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Have Operatic Mad Scenes Spread to Board Rooms?

April 22, 2014

Pulitzer-Prize winning editor and critic Manuela HoelterhoffManuela Hoelterhoff has a fascinating article about the present and future of opera in Bloomberg News. It opens with:

Mad scenes help make opera so enjoyable. Think of Lucia di Lammermoor, her nightgown soaked in blood, singing cuckoo duets with a flute.

But it helps if the people running opera houses and music halls are generally sound of mind.

These last few weeks, it’s hard to ignore evidence that not being nuts (or clueless or greedy) is no longer a requirement for top jobs in many aspects of the classical entertainment business.

And goes on to deal with problems, crises, and death rattles at the Met, memories of the recently deceased New York City Opera, the theoretically departed San Diego Opera (see below), and then says this of salaries in music, inviting militantly parsimonious Paul Ryan to do his destructive best:

National Symphony at the Kennedy Center in Washington: Where was everyone when departing KC president Michael Kaiser renewed his pallid friend Christoph Eschenbach’s contract for another two years? Putting on party hats?

Eschenbach, 74, has been paid an astounding $1.93 million. In the U.S., only Chicago’s Riccardo Muti and San Francisco’s Michael Tilson Thomas make more, but they are in a different league entirely. Eschenbach is neither an international star nor a locally venerated cultural leader.

That’s quite a housewarming present for Deborah Rutter, who arrives in September now that Kaiser was nudged out the door.

Let’s see. According to the 2014-15 calendar, Eschenbach is down for 31 performances, which comes to about $62,246.02 per appearance, and yes, I realize he probably rehearses which can be strenuous. An unusual example of a public-private partnership, the Kennedy Center receives federal funding. Paul Ryan, be my guest.

Last month, Hoelterhoff proposed a 10-point reform program for the Met, including some simple creature comforts, and then going for the guts:

Hire a charismatic music director to articulate a vision for the future and excite a new generation. James Levine, here since 1971, has never become a public personality identified with New York. What is wrong with “emeritus”? The Met needs a visible, socially engaged leader to supplement general manager Peter Gelb. We need someone like Gustavo Dudamel in Los Angeles or Riccardo Muti in Chicago. It’s time for a change.

Janos Gereben appreciates news tips, corrections, and words of encouragement at [email protected].