Thursday, February 25, 2010

Attila at the Met

When I heard that Ricardo Muti was making his Metropolitan Opera debut this month conducting Verdi's Attila, I was incredulous. Surely Mr. Muti, one of the leading conductors of our day, and no more a young man than music director James Levine, had held the baton at the Met before. But like Verdi's ninth opera, and just as surprisingly, Muti's current trip is his first.

The Met broadcast the opening performance online last night, but I'm waiting for the Saturday matinee to hear it for myself. Like most early Verdi, Attila is fairly obscure; I certainly don't own a recording and am fairly certain that I have heard it only in snatches. After having seen Ernani at the Lyric, however, I find myself at something of a loss to explain the early works' long residence in the broom closet of opera. If these works lack the full power and dramatic energy of Verdi's later masterpieces, they certainly stand as respectable late bel canto works. Of course, the standard repertory relegated much bel canto to truncated concert pieces for many years (Lammermoor, for instance, being whittled down to only the mad scene and some bare bookends), so perhaps the early Verdi was simply shuffled along.

Peter Gelb appears hell bent on securing his place as the Earl Warren of the operatic world. As the audience booed yet another production team off the stage, one wonders just how much re-education Mr. Gelb thinks we need. By George, those new opera audiences are out there somewhere and the Met is going to find them, and the rule of law, democracy, and nature of the judicial function good taste, tradition, and the well-established preferences of 100 years' worth of audiences will not stand in its way. Attila of the Apes* comes just as the company has announced the scrapping of Zeffirelli's Traviata. To assuage any hurt, the Met promises to bring us John Adams's Nixon in China. Well, I know that I certainly have spent my entire life looking forward to hearing a work depicting events that themselves occurred well after the thorough demise of classical music as a living art form, composed by a minimalist hack whose work product (music would be too indulgent) has more in common with phone tones than with Rossini.

The only solution to things like this is the pocketbook: stop buying tickets to this tripe. Once Mr. Gelb's revolution is complete, this will require not buying tickets to the Met at all. Stop writing them checks now and maybe, just maybe, it won't come to that. I won't be holding my breath.

* Granting that the designers set out to be unhistorical, permit me to complain about the costuming, entirely apart from the question of whether Italy is being invaded here by Huns or by kudzu. The fellow in the red miter is St. Leo the Great. But why is he wearing a miter in a non-liturgical setting? Why is he wearing white? Popes before St. Pius V wore red. And why is he carrying a pastoral staff made out of two-by-fours? If the costumers desire to be unhistorical and a-representational, so be it. Dress the pope and the Huns up as aliens, or Victorians, or deranged costume designers. But weird half-measures, especially ones so inexplicable and widespread as basic inability properly to represent clerical attire, are simply uncalled for.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

35. Christ did not always possess the consciousness of His Messianic dignity. (Lamentabili Sane, 1907).

A condemned proposition, courtesy of St. Pius X. Also, incidentally, a proposition once seriously entertained by my sophomore religion teacher (who subsequently went to work for Episcopalians, explaining that they were "basically the same except for the Pope.") It's events like this that make me remember: if one ever thinks he has discovered some great, unpondered dilemma in the intellectual life of Christianity, one is probably quite wrong. Someone has likely pondered and resolved the dilemma already.