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The Met on the Global Stage

The Peter Gelb publicity machine churns on, with a major piece on his work at the Metropolitan Opera featured on 60 Minutes. The New York company is in the French news this week, because the Louvre will host a series of cinematic broadcasts of operas from the Met, beginning this month. According to an article in Le Point (Le Louvre diffuse les opéras de légende du "Met" de New York, October 31), Gelb himself will be in Paris to introduce the series this weekend. Marie-Aude Roux also weighed in on the matter of the company's music director, James Levine, with an interview for Le Monde (James Levine, "fondamentalement optimiste", October 30) with some interesting questions (my translation):
What would you have done if you had had to give up your career?

My vocation has always been music. It is what has always lifted me up and saved me. As a child, I sang before I could talk. But I would have done other things: I would have devoted myself to teaching, to painting, or to writing. I am passionate about everything concerning the history of art. I am also a fundamentally optimistic person. I have always done what I can to live the sort of life I wanted, the best that I could, and now I know that I continue doing that.

You started again this season by conducting only three opera productions, Così fan tutte, Falstaff, and Wozzeck -- in all, 24 performances. Do you hope to recover all of your former responsibilities at the Met?

I am just now getting started again, so it is too early to tell. That will depend on my energy, my capacity. We will know more about it in a few weeks. Without doubt, things will get going little by little starting with the next couple seasons, but I know that I will not take up my overburdened life from before, like these last twenty years when I was building the orchestra. As for taking up responsibilities with another orchestra, that is not among my projects at the moment. On the other hand, I would love to extend my work with young musicians even more and build with them my new balance.

The reputation of the Met -- cowardly programming (notably in contemporary work), conservative staging -- has not gone away. Why?

I have been involved in many opera productions during my life, including 85 conducted at the Met. Some were marvelous, some were terrible. For me, the debate between modern and traditional staging is a false debate. The only thing that matters is quality. It is not a question that has to be asked when you are dealing with someone like Patrice Chéreau. I generally think of the composer as the genius. If the director destroys the sense of the music, he is wrong. You know that most orchestra conductors share my view -- Riccardo Muti without a doubt, and surely Carlos Kleiber.

As for the repertory, I do not agree with those who say that we do not do enough world premieres. The Met handles a vast and varied repertory, and we have given the world premieres of John Corigliano's Ghosts of Versailles in 1992, and John Harbison's The Great Gatsby, in 2000.

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