In Israel, two weeks before an election, almost everyone we meet says they want to get rid of Bibi Netanyahu – and almost everyone then goes on to say, wearily, that there’s not much chance of anyone else forming the next government. The hard right has dug in too long and too deep for there to be any sudden political landslide, say veteran observers.
Much the same holds true for the music scene in Israel. We meet the most brilliant range of creators and performers – young composers, singers, conductors – full of initiative, ideals and ideas, yet unable to breach the walls of an establishment that is ruled by the Israel Opera and Israel Philharmonic, themselves ruled for decades by the same old faces.
Hanna Munitz, 68, general director of the Opera for 20 years, has seen off one chief conductor after another, holding a Bibi-like stance of no change. Many of the finest Israeli singers now live in Europe, unable to break into Israel Opera.
The situation is, if anything, worse at the Philharmonic where Zubin Mehta is music director for life and his sidekick Avi Shoshani has been secretary-general since time immemorial. Each covers the other’s back. Their viewfinder points firmly backwards, to see who might be coming from behind. Neither has any known intention of stepping aside.
But amid the current election fever, there is talk of shifting the old musical guard. Wishful talk, perhaps, but still talk. A tentative article in Haaretz by Noam Ben-Ze’ev kicked off a small wave of speculation. More has followed on social media. There is an appetite for regime change. If Zubin were persuaded, after 46 years with the Israel Phil, to accept a presidential trole and make way for a young music director – one who might effect real change – he could trigger a landslide of possibilities.
Gidon Kremer has already pointed the finger here at the source of political murder in Russia.
Edward Lucas of the Economist had known Boris Nemtsov over two decades. He writes in Weltwoche:
‘Boris Nemtsov was my closest friend in Russian politics. I had known him since the late 1990s when he was trying vainly to stem the sleaze and authoritarianism that eventually brought Putin and his ex-KGB cronies to power. Unlike some Russian liberals, Nemtsov saw through Putin from the beginning. He disliked the new leader’s background as an unrepentant KGB officer, and worried about his murky years spent in the city administration of gangster-ridden St Petersburg.’
Edward points the finger far back – to Stalin’s first political murder:
‘One set of possibilities surrounds the theory that his assassination was ordered by the Putin regime. It could be a simple attempt to silence him. Nemtsov was about to release a report on Russia’s war in Ukraine. I doubt that would justify his murder. …More likely is that the killing was symbolic. The official media, with suspicious unanimity, is taking the line that Nemtsov was murdered by other opposition elements, or possibly their foreign paymasters, in order to destabilise Russia.
It is hard to follow this perverse reasoning, or to find any facts to support it. But as with the Kirov murder in 1934, which gave Stalin reason to purge Soviet life of any dissent, Nemtsov’s killing could give the regime grounds for launching a serious crackdown.’
Our intrepid Met-goers, Elizabeth Frayer and Shawn E Milnes, were there the day Jonas wasn’t. They found much to engage the attention – outside.
There are always scalpers in front of the Met before a show but I have never seen so many and never so well dressed.
Let me clarify however, these people were actually reverse scalping. Trying to sell their tickets for far less than the face value. In fact in many cases for whatever they could get. Side Front Orchestra seats were going for $60. I saw $240 tickets going for $125 which were then haggled down to $80 and someone with $262 tickets was peddling them for “best offer”. One woman selling tickets in a fur coat and Manolo Blahnik’s prompted my up and coming playwright friend to say in quasi-disgust, “How about I take the ticket and you give ME $20?”
All right then, another list. This one has been provoked by a media list of operas by women composers. But once you take out Meyerbeer – irredeemably obsolete – and 96% of Offenbach, the choice is quite limited. Here’s what we have come up with, in roughly chronological order:
1 Offenbach: La belle Helene
2 Korngold: Die tote Stadt
Vienna’s most popular contemporary opera between the two wars.
3 Gershwin: Porgy and Bess
4 Schoenberg: Moses and Aron
Probably the most ambitious undertaking of the 20th century
5 Milhaud: Christoph Colomb
Hugely ambitious drama, seldom seen
6 Weill: Street Scene
(a more durable opera than Mahagonny\)
7 Sondheim: Sweeney Todd
Seen in all the world’s best opera houses
8 Glass: Satyagraha
9 Ligeti: Le grand macabre
10 Nyman: The man who mistook his wife for a hat
The unusual life of Anne Naysmith, a concert pianist who wound up living on the streets of a London suburb, was honoured at a funeral attended by 400-500 local residents, including the Mayor of Hounslow.
Anne, 78, was killed by a lorry on Chiswick High Road last month. The Royal Academy of Music, where she studied., is raising funds for a scholarship in her name.
Alexandra Parker, a violinist who caused a stir for mostly the wrong reasons at Britain’s Got Talent in 2011, has been announced as the star turn at Nudestock, a huge naturist festival which will be held at a campsite near Doncaster in May.
Got talent? Flaunt it.
Or maybe not.
Alexander (Ali) Rahbari, former principal conductor in Brussels and Zagreb, has announced his return as artistic director of the Teheran Symphony Orchestra, which he left ten years ago.
At a press conference staged by the Ministry of Culture and Islamic Guidance, Rahbari did his best to say all the right things: ‘We should be proud of a president [Rouhani], who talked about the restoration of orchestras in the country during his official speech after winning the presidential election, even if his wish is not fulfilled.’ Some will read Rahbari’s return as a further softening of the Islamist regime’s line on western culture.
The Bach-Archiv of Leipzig is getting very excited about a document it acquired at auction in New York. It is believed to date from the last days of the life of Johann Sebastian Bach, in July 1750.
It represents a receipt for paymet, signed not by the Master himself but on his behalf by his son,, Johann Christian, then 15 years old. Leipzig scholars take this to mean the old man could no longer read the document and that this amounts to first proof of his final blindness. It could, of course, alternatively mean that he was too weak to sign.
In any event. the document is of great historical importance, a powerful insight into the dying composer’s situation.
The world’s hottest tenor was down to sing twice at the Metropolitan Opera this season – two performances in Don Jose in Carmen last Wednesday and last night. When he cancelled Wednesday with flu, the Met still expected him to fly in for Saturday. He never got on the plane.
These things happen. But the buzz around Kaufmann, with touts selling tickets at several times their face value, left the Met looking over-dependent once more on a diminishing handful of box-office warhorses.
No Kaufmann means that operagoers will be warier – and probably later – in booking to see a big name. That’s bad for the Met’s finances and for its future planning. This will go down in the annals as the Met’s no-Jonas year.