[T]he injection of a mild strain of Regietheater [in opera stagings in American opera houses] ... is a healthy development because it forces American audiences to see opera as something other than a nostalgia trip. [...] [I]t's because we endlessly repeat the same old pieces that we feel the need to reinvent them in ever more drastic fashion.Yes, well, certainly an interesting view of the matter. Consider, however, that by that same sort of reasoning it might be "a healthy development" if American symphony orchestras did away with repeating year after year performances of, say, those same old Beethoven symphonies the way Beethoven wrote them and instead reinvent them just a bit by injecting some orchestration or other that never occurred to Herr Beethoven such as, say, kazoos in place of bassoons; or, say, slide whistles in place of flutes; or, say, musical saws in place of violas. After all, if that were done, American audiences would surely be forced to see those symphonies as something other than nostalgia trips. Yes indeed. They most assuredly would.
For the past five years, the New York Times Magazine has offered an end-of-year feature called "The Music They Made" — an audio collage of musicians who died that year. [...] [W]ith the exception of David Mason, the trumpeter who played on "Penny Lane," no Western classical musician has appeared in these compilations. The omission is particularly maddening this year, since we lost two gigantic figures: Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau and Elliott Carter. Almost every other genre has been represented at one time or another....We might point out to Mr. Ross that Western classical musicians have no place in such a compilation and would, in fact, be made to appear ridiculous by their inclusion. They require a completely separate compilation of their own and it's shameful, especially considering the publication, that no such compilation exists there. However, Mr. Ross's complaint that an annual compilation by the same publication called "The Lives They Lived" is also absent any Western classical musicians is a thoroughly justified one and the New York Times Magazine should feel doubly shamed by the omission.
[S]ome directors are deliberately trying to stage an opera in a way that is at odds with the music. They don't want you absorbed in the story, they want you to actively question the work. [...] I simply cannot agree that directors should abandon attempts to apply their ideas and concepts to a work. That is the creative soul of the occupation.To which we responded (here reprinted with language somewhat polished):
No, that is the "creative soul of the occupation" of a Eurotrash/Brechtian Regie, not that of an honest opera director. The "creative soul of the occupation" of an honest opera director resides in his attempt to discover, to the utmost capacity of his gift, the most vivid and compelling way to realize onstage the full sense and spirit of the opera creator's concept and vision as made manifest in the score (music, text, and stage directions). Attempting anything beyond that involves the opera director operating within territory he has no business even so much as stepping foot into much less messing about with.And so ought it to be in saecula saeculorum.
But Leontyne Price says never sing on principal, only on interest. So difficult to keep up with all these pearls of wisdom from great thinkers whose qualification to theorize on the nature of art consists mostly of the ability to make a pretty noise in the throat.To which we responded:
You mean as opposed to all those pearls of wisdom from great thinkers whose qualification to theorize on the nature of art consists mostly of their desperate, urgent need to justify and make acceptable their parasitic hijacking of the original works of others, or the theorizing of those great thinkers whose qualification to theorize on the nature of an artform consists of a view of that artform that's long been jaded by their having been obsessive-compulsively addicted to that artform for reasons other than art? I of course dismiss the theorizing of academic types as their theorizing on an artform is provoked and corrupted by things external to art and is therefore ipso facto worthless.Usual Suspect's immediately following sally attempted the less snarky, more sober approach, managing only to dig himself into an even deeper hole:
I see nothing particularly brave in what Beczala said. Essentially he states he will refuse to work with "crazy" directors who try to "reinvent" the opera without bothering to define what constitutes either craziness or reinvention.... I would call it brave, for example, if Beczala had named names, said, "I worked with Fritz Krank in Graz on a terrible 'Traviata' in which I had to sing my cabaletta nude in a children's swimming pool filled with Jello." But he offers neither names nor concrete examples of what he considers "crazy." (What he says about a crocodile in "Lohengrin" is hypothetical and therefore pointless....)To which we responded:
Since when does being hypothetical equate with being pointless? And in the case of Lohengrin, Beczala's hypothetical crocodile is perfectly on point given the recent infamous Bayreuth Eurotrash Lohengrin — the so-called "Rat" Lohengrin — with its army of rat-costumed Brabantians complete with tails. In any case, the man is setting forth a principle and his stated rejection of any staging of Lohengrin — actual or hypothetical — in which a crocodile takes the place of the swan illustrates that principle in a way perfectly comprehensible to all — to all, that is, other than cheerleaders for and staunch fans and defenders of that malignancy known as Eurotrash (i.e., Konzept) Regietheater.We await (but do not expect) any further argument. Stay tuned.
As I have often said and sometimes written, the history of art extends from Anonymous to Untitled, from when only the work mattered to where only the name in the signature does. What reminds me of this is a reproduction in The New York Times (10/16/12) of an untitled painting by Franz Kline, which, at the forthcoming auction, “is expected to bring $20 million to $30 million” and make me sick to my stomach. I recall a time, long ago, when Kline yelled at me at a party, “You are full of shit!”, and I replied, “Maybe, but at least I don’t smear it on canvas and peddle it as art.” Art today is the result of a tacit conspiracy among artists, art historians, art critics, art dealers, nabobs who don’t know what to do with their money, and all the people who don’t know anything about art. And why shouldn’t it fetch that much when the article about the Kline painting notes that one by Clyfford Still, resonantly entitled “1949-A-No. 1” went for $61.7 million? Even Clyfford with a Y should raise a cautionary eyebrow.Read the full text here.
1: The heirs of Francis Poulenc are nun too pleased with Dmitri Tcherniakov's 2010 production of Dialogues des carmélites. They've taken the Bavarian State Opera to court, alleging the concept, in particular the final scene, misrepresents the 1957 opera. 2: Simon Stone, the resident director of Belvoir St. Theatre, an Australian company, jumped head first into a pail of boiling oil when he took it upon himself to rewrite [Arthur Miller's] Death of a Salesman. Not only did he cut the play's epilogue, but he altered the manner in which Willy Loman, Arthur Miller's protagonist, meets his death. In the original play, Willy dies in a car crash that may or may not have been intentional; in Mr. Stone's staging, he commits suicide by gassing himself. On top of that, Belvoir neglected to inform ICM Partners, the agency that represents Mr. Miller's estate and licenses his plays for production throughout the world, that Mr. Stone was altering the script. [...] No sooner did ICM get wind of the changes than Belvoir was informed that if the company didn't perform Death of a Salesman in its entirety — complete with epilogue — the production would be shut down....Things may be looking up on the staging front — finally.
James Levine, the Metropolitan Opera’s Music Director, will return to conducting on May 19, 2013 with the MET Orchestra at Carnegie Hall. He will then lead three operas in the Met’s 2013-14 season, including a new production of Verdi’s Falstaff and revivals of Mozart’s Così fan tutte and Berg’s Wozzeck. He will also conduct all three Carnegie Hall concerts that season.Oh that it not prove a false (or over-optimistic) alert! Read the full text here.
If the accuracy of this report by Norman Lebrecht can be trusted (a not always safe assumption), The New York Times reassigned the wrong man.It was our way of letting our readers know that we had no corroboration of any of Mr. Lebrecht's report and were aware that taking at face value all the details included in Mr. Lebrecht's reporting of such news stories is generally not, um, shall we say, an entirely prudent thing to do. In his blog item, Mr. Lebrecht had some quite nasty things to say about the Times's Classical Music Editor James R. Oestreich and in the ensuing comments section of that item (which at present numbers some 141 comments) one commenter suggested that Mr. Lebrecht's nastiness toward Mr. Oestreich might have something to do with Mr. Oestreich's New York Times book review of Mr. Lebrecht's latest book, Why Mahler?: How One Man and Ten Symphonies Changed Our World, in which review Mr. Oestreich gave the book a bit of a drubbing. Mr. Lebrecht responded to the commenter's suggestion by saying he (Norman Lebrecht) was unaware of the review and then altered his response to say, "Never saw it… won’t bother now." Another commenter responded with the link to the review whereupon Mr. Lebrecht deleted both the comment providing the link and the original comment suggesting that Mr. Lebrecht's nastiness toward Mr. Oestreich might be due the latter's uncomplimentary review of Mr. Lebrecht's book. All of this within the space of some ten minutes or so. We were able to see it all only because we'd subscribed to eMail notification of all comments for that item which eMail is sent automatically by the software the instant a comment is made public. (Ironically, Mr. Lebrecht neglected to delete his own laconic response to the original comment which response is, at this writing, still extant and just sitting there all by its lonesome, disconnected from everything and making no sense whatsoever.) We must confess we found this whole business on Mr. Lebrecht's part quite dismaying. His deleting of the two comments was dishonest enough, but his declaration that he was ignorant of or never saw The New York Times's review of his new book strains credibility well past the breaking point. We'd long been aware of Mr. Lebrecht's, um, playing loose with facts but had never suspected him of outright dishonesty. And just why are we troubling to relate this sordid business here? Because it's prelude to what followed in that same comments thread which involved our good self and which we want to make a matter of record here on S&F just in case the involved comments should one day, um, mysteriously no longer display in that comments thread. One of the commenters in that comments thread was one William Osborne; a True Believer of the PC sort and a man with an agenda. We'd run into Mr. Osborne some four years earlier in another comments thread on another website and had exchanged some few comments with him having to do with the Vienna Philharmonic's practice of denying membership in the orchestra to females and non-White males. Mr. Osborne was on a crusade to bring a halt to this "bigoted and racist" practice, as he called it, and we took the position — one which we still hold today — that the Vienna Philharmonic, a private organization, is entitled to deny membership to anyone it pleases for whatever reason, stupid and self-defeating though that reason may be. This of course fairly incensed Mr. Osborne who promptly labeled us a bigot and racist for our view of the matter. In the present comments thread on Mr. Lebrecht's blog, we read the following comment from Mr. Osborne in response to a comment by another commenter wherein the commenter had written, among other negative things about Mr. Oestreich, "Mr Oestreich has annoyed so many people with his bile-rich reviews":
Very good observations, and they also apply well to the review of Norman’s book that was mentioned. One senses his [James R. Oestreich's] personal resentments in the commentary. We might also remember that Oestreich is an apologist for the Vienna Philharmonic. He has written articles defending the orchestra and rationalizing its sexism and racism. It is one thing to appreciate the orchestra’s music-making, but another to dismiss its bigotry and treat it as a non-topic. I think many are looking forward to the sea change that will come when he leaves the Times.Our jaw dropped on reading this. What could Mr. Oestreich being "an apologist for the Vienna Philharmonic" possibly have to do with the business to hand? Not a damn thing that we could see, and so we responded:
Still riding that same old, stillborn hobbyhorse regarding the Vienna Philharmonic, I see. Time to dismount and move on.To which Mr. Osborne replied:
In earlier discussions in other forums, Mr. Douglas has gone on record saying that the Vienna Philharmonic/Vienna State Opera Orchestra is entitled to exclude both women and racial minorities.To which we replied:
And up to your same old tricks again, I see. You know very well that the last time you tried to sneak the Vienna State Opera Orchestra into the Vienna Philharmonic question you were roundly and soundly called out for the underhanded attempt as you're perfectly aware they're two entirely separate organizations — one public, one private — regardless that the same personnel occupy both.That comment never saw the light of day because it was deleted instantly by Mr. Lebrecht before it was made public. Although we were unaware of it at the time, we shortly thereafter learned that not only does Mr. Lebrecht hold the same view as Mr. Osborne regarding the Vienna Philharmonic in this matter but had even promoted and linked to Mr. Osborne's crusade against the orchestra. When we discovered our comment had been deleted, we shot off another comment addressed directly to Mr. Lebrecht and for his eyes only (he moderates all comments posted to his blog so we knew he would see it and know it was not for publication) which read:
Mr. Lebrecht: I see you declined to publish my response to William Osborne's subtle lie about me (I'm nowhere on record or off as saying "the Vienna State Opera Orchestra is entitled to exclude both women and racial minorities" as he invidiously suggested). It's not the first time he's done that, usually following it by declaring me a racist and bigot, his favorite response to those who disagree with his position on the Vienna Philharmonic. I realize this thread is no place to have this business out, but having let stand Mr. Osborne's subtle lie, you owe me at least a response to it.In response to which Mr. Lebrecht, instead of asking us to resubmit the comment he deleted, extracted from our above protest the single sentence, "I’m nowhere on record or off as saying 'the Vienna State Opera Orchestra is entitled to exclude both women and racial minorities' as Mr Osborne invidiously suggested. ACD," and without explanation or editor's note published that as OUR response to Mr. Osborne. Mr. Osborne, being ignorant of these machinations and innocently taking what Mr. Lebrecht had published under our name at face value, replied:
Notice that Mr. Douglas only mentions the Vienna State Opera Orchestra as not entitled to exclude women and racial minorities. He conspicuously does not mention the Vienna Philharmonic. His claim has been that since the Vienna Philharmonic is a “private” organization, it can exclude whoever it wants. It is important to remember that the State Opera Orchestra and the Vienna Philharmonic are the same orchestra and use the same personnel. The members of the opera orchestra just run the Vienna Philharmonic on the side as a nominally “private” organization. If the Philharmonic excludes people based on race and gender, so does the State Opera Orchestra. So Mr. Douglas, if you have changed your stance and no longer feel the Vienna Philharmonic is entitled to exclude people based on race and gender, please let us know.To which we responded:
Mr. Lebrecht will not permit me to respond to any of your posts on this matter. He deleted my original response to your prior post, and when I protested, he extracted a single sentence from my protest and published it above as my response to you. It’s pointless for me to attempt to continue to post here as even if this post gets through, which is extremely doubtful, Mr. Lebrecht will delete or edit any replies I make to your subtly false and invidious charges. I may be blocked from replying here, but you may be certain I’ll be posting the entire dishonest history of this exchange and more on the dishonesty of Mr. Lebrecht on Sounds & Fury (my blog) which is read by most if not all who read this blog.(We here freely confess we were being somewhat disingenuous in our above by saying that it's "extremely doubtful" our above comment would "get through." We knew for certain it would because of the threat of its last sentence. Mr. Lebrecht may be dishonest, but he's not stupid.) Mr. Lebrecht replied to our above with the laconic and dishonest comment:
This site operates a non-abuse policy. ACD’s replies were deleted or redacted on those grounds.It would appear Mr. Lebrecht considers a true recounting of inconvenient fact to be abusive and so felt compelled to delete our response to Mr. Osborne. And so endeth the ugly tale. As previously noted, all the above just for the record.
Next month marks the centenary of the birth of the conductor, musician, visionary, jester, husband and father who bore witness to, and embodies, his time, the core of the 20th century, and whose genius — a word too liberally used nowadays — not only towered over the music-making of his lifetime but radically changed it in ways that are only now becoming clear. [...] [H]e made music of magic and quality, entwining power and clarity, that no other interpreter of his time — not even Karajan, Jansons, Ancerl, Böhm or Bernstein, in what is rightly considered music's golden age — could match. In the studio, Solti revolutionised the science and art of recorded music so as to democratise it at the highest — still unsurpassed — level of atmosphere and sound quality. And in concert, Solti is the only name one can speak in the same breath as those that dominated the generation that preceded him — astride both the second world war and the iron curtain — Evgeny Mravinsky in Leningrad and Wilhelm Furtwängler in Berlin. Solti was the true heir to their legacy on record, and their way of electrifying live performance through blending restless and rigorous perfectionism with explosive spontaneity.Read the full text here.
Few Baroque operas (and all by Handel) have clawed their way from oblivion to the margins of the standard repertoire, a source of chagrin to anyone who loves the period or simply hungers for broader musical experience. The Metropolitan Opera and New York City Opera offered radically different solutions to this lacuna earlier this year. NYCO revived an unknown opera by Georg Philipp Telemann in a beautiful and expertly performed production at El Museo del Barrio. The Metropolitan Opera crafted an entirely new work from music by eight Baroque composers, set to a new libretto in English. The Met’s venture was the riskier proposition, bound to trigger grumbling among Baroque aficionados who resented the missed opportunity to stage an historical work. But while the revival of existing operas such as Telemann’s Orpheus at NYCO contributes more to our musical knowledge in the long run, the Met’s Enchanted Island must also be counted a resounding (and insufficiently appreciated) success.Read the full text here.
We have been informed — not by the person concerned – that the [sic] New York Times has removed Allan Kozinn from his position as music critic and reassigned him to the newly-created, sidewalk-pounding post of general cultural reporter. He will report for new duties tomorrow. The move ... is rooted entirely in the poison of internal politics. [...] So why has the Times taken the extraordinary step of demoting a music critic? The reasons are purely internal. Culture Editor Jon Landman knows he has a problem in the classical department. The chief critic Anthony Tommasini is thought to have failed to win the confidence of New York’s opinion formers. Moves are said to be afoot to hire Zachary Woolfe as Tommasini’s sidekick and, eventually, his successor. Landman has been heard to say that ‘Zach is the most important thing that has happened to classical music in a long time’ (sic). He needed to create a vacancy for Woolfe to be hired, so Kozinn had to go.If creating a vacancy in the classical music department is the only way to do it, then creating that vacancy so that it can be filled by Zachary Woolfe is indeed the right way to go. But on critical/journalistic grounds alone it's clearly chief classical music critic Anthony Tommasini who should have been reassigned to some newly-created post elsewhere for the purpose, not Allan Kozinn. That, however, would have taken real balls; something corporate management, generally speaking, is not noted for possessing.
By dramatizing their own thinking on the page, by revealing the basis of their judgments and letting you glimpse the mechanisms by which they exercised their (individual, personal, quirky) taste, all these [professional] critics were, necessarily, implying that you could arrive at your own, quite different judgments—that a given work could operate on your own sensibility in a different way. What I was really learning from those critics each week was how to think. How to think (we use the term so often that we barely realize what we’re saying) critically — which is to say, how to think like a critic, how to judge things for myself. To think is to make judgments based on knowledge: period. [...] And so the fact is that (to invoke the popular saying) everyone is not a critic. This, in the end, may be the crux of the problem, and may help explain the unusual degree of violence in the reaction to the stridently negative reviews that appeared in the Times Book Review earlier this summer, triggering the heated debate about critics. In an essay about phony memoirs that I wrote a few years ago, I argued that great anger expressed against authors and publishers when traditionally published memoirs turn out to be phony was a kind of cultural displacement: what has made us all anxious about truth and accuracy in personal narrative is not so much the published memoirs that turn out to be false or exaggerated, which has often been the case, historically, but rather the unprecedented explosion of personal writing (and inaccuracy and falsehood) online, in Web sites and blogs and anonymous commentary—forums where there are no editors and fact-checkers and publishers to point an accusing finger at. Similarly, I wonder whether the recent storm of discussion about criticism, the flurry of anxiety and debate about the proper place of positive and negative reviewing in the literary world, isn’t a by-product of the fact that criticism, in a way unimaginable even twenty years ago, has been taken out of the hands of the people who should be practicing it: true critics, people who, on the whole, know precisely how to wield a deadly zinger, and to what uses it is properly put. When, after hearing about them, I first read the reviews of Peck’s and Ohlin’s works, I had to laugh. Even the worst of the disparagements wielded by the reviewers in question paled in comparison to the groundless vituperation and ad hominem abuse you regularly encounter in Amazon.com reviews or the “comments” sections of literary publications. Yes, we’re all a bit sensitive to negative reviewing these days; but if you’re going to sit in judgment on anyone, it shouldn’t be the critics.RTWT here.