocaine nightmares and primitive politics. His admirers call the genre Regietheater. His detractors prefer "Eurotrash".
The City Opera does not enjoy vast subsidies. The chief administrator must assume fundraising duties in addition to aesthetic pursuits. The company concentrates on modest productions employing little-known singers, with a scrappy orchestra and ragged chorus. The State Theater, capacity 2,755, is an ungainly barn designed for ballet. The sound, thanks to Kellogg, is distorted by microphones. Kellogg wanted new quarters; Mortier agreed to stay put. In any case, he stands to inherit and inhabit a brave new world.
Was the above excerpt taken from an article Bernheimer wrote on the matter? No, it was not. The above five grafs were merely a yummy and pitch-perfect-pertinent lead-in not to an article on the Mortier succession, but rather to a review written for the Financial Times of the NYCO's theatrically less than inspired production of Rossini's La Donna del Lago.
Sad to observe, the daily mainstream media ain't growin' classical music critics like that anymore. Face it and weep.
O tempora! O mores!