Manhattan picks new opera chief

Manhattan picks new opera chief


norman lebrecht

August 12, 2020

Manhattan School of Music has recruited Tazewell Thompson as head of the School’s Vocal Arts Division as Director of Opera Studies, starting now.

Thompson, originally from Harlem, is an intenational opera director. His opera, Blue, written with composer Jeanine Tesori, won several awards in 2019.



  • mike says:

    not sure who gave out the awards for “blue,” but giving it a quick listen and view of some excerpts on youtube, it sounds absolutely horrid.

    • Occamsrazor says:

      Remember the timeless line from Woody Allen movie Life and Death: “Disgustingness is my best feature”? This can be applied to the arts in general these days.

    • Bruce says:

      — as opposed to most classical music award winners, which sound…?

  • Blue schmoo….we’re in big trouble when the color of a person’s skin dictate professional credibility at the cost of quality…

    • Jon Eiche says:

      Who’s to say he was hired… A) for the color of his skin; or B) at the cost of quality?

      • it’s a sign of the times

      • Bernard Rosen says:

        The lack of major operatic background and wealth of contributions is the most obvious deficiency.

        The bulk of his interest and aptitude rests with Broadway and showtune literature which has its own realm of study apart from opera. One needs mastery of the operatic technique (particularly Bel Canto) and core languages of Italian, French, German in order to impart this type of knowledge besides the vast history of the European composers and Houses where it originated from.

        His own website doesn’t support much of that in favor of more Showtune productions.

        Perhaps his in-depth experience with Mozart. Verdi, Wagner, Massenet, Strauss, etc is found elsewhere along with his multi-lingual prowess?? Searching..

      • Shandra Chen says:

        Actually, they should have stuck an Asian in that job based on the real reason for all of this.

      • Bruce says:

        It almost sounds like she’s saying if he’s black he must not be good. (Otherwise she surely would have mentioned his perceived lack of qualifications, or something besides his skin color)

      • In case you haven’t noticed, we have been living in the age of reverse discrimination for the past 3 decades. My personal experience leads me to believe that, very tragically, quality and qualifications or respect thereof are no longer considered important when choosing leaders and educators. Tazewell Thompson may well be a nice guy and really loves opera and voice, but these qualities are not enough to recommend a position where he is responsible for the future of young singers. And single productions of Porgy and Bess and Dialogue of the Carmelites do not make him an international opera director. Pity
        and politics also do not help in making decisions about who gets to play in the operatic sandbox, especially in terms of education.

        • joe says:

          He’s massively more qualified than his predecessor, who had zero experience working in an opera house before they got the job at MSM. MSM is honestly incredibly lucky to have him take over a program which has been going downhill in quality and loses more respect in this industry every year. If you’re going to be racist, do some research first. You know nothing of NYC conservatories or the job requirements. We, who have worked and studied at them, do.

  • Tiredofitall says:

    I believe there is a backstory to this change?

    • splitpeasoup says:

      Was there an incident at MSM where a faculty member was captured on stream asking to cut off a student that was asking why they weren’t doing opera by….?

  • debuschubertussy says:

    Interesting choice of words—they “recruited” him? Was there even any kind of formal hiring process involved, I wonder?

    • Hal says:

      Yeah no they don’t have formal hiring processes at nationally-renown conservatories, they just call random numbers in the phone book, debuschubertussy.

      • In the many highly reputable conservatories I was fortunate enough to attend, I learned that staff and often times faculty are made up of graduates of that institution..not that there’s anything wrong with it.

  • Just a member of the audience says:

    I attended the premier performance at Glimmerglass. Blue is a musically accessible and emotionally involving opera. Tazewell is a class act. What’s the problem here?

    • Grittenhouse says:

      Lack of experience and knowledge to head the department at a young age, just to satisfy a political moment. I am ashamed of my alma mater and particularly its leadership, whom I hope will soon be replaced. He has dragged it down, adding jazz and anything else that makes money.

      • Grant says:

        “…at a young age.” Mr. Thompson is 72 years old. And also a very accomplished and respected stage director.

        • Grittenhouse says:

          I was thinking of someone else. That’s actually too old. It’s a demanding job. John Crosby wasn’t even up to it.

      • Bill says:

        And after all of those mailers they sent out to the rest of us, bragging about how proud they were of you…

      • debuschubertussy says:

        I didn’t realize that “adding jazz” drags a music department down….

        • Hal says:

          especially considering MSM survives on their incredibly well-funded and popular jazz department…

          • John Porter says:

            That is a ridiculous statement. MSM’s jazz program is small (about 12% of total enrollment) and does not have any special funding. There are no jazz programs well funded enough for any conservatory to keep its head above water, even at Berklee, where the revenue comes from popular music.

          • Paul Mahoney says:

            MSM survives, barely, on the sheer number of piano and voice majors. The recent music theater program may start to make them money if they expand enrollment. MSM has a small endowment, and a board of trustees with no real deep pockets, and is probably just barely keeping its head above water financially. Costs for this type of business continue to rise beyond revenue, even with the increases in tuition. Not to mention the bond they have on the building project from 20 years ago. I would wager that a good number of the conservatories in the US are close to bankruptcy as a result of the COVID-19 and MSM is certainly one of them.

      • Poorjazzer says:

        Jazz makes money? Wow!

      • Hal says:

        “young age”, are you sure you didn’t mean to just say “boy”??? It’s okay, I’m sure your alma mater is ashamed of you too, Grittenhouse.

      • SMDH says:

        He’s 71. How old do you need him to be?

      • John Porter says:

        Adding jazz? MSM has had a jazz degree programs since the 1980s…The first graduate degree in jazz in the US, actually.

    • Do you know his education background and does he speak any language other than English? Curious also as to what makes him an “international” stage director?

  • Tiredofitall says:

    Mr. Thompson is 72. I can see hiring at that age a retired professional after a significant career (even without academic credentials) for an adjunct professor or a visiting scholar position — be it a musician, conductor, director, designer — but to head the entire Vocal Arts Division as Director of Opera Studies?

    The man is 72. Certainly there are younger qualified professionals who will be able to see students through several degree cycles?

    • Rosalind Berry says:

      The new guy is black; that’s the ONLY qualifier needed today in the states!

      • Larry D says:

        At least you don’t hide your racism under a bushel basket! Some might call that refreshing. Others might see it as abhorrent.

        • Alex Choo says:

          What you mean is the racism perpetrated by The Manhattan School of Music Larry D.

          Based on the video that precipitated Dona’s wrongful termination after the silly petition against her, an ASIAN should have been inserted into that position but typical MSM leadership neurotically defaulted to a black individual without forethought.

          See Shandra Chen‘s comment above for the video link.

          It’s quite offensive that all races besides black / African-American are receiving privilege in the states. But what can one expect out of the vengeful left? Equality??? Ha!!!!

        • Grittenhouse says:

          It’s so blatant, it’s hardly racist.

  • Tonto says:

    Too bad the MSM didn’t choose a more diverse candidate like a Native American.

    They have always been disenfranchised.

  • violafan says:

    The racist comments on Slipped Disc are a great example of the problem within classical music today.

  • Walter Winterfeldt says:

    Have never heard of this man, but from the grapevine I hear that several piano faculty members at MSM are about to get fired for sexual harrassment allegations. One was a former teacher of mine in the 1980’s. Cleaning house is always a good thing.

    • Grittenhouse says:

      These days, anything qualifies as sexual harassment. But it’s time for Jim Gandre to go. I think Leonard Slatkin would make a fine president.

  • Cost of attending MSM for 9 months if you live on campus

    Tuition $48,280
    General Student Fee $990
    Meal Plan (Gold) $5,515
    Housing (Double Room) $10,790
    Health Insurance $2,505 (estimate)
    Total $68,080

    • Paulette H. says:

      Time to cut costs for less educated educators.

      Besides, Manhattan crime has risen enough that the exodus is hurting real estate far beyond those who left at the onset of the pandemic and are NOT RETURNING. Cuomo is BEGGING the rich to return!!! To what?!?? High crime and taxes? Nope; he lost them and is driving more out with his Liberal policies. Check out the UWS crime in the news along with the druggies infesting the empty hotels and streets along with the new rapes and stabbings. Such a shame for the rich.

    • Walter Winterfeldt says:

      Nice rates at MSM…..I studied there 1977-1983, tuition was less than $6000 for the year as I recall. At least I’ve been able to work in my profession for over 30 years, most of these kids graduating now won’t find any substantial income possibilities from their music making in our present times. When I was a vocal coach at MSM in 2000-2002, they paid us the enormous salary of $15/hr. and then $20 the following year. Needless to say I did it for the resumé.

      • Grittenhouse says:

        In 1981, the tuition was about $3,600. No one was well-paid. One theory teacher had to work as a pastry chef. Another was in law school. I never made good money as a musician, but I wouldn’t give up that education for anything. It’s not just about making money. That was the problem with the incoming students in the 1980s, they thought it was just a way to make money.

    • Grittenhouse says:

      In my last year there, the tuition was $5,000 and I lived off-campus for probably the same amount.

    • Grittenhouse says:

      The curriculum now is fabulous, and all the alumni I know wish we could go back and study all over again.

  • Grittenhouse says:

    I, for one, am sick of conservatory graduates complaining about not having big careers, or for schools cutting back because there “aren’t enough jobs out there.” 90 percent or more of musicians are going to be teaching, and that’s just fine. A conservatory education is an important foundation for that. It’s not all about a concert career, and most concert career musicians end up teaching anyway. Teaching is the foundation, or perhaps orchestra playing, maybe. The sooner that is accepted, the better. By the way, Tazewell looks about 35 in the photo, not 72!

  • Marfisa says:

    Moderator? This is ageist, sexist, just plain nasty, and makes no point.

  • It’s all about the Fox watching the chicken coop. Did you really expect silence in the face of placing blatantly underqualified candidates in positions of influence. I have devoted an entire lifetime to classical music as a student, performer and publicist. I am disgusted and deeply pained by anyone who supports mediocrity especially re: young people looking for real guidance in preparation for life’s tasks. If you think that’s racist, so be it. I call it the deepest concern for classical music more importantly caring about the common good of humanity. If I were a parent I would carefully scrutinize anyone into whose hands I was placing my children, no matter what race they were, or what religion they believed in….Especially at nearly seventy thousand dollars a pop for one year. Better to invest your money in baseball cards.

  • Surely Maestro Willie Waters would have been a wonderful addition to the MSM faculty