How competent is Mr. Conlon to conduct the Ring as staged music-drama as opposed to orchestral excerpts?and answered it by writing:
Our provisional answer ... is not a happy one. Nothing of what we know of Mr. Conlon's work leads us to believe he's up to the formidable task of conducting a staged Ring with anything more than mere technical excellence. Needless to say, that's not nearly enough, but we're willing to believe that he may rise to the challenge once confronted.As of late this afternoon, we have a less provisional, more definitive answer to the question (or, rather, as definitive an answer as can be gotten from an MP3-quality webcast* of an LAO-approved recording of a single live performance of the LAO's new production of Das Rheingold auditioned over a typically crappy computer sound system). And that answer is that Maestro Conlon's reading displayed a thorough knowledge of the score, which score he conducted with admirable technical excellence, drawing technically flawless performances from both orchestra and singers alike (we were especially impressed by the Los Angeles Opera Orchestra, and most especially by the orchestra's brass section which performed splendidly, and the horns most notably so). But as we previously remarked, that's not nearly enough where a Wagner music-drama is concerned. So, what was amiss with this performance of Das Rheingold? To state it in short: Maestro Conlon's conspicuous lack of an intuitive sense of Wagnerian rhetoric. This performance was polished entirely too smooth throughout. One might even go so far as to say the performance was sedate (or as sedate as a technically excellent performance of this work's music is capable of being); a troubling quality most distressingly apparent in the lynchpin episode of Wotan's theft of Alberich's ring. The question then remains, Can one really fault a conductor merely because he lacks an intuitive sense of Wagnerian rhetoric? The first answer that wants to escape our lips is, Yes, one can when the performance of a Wagner music-drama is being assessed. But when we think back on the technical excellence of this performance which was proof positive the conductor knew the score thoroughly and was able to communicate its requirements to the performers, then we're not at all sure such a conductor should be faulted merely for his lack of what is, after all, a specialized and peculiar gift; one that's essentially innate and can neither be taught nor learned in the ordinary sense of those words, which gift we long ago dubbed metaphorically the "Wagner Gene". It's a question difficult to answer fairly and neatly, and so one must be content to spell things out in one's assessment of such a conductor as we've above done, and leave the reader of that assessment to draw his own conclusions regarding the matter.
* The webcast was by Los Angeles public radio station KUSC, "the largest and most listened-to public radio and non-profit classical music station in the country" which is webcasting recorded live performances of each of the four music dramas of the LAO Ring each Saturday at 1:00 PM (EDT), this Saturday having been the first in the webcast series which series will continue over the next three Saturdays.
We trust the foregoing will forestall any further admonitory e-missives along this line.