Susan Bender, who has worked with Zubin Mehta, Kurt Masur, Yuri Temirkanov, Simon Rattle. Phillippe Entremont and others, wrote a letter to the New York Times about the injustice that is being done to the Met’s musicians. She makes some valid points, not raised elsewhere. The Times wouldn’t publish the letter. So we will.
It’s not the fault of the unions
As we approach the deadline between the Met and their unions it is time for concerned opera lovers to weigh in on some of the issues that are currently haunting negotiations.
Grand Opera, as enjoyed by opera lovers at the Met, is the result of a collaboration of artistic entities that strive to do their collective best to present live performances of the highest caliber.
Some years ago, when Peter Gelb, the General Manager of the Met, arrived at the opera company, he wanted to use HD Performances to provide subsidiary income which was meant to, supposedly, increase the public appreciation of the art form. Yet, HD performances, while
convenient, do not present the art form at its best.
Any opera lover can tell you – Opera is meant to be seen on a stage and heard live! It is to be experienced with the best singers in their respective roles and to be accompanied by the best orchestra to convey the musical intentions of the composer.
In some cases, composers were also involved in stagings and direction of productions. No great composer like Mozart, Verdi, Wagner or
Puccini ever intended for opera to be seen on a screen with vocal and orchestral scores limited to the speaker capability of a movie theater. Nor did they think that the director of the drama or a set designer should take precedence over the music. Yet, this is what has happened over the past years to the fabulous Metropolitan Opera in New York.
I assert that these new productions were planned with the intention of increasing the income stream through the HD productions. Hopefully, a subsidiary aim was the thought that new productions will attract ticket buyers in the house. BUT to achieve these HD presentations action needs to be centralized and thus the action on the largest stage in the world has been contracted. To continue the income stream are we bound to a constant flow of new productions to provide it? Are any past HD productions going to be viewed again? Is there any income from that?
I wish that HD were as great a force for the current viewer. Instead, the viewer probably thinks that what he got for the price of a movie ticket is what they would get from a live performance. Nothing could be further from the truth. The sound quality cannot be imagined unless you have been in the opera house. Why else would performing arts institutions worldwide be so focused on acoustics.
So, I now ask, why is the Met spending all this money on new productions instead of directing it to the music making? The Orchestra of the Metropolitan Opera is one of the finest in the world. One should recognize that musicians are able to move on – in other words, get a job elsewhere. Singers enjoy singing with the Met Orchestra and Maestri enjoy conducting it. Likewise, the wonderful chorus and stagehands who can handle anything!!
What was wrong with the fabulous collection of Zeffirelli productions? The Tosca of today is a paltry substitute for the former production. Likewise La Traviata. We now have matching upholstery and costumes, surely not the atmosphere Verdi intended. I am frightened to think what the new Der Rosenkavalier will look like.
Really, the people in charge of what is going on at the Met need to get their heads on straight. It’s simple math. If they have overspent on HD then try cutting the number of new productions. If the contractual obligations prevent that right now, then set a time limit and cut new productions after that. Perhaps, the Met could allow those of us who attend the Opera a chance to choose which productions we would like to see. So, you could have a series of old productions and a couple of the new productions. If the previous union obligations need to be changed then that is a separate negotiation. It is not the unions of the orchestra, chorus, and stage hands etc that spent the money on new productions. It was the management that made those decisions. How many more new productions are we going to see? Are the current HD productions able to provide income stream or, are we only going to continue repeating the formula of new productions each season?
Unfortunately, ego is winning the battle at the Met right now and it’s time for Peter Gelb and the board to choose – what is our Met going to be in the next 10 years. A Hollywood studio or the home of the greatest opera company in the world? It’s time to pay the artists and the production team what they deserve and keep putting on great opera.
Former VP External Affairs, Manhattan School of Music