Star tenor Jonas Kaufmann has cancelled his appearance in the Met new production of Puccini’s Tosca slated to premier New Year’s Eve 2018 at the same time he announced he will keep his engagement to sing a concert version of the second act of Wagner’s Tristan with the Boston Symphony Orchestra only a few months before.
The difference?-- the Met requires the German tenor to set aside more rehearsal time for the new production than he feels he can afford while the BSO rehearsal time should not be more than a week.
The Maltese tenor star Joseph Calleja is said to be staying away from the Met and other opera houses that require excessive rehearsal time for complicated productions.
Could there be a clearer example of how giving directors exaggerated power in the opera house with their excessive demands for rehearsal time is creating a star-starved Met that threatens the venerable New York City opera house with serious financial repercussions.
A Met without stars is a Met with empty seats. The Met did land-office business with Mozart’s Idomeneo in 1982 and Luciano Pavarotti in the lead. The same opera currently is playing to half empty houses at the Met with excellent singers but no stars.
The old Met was a ‘singer’s house’ where stars like Bergonzi, Corelli, Caballe and Price could walk in and out of easy productions with little rehearsal time needed. They simply came, sang, conquered and filled the seats.
Yes there were more genuine stars in those days—but this only makes the case for not chasing the remaining few away much more compelling.
Are the Met productions so terrific that they’re worth losing stars like Kaufmann, Calleja and Anja Harteros for?
What the Met and other modern opera houses have yet to figure out is that symphony orchestras also are looking to improve their box office, and in concert opera they have found a way to poach opera audiences with a simpler product that in the right hands can perform better than fully-staged productions.
The best production of Britten’s Peter Grimes I’ve ever seen, in fact, was the 2014 semi-staged version at the San Francisco Symphony conducted by Michael Tilson Thomas. It had a great orchestra, great cast, great conductor and enough stage paraphernalia to keep me happy.
Andris Nelsons led a tremendously successful concert opera version of Strauss’ Elektra at Carnegie Hall in 2015 with the sensational American soprano Christine Goerke, a much more thrilling performance than the fully-staged one a few months later at the Met.
And the BSO version was so much cheaper to produce!
Wait until Andris Nelsons and the BSO bring Mr. Kaufmann back to Carnegie Hall in future years to sing the lead in Verdi’s Otello and Tchaikovsky’s Pique Dame. That too is on the Nelsons agenda; Tristan is only the first. Won’t that shake them up at Lincoln Center?
And that’s precisely the point; concert opera is not about to put the Met out of business—but it is putting the squeeze on Met management to scuttle its current director-friendly bias in favor of a more singer-friendly one, at least if its wants to stop the bleeding at the box office.
It’s bad enough for the Met that the world’s top opera star doesn’t sing there. But it would be no small humiliation for the opera company that likes to think of itself as the world’s best if at the same time Mr. Kaufmann refuses to appear on the Met stage he is debuting in the world’s juiciest tenor roles with the BSO at Carnegie Hall.
That certainly will put Peter Gelb and his director-friendly policies at the Met on the hot seat.