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The Good, the Bad, and the Anal

Gérard Mortier, who is famous for painting lipstick on corpses and taking them to the ball, will become general manager and artistic director of the New York City Opera after he retires from the Paris Opera at the end of the 2008-2009 season.   Mortier ran the  Salzburg Festival in the 1990s  where he mounted such customer-unfriendly provocations as Hans Neuenfels staging of  Die Fledermaus, in which Orlofsky was a drug dealer who sold cocaine, Nazi thugs appeared on stage and Eisenstein had incestuous children who commit suicide.   Can’t wait to see what he does with Lulu.

Reminds of one of my favorite lines, from Charles T. Downey in ionarts, a couple of years ago:  “I suppose that opera all comes down to that eternal question that must be answered: anal rape or elaborate wigs?”  Indeed.


Comment from zeno
Time: February 28, 2007, 12:44 pm

“Mortier has been a champion of the modern, creating solid audiences for 20th-century masters like Janacek, Schoenberg and Berg” (quoted by Charles T. Downey at the ionarts citation given by Jerry above).

And I thought that James Levine and the MET — since the mid 1970s! — had been champions of the modern, creating solid audiences for 20th-century masters like Janacek, Schoenberg, Berg, Weill, Busoni, Prokofiev, Shostakovich, and several other modernist masters! I, in fact, saw my first modernist masterpieces by Berg, Janacek, Stravinsky, and others (if not Schoenberg) beginning at the MET in the late 1970s.

(True, Moses und Aron had to wait for the NYCO in 1991 or 91; and the MET will follow the NYCO in producing Janacek’s From the House of the Dead; Tippett’s A Midsummer Marriage; and the two Hindemith masterpieces).

I suggest that readers here make sure they catch revivals of the MET’s 2002 Lulu, or this season’s Wozzeck (Mark Lamos), and not wait for the NYCO beyond 2009.

Comment from Alex Ross
Time: February 28, 2007, 4:36 pm

There’s actually no accent on Gerard. He’s Flemish. I suppose one pronounces it GHAIR-ard mohr-TEER?

Comment from Jerry Bowles
Time: March 1, 2007, 10:52 am

Never trust Belgians speaking French:

Comment from Alex Ross
Time: March 1, 2007, 2:03 pm

Hmm. His current bio at the Paris opera has no accent:

Comment from Alex Ross
Time: March 1, 2007, 2:09 pm

The City Opera bio also has no accent:

But it’s a small point. The big question is how Mortier is going to present “Pirates of Penzance.” I suggest a production set in Auschwitz. The Major General should be dressed as George W. Bush, and will receive a blow job from his aide-de-camp as he sings the Major General’s Song. In Act II, the scene shifts to Golgotha. Jesus is a black woman on the cross. A great flood represents the melting of the polar ice caps. And so on.

Comment from Henry Holland
Time: March 2, 2007, 6:06 pm

Sign up Alex Ross! Mr. Ross, apart from writing great articles about Schreker, obviously has a bright future in Regietheatre. I mean, he could probably even write a 3 page programme note explaining how his production illuminates the hoary old G&S chestnut for The Youth Of Our Time.

It’s been hilarious to read some of the clutching-ones-pearls reaction to the Mortier’s hiring. From the reaction, you’d think this man was coming in to a vibrant, cutting-edge institution, one that has been doing stellar work for years. Would anyone seriously argue that’s the case with NYCO?

I live in Los Angeles so I’ve only been there a couple times in the last five years (the highlight being a wonderful Die Tote Stadt a few years ago) but it seems it’s a house desperately in need of a boost. For one, it should quit competing with its neighbor in the standard Italian rep. It should position itself as the cutting-edge alternative to the stuffy old Met. And by cutting edge, I mean in the choice of operas it does, not the G&S production by Alex Ross. :-)

The repertoire should be the first priority, I’d say. All of the interesting things that Christopher Keene did are gone. Has there ever been a professional production in NYC of Messaien’s St. Francois di Assisi, Saariaho’s glorious L’amour de Loin, Reimann’s Lear, Ades’ Powder Her Face, Dove’s Flight, Rouder’s The Handmaiden’s Tale and so on, among the many worthy operas written in the last 20 years or so?

It’s often surprising to me how conservative New York opera and symphony audiences are. If Gerard Mortier shakes that up, a few penises swinging around the stage of the State Theatre is a small price to pay.

Mr. Bowles, is it possible to add a preview feature to the comments?

Comment from Grant Gershon
Time: March 3, 2007, 12:01 am

In fairness to Mr. Mortier, he was also the person who brought stunning productions of “Saint Francois d’Assise” and “Grand Macabre” to Salzburg (I worked on both shows) as well as championing Esa-Pekka Salonen with the LA Philharmonic in the early 90’s before anyone else had figured out what was percolating in Los Angeles.

Comment from Alex Ross
Time: March 3, 2007, 1:00 am

And “L’Amour de loin,” as restrained and beautiful a show as you could imagine. I’m excited at the idea that Peter Sellars will finally have a New York home.

Comment from Anonymous
Time: March 4, 2007, 2:02 am

Ah, the St. Francois in Salzburg. Wasn’t St. Francois a televangelist in that production? I seem to recall a picture of the set and it was banks of TV’s.

I got the DVD of L’amour de Loin a few weeks ago and the production is indeed very restrained and very, very beautiful (and much better conducted than the two bootlegs I have conducted by Kent Nagano). A few too many closeups of the singers tonsils for my taste, but a stunning DVD nontheless. It would be a perfect opera for Disney Hall actually; if they can do Tristan fully staged there, why not? I can’t wait for the Tristan there in April, it should be a great night.

Comment from zeno
Time: March 5, 2007, 10:21 am

“Has there ever been a professional production in NYC of Messaien’s St. Francois di Assisi, Saariaho’s glorious L’amour de Loin, Reimann’s Lear, Ades’ Powder Her Face, Dove’s Flight, Rouder’s The Handmaiden’s Tale and so on, among the many worthy operas written in the last 20 years or so?” [H. Holland]

Henry, interestingly, it was the San Francisco Opera which outpaced the New York City Opera (and the LA Opera, I assume) by staging Reimann’s “Lear”, Henze’s “The Sailor Who Fell From Grace with the Sea”, Ligeti’s “Grand Macabre”, Messiaen’s “Saint Francois”, and other contemporary works (including Imbrie’s Angle of Repose in 1976; and Glass’s Satyagraha sometime later. The company’s present commissions to American artists are for Glass/Hampton’s “Appomattox”, this autumn; and Stewart Wallace/Amy Tan’s “The Bonesetter’s Daughter,” a season later).

And having just glanced at Alex Ross’s youtube link to Birtwistle and his hecklers at the Covent Garden Opera in London, in 1994, will the Sequenza21 community split on whether a Birtwistle opera is worthy of being produced in New York City — either at the MET or NYCO?

[I also expect that Mr Mortier may soon bring Philip Boesmann and Luc Bondy’s “Wintermärchen” [A Winters Tale] to NYCO. In my opinion, this attractive opera straddles the modernist-postmodernist divide quite nicely, and features wonderful accordian solos which you don’t hear often, if at all, in contemporary American operas.]

[[Apologies for misspelling L’amour de Loin earlier.]]

Comment from zeno
Time: March 5, 2007, 10:29 am

PS. I neglected to note that the General Director showing such commitment to American opera with the San Francisco Opera is David Gockley. Perhaps a reader from Houston, Texas would like to list here the two dozen American operas commissioned by Mr Gockley before he accepted the invitation to bring his commitment to American opera to San Francisco.