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The Lebrecht Weekly


Visit every week to read Norman Lebrecht's latest column. [Index]

Opera catches a cold

By Norman Lebrecht / November 12, 2008

The future of opera in America took a double nosedive this week with Gerard Mortier’s decision to quit New York’s City Opera before he started and Placido Domingo’s to postpone indefinitely – and probably cancel - a Ring Cycle in Washington D.C.

Both retractions were ascribed to the financial crisis, but that’s less than half the story. Mortier, 64, said he had been promised a $60 million budget to make City Opera competitive with the Met, but the board only managed $36 million, barely enough to pay the wage bill. Domingo’s people said he couldn’t raise an extra $6 million to stage Wagner’s epic vision in Barack Obama’s capital.

The real story, though, is one of ambivalence and distraction. Mortier, from the day he signed with New York, kept his options open. Last summer, the ebullient Belgian put in a last-minute bid to run Bayreuth and in recent weeks he has been linked with possible changes at La Scala and the Real in Madrid. He knew some weeks ago, when City Opera laid off key staff, that the company was nowhere near meeting his budget. What happens now to the Brokeback Mountain opera he commissioned is anyone’s guess.

Domingo’s woes arise from his absurd attempt to run two opera companies – the other is in Los Angeles – while continuing a singing career and taking conducting gigs where he can get them. Like Macavity in TS Eliot’s cats poem, when the mess is discovered Domingo is never there. The cost of a Washington Ring came to one-fifth of the company’s budget, an unrealistic target but one which got kicked from one deadline to the next while the boss breezed in and out of town. Washington will now have pay off the Ring singers or find them other roles. New York faces an unbroken Met monopoly. And the rest of the opera world is going to catch a terrible flu from these two American sneezes. Expect further cancellations, somewhere close to home.

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Visit every week to read Norman Lebrecht's latest column. [Index]



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