Is a New Law Good for Italian Opera Houses?

Monday, October 21, 2013 - 05:00 PM

The opera house (Teatro Carlo Felice) on Piazza De Ferrari in Genoa, Italy The opera house (Teatro Carlo Felice) on Piazza De Ferrari in Genoa, Italy (Rostislav Glinsky /

TURIN—I came to Italy to walk in the footsteps of Giuseppe Verdi in the week of the bicentennial of his birth. In addition to attending four operas, about which you will hear in forthcoming articles, I went to his birthplace and the villa where he lived as well as the hotel in Milan where he died. I happily ate foods that nourished his soul and his genius.

A second goal of mine here has been to wonder what Verdi would make of the current state of opera in Italy and, for that matter, of Italy itself. It is a fraught topic, especially for someone such as myself who has visited, studied, lived and worked here extensively for 40 years and has loved this extraordinary place for even longer. 

The residual amount of culture and human knowledge in Italy is surely the richest and most complex of any nation in the world (only China likely comes close), but few Italians understand this because they are caught up in the daily struggles of modern life. The lessons and wisdom of antiquity, the Renaissance and many centuries of innovation are now obscured by pressures of globalization and integration into a world that seems to be passing Italy by, though not necessarily going in a better direction.

There are two big news stories in Italy right now. The first is the götterdämmerung in the wake of more than 15 years of Silvio Berlusconi at the head of government and using it to reward allies and supporters and engage in the undoing of adversaries. He so completely dominated the national imagination—don’t forget that he had three television channels of his own in addition to holding the reins of the three state channels of the RAI as well as owning newspapers, magazines, publishing houses and advertising agencies—that few opposing voices could be heard. 

Berlusconi seems to have finally been barred from government and is reviled now by many in his own right-leaning coalition for the damage he did. A new government headed by Prime Minister Enrico Letta is trying to put things right, but the challenges are huge and Italians are spiritually and emotionally exhausted. As a result of the Berlusconi era, poverty is on the rise. I know families who were in the middle class who have had to cut back in extreme ways. One friend, a father with two toddlers, told me, “We eat less now than we did a year ago” and he and his wife do all they can to shield their children from the harsh realities that surround them.

The image one always hears about is the Costa cruise ship that capsized off the island of Giglio in the winter of 2012 when its captain (think Berlusconi) allegedly made an unsafe maneuver. People died and Italian pride was deeply wounded. Last month, the ship was finally righted but it is water-logged, badly damaged and will now be cut up for scrap.

Under Berlusconi, culture too fell to pieces. Literally. Pompeii and other monuments of world culture are crumbling. The European Union, in a plan created in 2007, allotted more than 3 billion euros to safeguard many of these monuments in southern Italy with the proviso that the funds be returned to Brussels if they were not used by the end of 2013. Despite the great need, ineffectual management on the local level has meant that the monies have not been used. One-and-a-half-billion have already gone back to the EU and another two billion seem headed there now.

The second big news story (and there are countless smaller ones, many of which provoke anguish) is the ongoing tragedy of migrants from places affected by war (Syria, Somalia) and poverty trying to come across the Mediterranean in unsafe craft from Libya and Tunisia to Sicily, which will give them a toehold in the European Union. Sicilians, most of whom know first-hand from their family histories about poverty that leads people to risk everything to emigrate to another continent for a better life, have bravely and generously borne the burden of trying to save migrants drowning at sea by the hundreds. Those who do get ashore are provided food and medical care. Most Italians are remarkably generous and hospitable and this ongoing human tragedy resonates with most of the nation, apart from a faction of the political right known as the Northern League, a sort of Tea Party centered in Lombardy and Veneto.

The Teatro Regio di Torino (Attualità)

'Legge Valore Cultura'

In the midst of all of this trauma, you might ask where does opera come in? Sad to say, the corruption and venality in one part of the society and the great human suffering in most of it are all highly operatic and arouse emotions we would understand. Berlusconi would be Verdi’s Duke of Mantua, while the suffering masses summon memories of choruses from Nabucco and I Vespri Siciliani.

Massimo Bray, the new minister of culture, has proposed, and Parliament approved on October 3, a new law called the Legge Valore Cultura. One of its goals is to safeguard certain few irreplaceable monuments such as Pompeii. The second is to restructure boards, management and funding of top opera houses and orchestras. Essentially, the changes are that the size of boards would be diminished; the previous custom of having a city mayor on or heading a board would be eliminated; personnel could be streamlined so that people with legacy jobs who don’t do meaningful work can be eliminated. A fund of 75 million euros was created to provide loans to struggling theaters (such as Florence and Genoa) to be repaid within 30 years. A very controversial aspect of the law is that the minister of culture, and not boards of theaters, should be the one who selects the new general manager of a theater.

When I spoke to people here as well as in Milan and Verona, I found a mixed response to the new law. On the plus side, the removal of mayors means that it is possible to somewhat depoliticize how boards govern as there will not be a sense of obligation to the mayor. One manager told me he saw mayors “held hostage” by unions during contract negotiations and made concessions that were bad for a theater but good for re-election campaigns. A problem in Italy has been that when a mayor leaves office and is replaced by one from another party, an opera house becomes paralyzed until a new mayor presents his or her vision for the theater.

Some observers say that the reduction in board size will mean less potential for fundraising and, in addition, a reduced incentive for people to donate. In Italy, charitable contributions to the arts are not deductible from taxes. Companies that are well-run and have remained solvent in difficult times (Teatro Regio di Torino; La Scala; Teatro La Fenice; Accademia di Santa Cecilia) fear that government intervention in their operations will weaken them. They suggest that some of the rules of the law should apply only to companies who take loans from the emergency fund. One administrator in Milan said, “Why should La Scala and the other strong theaters be included in the ubiquitous sense of crisis when we are doing our jobs seriously and well?”

We New Yorkers can draw an important lesson from all of this. Italy is besieged in ways we cannot imagine. And yet they understand that culture is worth talking about and trying to save, even in fits and starts, through the actions of government. The new cultural law was passed only two days after the death of the New York City Opera. In our rich and often self-congratulatory city, our political gods and financial masters of the universe never cared enough to even try to create a plan to restructure and save the City Opera. They would call it “la forza del destino.” To which I would respond, “Va, pensiero.”

Photo of Berlusconi: FILIPPO MONTEFORTE/AFP/Getty Images


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Comments [39]

Charles Fischbein from Front Royal, Va.

Dear Concetta, You are correct about factory farming, when I eat meat from my lambs or a neighbors steers, I know exactly what is in it. My wife use to serve as a Veterinarian for a stock sale once a week, testing some of the animals going through being sold for slaughter/ It is amazing the chemical agents these animals carry.
We eat a lot of chicken and our birds have full run of the fields, and eat only corn,and grain, they are the only animals I personally slaughter, but for some reason I don't bond with them like the four legged critters here. When we have city friends over for dinner the first comment many make is that the color of the meat is so different from what they see in supermarkets. We also get two turkey hens every spring and raise them up for our Thanksgiving and Christmas family dinners. I have taught my oldest grandson to slaughter them. He live in the city and I don't want him growing up thinking corn grows in a can.
Talk about dumb animals, turkeys will drown themselves in the rain by holding their heads up with their beaks open, not wild turkeys, but the ones that have been genetically engineered by major suppliers, they literally breed the brains and natural instincts out of them.
Enough for now as some folks will get on me for being off topic. God Speed, Charles Fischbein

Oct. 26 2013 04:34 PM
concetta nardone

Agree with your comments on animals raised on factory farms and kept in small enclosures. The meat is not better for this. Unfortunately we are omnivores and need meat in our diets. I cannot digest veal because of the cruel conditions. This is animal cruelty. We do not eat too much meat because of this. Do not know if you ever watched Food Inc. I think it was called. It shows quite a bit of the abuses going on in farming, including genetically modified foods, etc. I wonder if the increase in gluten intolerant people out there might be affected by this.
Best wishes

Oct. 26 2013 11:33 AM
Charles Fischbein from Front Royal, Va.

Dear Concetta, It may be the curse of males in some species, but although we try to sell our ram lamb's to other breeders there is a limited market for them so sometimes they do end up in our freezer. We always have a fresh supply of lamb on hand for dinner. In the past I kept several Angus steers around but they got aggressive with the sheep so it was a quick trip to the slaughter house and into the freezer.
I always feel bad when I have to bring an animal to the local slaughter house and it bothers me for quite some time, but a least I know that they have had a large pasture and freedom to roam unlike those raised on factory farms. No one who has hoofed stock that I know of can afford to keep neutered livestock unless they are destined for the stock sale auctions or the owners freezer, grain and corn are just too expensive and the hay we harvest is limited.
In fact have to go to feed mill Monday for a large load of winter corn and grain.
I wonder if in their last moments before they meet God if they recall the soothing music they have listened to every night. I asked them but they never answer. We use a local custom slaughter house that treats the animals very well before slaughter, some commercial slaughter facilities mistreat the animals horribly, it is a crime.
In fact I have suggested to the owner that he play music in the pens to calm them down, but so far no luck. God Speed, Charles Fischbein

Oct. 26 2013 11:06 AM
Concetta nardone

Dear Mr. Fischbein:
You know of course that St. Francis is watching and will bless you for your love of animals. Unfortunately, I have a weakness in that the darling little creatures are delicious.
Best wishes

Oct. 26 2013 09:50 AM
Charles Fischbein from Front Royal, Va.

Dear Concetta, I am not familiar with the breed but will mention them to my wife who is a Veterinarian when she gets home this evening.
We have had Great Pyrenees for over 20 years now, and have suffered no loses to rams, ewes, or lambs from predators since getting them. We have two females who stay with the sheep 24/7 in the field and at night in the barn or pens. We always have a breeding pair in the kennel so once the field dogs are close to being retired at about seven years of age we have younger dogs about two years of age to bring up to field guardian standards.
By April my den next to my wood stove is like a lamb nursery with mesh play pens housing weak or orphaned lambs that need bottle feeding. They are brought into the house at once and bottle fed till old enough to fend for themselves, usually mid May. I recall once we went to the Kennedy Center with a playpen with a weak lamb in the back of our SUV, and during the intermission of The Flying Dutchman we ran down to the Kennedy Center indoor parking lot to bottle feed, shut the door and went back to the Opera, thankfully the lamb was quiet or I do not know what people walking by our SUV would have thought.
Regardless of the time of year we do always play music in the barn, in lambing season we play a lot of Puccini, very relaxing for me also when I have to spend all night in the barn watching over birthing ewes. I tried playing my Cello for them but the barn cats seem to run away and we need them to keep rats and rabbits out of the feed, cats just do not appreciate my Cello solos.
Sheep are actually very dumb animals. An Australian friend of ours also a Vet. says Sheep are born looking for a place to die, it is very true, without vigilant care natural birth losses would exceed 25%.
PS we ended up naming the ewe that accompanied us to The Flying Dutchman, Senta ( what else could we do ) she is still going strong today.
Good Music, and God Speed, Charles Fischbein

Oct. 25 2013 07:32 PM
Concetta nardone

Dear CelloStudent: Thanks for the info. Wondered whatever happened to Anita Cerquetti. As for sheep dogs, another fine protective dog for sheep is the Maremanno Abruzzese. I once read that sheep farmers in Nevada have imported them. Gorgeous doggie but not a pet. They really do need a job. I lived in Abruzzi for four years and remember these dogs. I am really enjoying these back and forths as the nastiness has died down.
Best wishes

Oct. 25 2013 07:19 AM
Charles Fischbein from Front Royal, Va.

Frederico Plotkino reminds me of how Ernest Hemingway would frequently use the name Hemingstein when introducing himself to strangers and in answering his telephone. He even tried to get some short stories published under Hemingstein in is early days when working for newspapers, and used it when in the company of many of his African safari guides on his infamous African hunting trips. God Speed, Charles Fischbein

Oct. 24 2013 07:45 PM
Charles Fischbein from Front Royal, Va.

Thanks Fred, Think I'll try 68th St choice, on the way from hotel to Met.

Oct. 24 2013 04:26 PM
Federico Plotkino

Not a great choice of Italian dining near Lincoln Center. The closest is Fiorello at 1900 Broadway, but I can only fully recommend that antipasto bar choices of vegetables, seafood, prosciutto and mozzarella (you order what you wish). On Columbus and 68th Street is Il Violino, which is pretty good and somewhat under the radar. But neither would pass muster in Italy as being more than acceptable.

Oct. 24 2013 02:52 PM
Charles Fischbein from Front Royal, Va

Thanks for the heads up on the casting Fred. I wanted to try to see Radvanosky a second time performing I was so taken by her performance I saw earlier.
Just got off the net and got a ticket for Nov. 1. I am sometimes shut out of last minute performances as I can only get left aisle seats. After 12 surgeries on my right leg, it does not bend enough for me to sit in a standard theater seat, I need to extend it a little into the aisle. But I found there were a few choices left in Orchestra even though they are side aisle. So a quick Amtrak up, a little sleep at a nearby hotel and a mid morning Amtrak back, but if it is a s good as the last performance I saw earlier this month the trek will be well worth it. By the way, where do you suggest I go for a good Italian dinner close to the Met or my Hotel on 80th and Riverside Drive. Can't walk more than a few blocks with this leg, down to needing a cart on the farm to get around, Please RSVP. suggestions. God Speed, Charles Fischbein

Oct. 24 2013 02:07 PM
Charles Fischbein from Front Royal, Va.

Mr. Plotkin, ( Lamb of God ) no I have not, but you have got my curiosity up, will listen to it soon, just found a version on U-Tube, might be a good idea,
I am serious though about music in barns. Many breeders of various animals have learned that music, especially symphonic can actually slow the heartbeat of animals, and control their stress.
Sheep are some of the most easily stressed animals I have ever seen, since they are the first choice of many predators.
I can remember vividly when I was new at farming ( having grown up on West 72 ST in an apartment house ) walking out to my barn and finding five expensive Jacob Sheep near death after being attacked by wild dogs. It was the first time I ever killed an animal, but they were so far gone I had no choice but to take my shotgun and dispose of them to ease their suffering.
From that time on I began to bring them in out of the fields at night. They only go into the barn when frost hits since in fall the ewes are pregnant and I want them to conserve energy and be out of extreme cold nights.
For those vegetarians and animal lovers out there, we raise Jacob Sheep not for meat, but sell their much prized wool to hand spinners. There are just a few sheep farmers in Virginia that produce exclusively for a wool pool.
I will listen to your suggested piece shortly and get back to you with a critique from the lambs directly. Thanks for the heads up sir. You are a Gentleman though we might differ on a few key points. God Speed, Charles Fischbein

Oct. 24 2013 01:23 PM
Fred Plotkin

Note to Mr. Fischbein: Angela Meade and Jamie Barton are in "Norma" tonight and Oct 28. The first cast returns on Nov. 1. Angela Meade was excellent as Norma last March at the Kennedy Center.

Do you ever play an Agnus Dei for your flock?

Oct. 24 2013 12:37 PM
cellostudent from Front Royal, Va.

Dear Concetta, if you are drawn to Bellini's Norma like I have been since seeing it last week at the Met, I suggest you listen to an Opera D'Oro recording of it taped in 1958.
Norma is sung by Anita Cerquetti, who had a very short career in Opera. While the quality of the recording is rather poor even by 1958 standards her portrayal of Norman is by far the best I have ever heard, and I have heard many. Giulio Neri sings a wonderful Oroveso also.
I have many of the D'oro recordings as they seem to focus on diamonds in the rough, but this one hits it out of the ball park.
My sheep seem to think so too, as I made a personal CD copy and left it on in the barn last night, the first night of the fall that I brought the sheep into the barn.
When I walked out this morning to check water, and let them go into pasture even they had smiles on their faces. As I mentioned I play music in the barn, as it seems to quiet the sheep down and also keeps predators such as stray dogs and foxes away, but if things get too bad in the predator environment i have two hundred and twenty pound Great Pyrenees dogs that live with the sheep and would kill any four legged intruder in five minuets or less.
I have however trained them to be kind to liberals since many of my former New York friends show up here form time to time for a few day's in the country.
Really, get the D'oro recording of Norma.
I am anxious to hear the new cast performing it tonight, if it is as good as what I saw, I may just grab a ticket for the final November 1st performance and make a one day trip up and back to see it once more. God Speed, Good Music, Charles Fischbein

Oct. 24 2013 12:30 PM
concetta nardone

Dear Cellostudent: What else can one say about Norma. Bellini was Sicilian as was my mother and this gives Norma a special place in my heart. Have the CD with LaDivina Callas and the finale whereby she pleads for her children wounds the soul. The finale of Norma and the finale of Die Walkure flow into each other. Bellini was holy water and he inspired many composers.
Best wishes
and let's keep these discussions civil. Classical music lovers are supposed to have a little more class than the rest of the world. It does not always work that way.

Oct. 24 2013 11:14 AM
cellostudent from Front Royal, Va.

Someone here called for a little humor, I showed my wife your post Duck, before she left for the Vet. Clinic since she was my spell checker before computers. Then I referenced an old article I came across on a site called "Mental Floss " which listed top wordsmiths who could not spell, this is their list:
William Faulkner, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Ernest Hemingway (my favorite writer in the world ), John Keats, and Jane Austen.
I frankly would rather be in their company than the company of radical liberals who think the government and not sound management, and hard work can save opera companies, arts museums, and community theaters. I have to stick up for myself since few else in New York will. Have a wonderful day. Charles Fischbein, Front Royal, Va. PS part of my problem is I type so fast I get ahead of myself but you got me for sure on Capital vs. Capitol, one for the liberals.

Oct. 24 2013 09:06 AM
cellostudent from Front Royal, Va

Duck, you got me, it is strange but I have been doing it all my life and have caught heck any number of times from Copy Editors, I don't know why, but before spell check on computers I was one of the worlds worst spellers. However I am in good company, I understand that Hemingway, and Winston Churchill were worse spellers than I am. Before I post anything I usually re check, but when your right your right even if your Left.
Had hard frost last night so got to go our to barn and be sure water troughs are not frozen over for horses and sheep, not as easy as taking the elevator to the lobby and walking a block to Starbucks. God Speed, and thanks again for the heads up, but then again could never spell even my Masters thesis at George Mason would have been thrown back if not for spell check on my old yellow screen computer. Keep warm, God Speed and Good Opera Charles Fischbein
P.S. Since the sheep are now in the barn at night, I have started their winter music ritual with repeating CD of Norma, since I saw it last week at the Met I cannot get it out of my head, play and replay it what an Opera.

Oct. 24 2013 08:47 AM

I keep seeing references to Capital Hill. This confuses me. Have I had it wrong all these years?

Oct. 23 2013 08:05 PM
concetta nardone

Yes Carol, I agree. It is getting nasty. I was writing the folks to be civil and FUNNY when possible. This is supposed to be a discussion. Will not jump in on this one.
Best wishes

Oct. 23 2013 02:13 PM

Hi Concetta,
Yes, I think we have another kerfuffle going, but I don't think I want to get involved in this one (too uncivil)!
Best wishes!

Oct. 23 2013 10:32 AM

Dear Cahrgid, I DO not stalk, I speak with my mouth and pen. I will end this string here and now, I never said folks from UWS were that only ones who berated returning Vietnam Vets. In New York, California, Boston and many other cities returning troops were called baby killers, and had tomatoes, toilet paper as well as feces and urine thrown on them. Those are the facts and were reported by The New York Times and Newspapers and television stations throughout the world.
I was one of those returning Vietnam Vets. On April 8,1975 I arrived at Miami International Airport as a leader on a baby lift flight from Saigon with my newly adopted son and over thirty Black/Vietnamese orphans. I still have the clips from Miami television stations of people jeering and throwing things not only on the soldier sponsors but on traumatized children being carried by social workers past bright T.V. lights.
Please study your history.
I mention the UWS because I can see from WQXR posts that is where a number of the most militant readers are from. I do not wish to offend anyone.
I was born in 1944 and lived on West 72 St Manhattan, until 1960 when my family moved to Forest Hills. On my monthly travels to The Metropolitan Opera, which cost me in excess of $7500 per year for tickets, transportation, food and hotels I stay exclusively at a small hotel on 80th and Riverside Drive, and enjoy walking the neighborhood and recalling my childhood there, it is one of the finest area of New York City and perhaps the safest
.Unfortunately just as Appalachia and West Virginia have stigmas of back woods, ignorant persons in their majority populations, ( see Berni's post and MAK's reference to bigoted backwater",) the Upper West Side of Manhattan is universally known as a bastion of liberal thought.
I do not want to offend, I will keep further posts on issues of the arts and fundraising, but the remarks of MAK and especially Bernie were blatant personal attacks. Believe me I sleep well and throw them off but while I may use sarcasm and humor the only time I have ever focused negative remarks to a particular group was in reference to the Gay outbursts inside and outside the Met on opening night, and I stand by those remarks. I will still keep my offer to buy Bernie a cup of Coffee at his favorite Starbucks when I am in New York next and personally forgive him for his misguided statements. That is what America and Americans should be about.
We are expecting our first hard frost tonight and my farm worker and I will be busy checking barn doors and fences so my sheep can find shelter if they wish. Living on a working sheep farm is hard work and a guarantee of losing money, but I would not change it for the world. By the way during lambing season ( late March through April ) as per our breeding program, I play Puccini orchestrations of his Operas on my CD system in the barn, it seems to calm the sheep. Who knew? God Speed. Charles Fischbein. got lots to do outside today.

Oct. 23 2013 09:40 AM
concetta nardone

Folks, not only try to be civil but also FUNNY AND WITTY when you can. Funny is good and one of the beatitudes.

Oct. 23 2013 08:08 AM
concetta nardone

Hi Carol, I think we have another k going on. Best wishes.
As for the economic downturn going on here, one of my friends visited a friend up in Michigan about ten years or so ago. He drove. When he returned, he said, Ma, all the boarded up houses and stores in Ohio, Michigan, etc. I do not think it has gotten any better. As for liberals, my other son who is to the right, calls his brother (lovingly I hope) someone from the turtle necked crowd.
Folks, please no personal attacks against Fred. Poor form. He writes a really fine column.

Oct. 23 2013 08:01 AM
Chrigid from NYC

Reading Mr. Fischbein's comments here and in the past, I began to worry that he was stalking Mr. Plotkin, but I think it's more a case of his resenting that Mr. Plotkin, whose beat is opera, food and Italy, is not writing about Charles Fischbein, Charles Fischbein's history and Charles Fischbein's belief systems. And what better way for Mr. Fischbein to celebrate himself than to use (and abuse) the comment section on Mr. Plotkin's work for WQXR.

I still find Mr. Fischbein's attacks on the Upper West Side scary, especially after his blatant lie that MOST (his emphasis) of the liberals in this neighborhood threw toilet paper at returning Vietnam Vets.

Oct. 23 2013 01:59 AM

Well Bernie, you got me I am very much inbread. I have to come clean, let me tell you how this Redneck lives.
At 19 I married a widow, older than me who had a grown daughter, my father who was divorced met my wife's daughter, fell in love and married her. That meant my father was actually my son in law. My step daughter was actually my mother because she was married to my father. Then I had my first child, a son, so my son actually became a brother in law to my father, and therefore became my uncle. Since he was my uncle it also made him brother of my wife's grown daughter, who was my mother.
My fathers wife then had a son and since he was my daughters son he was my grandchild. My wife was then my mothers mother.
Since she was my wife she is my grandmother also.
Now since my wife is my grand mother , then I am her grand child, therefore as a husband of my grandmother I am my own grandfather also.
Got to go off to church soon so I can engage in snake handling, that's just how inbreed Rednecks work nowadays. You got it right for the first time in your life Bernie, congratulations. Charles Fischbein

Oct. 22 2013 09:30 PM

To "cellostudent":On Oct. 20, 2013, you posted a comment for 'Tangled Web: Internet-Based Opera to Open at Met' that read: "A little too much Chianti possibly went to Mr. Plotkins [sic] head and made it a little larger than it is already??" Now I'm sure that this is your true and honest opinion just as the one by "Bernie from UWS" is. Therefore you cannot cry FOUL for what you yourself have done.

Oct. 22 2013 04:57 PM

Dear WQXR-I am listening to such lovely music and reading such disturbing comments-the likes of which I have never seen foul this site before- highjacked and dominated by one person's agenda.

Biased opinions are one thing, crazed and continual personal attacks are another- What ARE the limits to brevity and civility? I am sure that the line has already been crossed. I have learned that I have "mood swings" and a "personality disorder". That gay people are are "perverts" and "biological misfits" and I'm sure that Fred was surprised to learn that, in addition to his "thin skin" he also has a "big head" and "drinks too much chianti". There is not a comment that isn't an attack or a slur or provocation. WQXR ia much better than this. It is an insult to all of your loyal and appreciative readers. It is clear from this continuous monoloque, that this is not a normal way to behave or conduct one's self in a social situation. I have compassion for whatever the bigger problem or need is, but I am weary of this disturbing discourse . Please let this stop.
Thank you

Oct. 22 2013 04:46 PM

I would expect an editor at WQXR to remove the post by Bernie. It is a direct personal attack, I could care less what he thinks of me, but it does not fit the demeanor of WQXR, if a listener must stoop to the vulgarity and personal smears of Bernie, I would think management would remove his crass remarks. I would expect these words from a second grade student upset by a peer after a school yard fight, not an adult. I believe you must be over 13 years old to post here, so Bernie, act your age, Please. Let's see how Public Radio polices itself. Or is it only the RIGHT that's gets bleeped. Charles Fischbein

Oct. 22 2013 03:56 PM

I am an MBA Graduate Student at N.Y.U. focusing my studies on the management of non profit organizations. I was quite interested in the remarks of Fred Plotkin on funding of the arts in Italy, and have read with some interest the posts of a number of listeners.
While I may not wear the political stripes of ( cellostudent ) I assume right wing, he does make some valid comments regarding the need for focus and self-sufficiency of non profits in general.
Once a 501 c-3 or other non profit begins to look like it is failing financially most donors run away from it. People like to donate to winning causes, so the management of Symphonies and Opera Houses must be constantly vigilant regarding their expenditures and have a keen understanding of their audience and how to reach them.

Oct. 22 2013 03:22 PM

We'd like to remind everyone of our comment guidelines, namely: Please stay on topic, be civil, and be brief. If posts violate this policy they will be removed from the site.

Thanks in advance for your cooperation.

Oct. 22 2013 02:44 PM

Hi Bernie UP there. Did you look at the standards for posting, but I guess your world is so full of yourself you forgot about the NO NO's of personal attacks.
THIS REDNICK holds a Masters in Conflict Resolution from George Mason University, has published more articles in national newspapers that you could ever read, and has done more to help others than you could ever do from your uptown hideaway. So take a deep breath and take your meds, Every post I have entered deals with issues of music, Opera or Arts funding, I only feel obligated to inform narrow minded people like yourself that there is a world outside of 72nd Street.
Mr. Ploltkin, if you read his last blog spent a considerable amount of time dealing with the internal politics in Italy, so I thought I would make a comparison with his recent experiences and what is going on today in the United States beyond the Upper West Side, where by the way I grew up and attended Rhodes Prep School on 54St off 5th Ave.
When I go to New York City monthly I stay at a Hotel right off 80th St. and Riverside Drive. I would love to buy you a cup of coffee and discus the narrow minded view of the world you hold. You are most likely too smart to fall for the long standing view of liberals who mark everyone they disagree with as a Redneck of raciest. How many children of color did you adopt and raise Mr. Upper West Side.
Oh by the way, my neck is not red, I cannot take too much sun so always wear a hat.
I assume from your perch atop your universe you would agree that performing Operas like Enchanted Island which to date has sold less than 150 seats combined in Family Circle and Balcony for some mid week performances do little to assure the financial success of the Met.
With City Opera filing bankruptcy, The Brooklyn Symphony trying to keep breathing, The Washington National Opera having to be bailed out by The Kennedy Center, on and on and on, and other fine classical symphony orchestras struggling to meet payroll astute business people MUST look at the bottom line.
There is a place for new artists to cut their teeth, but I question if that place is in 4000 seat Opera houses with very high overhead.
I assume that MOST people who reside on the Upper West Side of Manhattan have had either some success in life or a big inheritance. If you fall into the first category, why do you fail to see the need for financial support from the box office for every production staged, be it at The Met. or a Community theatre. Common sense dictates you don't stage unproven productions in major venues with high overhead, and hundreds of staff members, many being overpaid union workers who only seem to care about their annual pay increases to the detriment of their employers and audiences.
Focus Bernie, focus God Speed, Charles Fischbein

Oct. 22 2013 02:16 PM
Bernie from UWS

OK, @cellostudent's right-wing diatribes are growing tiresome. If you want to pledge allegiance to the Tea Party and its uneducated, inbred, backwards mentality, that's your prerogative, but it doesn't belong on a website about opera. This is a forum for people who care about art, culture and humanism. We're not interested in redneck commentary. Thanks.

Oct. 22 2013 01:39 PM

Dear MAK, Re the region, I do not know if you live on your farm full time. I purchased my sixty acre farm back in 1981, and I have had an active role in managing the farm. Mt wife is a local Veterinarian and aside from a seventy head flock of Jacob Sheep we have a number of Arabian horses.
I did not mean to state the all of the problems of the region are due to the environmental attacks on coal. When I first moved here I served as a fund raising volunteer for out local food bank, and even back in the 1980's the area was depressed. However back then there were still a number of factory jobs, General Electric, Avtec Fibers, American Woodmark etc. and now most have disappeared.
My goal in my response to Mr. Plotkin was to enable him to see that what he has heard in Italy and other countries such a Greece are the same cry's that many Americans hear every day from their neighbors.
Living in New York City, and in the affluent suburbs of Washington D.C. one can easily forget how regions less than a five hour drive from Lincoln Center can be depressed to the point that unemployment exceeds 12% and grown men and women seek part time employment in McDonalds and Burger King just to earn minimum wages.
In response to Mr. Plotkins last paragraph above, I ask just WHY should the City of New York, or any other public entity be called upon to support an Opera Company, Museum, or theatre. If a non profit is well managed, most can weather our present economic storms. Thank God we are NOT Italy of France or other European countries where the populations look first to their Government nurse maids for nourishment rather than focusing on hard work. With retirement at age 50? fully vested pensions for life after fifteen years of employment? NO country can afford those costs.
I would like those who read this to go to the web site for The Metropolitan Opera and see just how many unsold seats there are for weeknight performance's of Two Boys, and compare that with the nearly sold out house for Ruskala with Reene Flemming.
If the Met continues to serve as a proving ground for young composers barely old enough to drink Champaign legally they may end up like City Opera.
I wonder if Maestro Levine had much to do with the scheduling several years ago for Two Boy's, and if you think that will be playing to a half empty house take a look at the number of empty seats for Enchanted Island, later in the season. It could make you wonder what the Met's Board of Directors really thinks about the Gelb era and his audience be dammed approach to scheduling of Operas, Mr. High Tech may one day God forbid put the Met in same situation as The City Opera, with nowhere to turn. Met titles, Live In HD, Sirusxm, what is next?, second class singers relying on voice enhancement like many singing for City Opera? God Speed, Charles Fischbein

Oct. 22 2013 12:29 PM
concetta nardone

Fine article Mr. Plotkin. I lived in Italy from 1968-1972. This article pains me but what is happening in America also pains. We have a nation in economic and CULTURAL decline. Food stamps increasing, employment figures do not reflect that we have many part time workers, etc. etc.Honey boo boo, real housewife, etc. The Obamination we have as president has worsened the situation started by the Texas Thug. If the NSA is reading this, I am an old woman who needs a walker. Really dangerous to the bunch of hyenas governing us.

Oct. 22 2013 11:42 AM

Dear Mr. Plotkin,
Please toughen up a bit, What I said was partially tongue in cheek. You self promote yourself as a PUBLIC FIGURE, to do that successfully you need a thick skin. Just try working on Capital Hill with a thin skin and see how far you get.
A thin skin may fit The Upper West Side, but when you are a public figure the good goes with the bad. God Speed. Charles Fischbein

Oct. 22 2013 08:47 AM

Si, Fred, va pensiero, ma anche, "sull'ali dorate!"

Forgive me for going far off topic for a moment. I just wish to say that I have a farm, on the northern border of WVA in PA, that has been in my family for over 80 years. I know that area of the Appalachians well. It is true that there is a move away from tar-coal but mainly because of technical break-throughs in the deep mining of natural gas-the Marcellus Shale deposit-one of the richest deposits of natural gas. For a long time our area was depressed. But there have been many recent fortunes made and the whole region was lifted economically (but along with other significant negative concerns). I can only speak for my home, but I am surprised that
the region in WVA and VA, on the same deposit, did not experience the same revival. I am sorry if that was not the case. There are many reasons that family farms in the area are not doing well, but the problem started a long time ago and for different reasons. We have invited our neighbors, who lost their land a while ago, to farm our land- to make sure that they have good food for their tables and to supplement their income. Please forgive the long digression from your topic, Fred, but I thought I might shed some light, at least on an area of America as I know it and the reality that I see, as it has been a large focus of the commentary.

But back to opera- You pose a complicated question, Fred. I hope that some solution will be found in a shared responsibility that raises the tide for everyone. This has been a long, hard slog for many people and treasured institutions- everywhere. It seems that we might start with people with solid education and experience in the business of arts management (where might the best place to learn this be?), who are visible and have respected public personae, (and energy) with genuine understanding and LOVE for the arts. I have always admired the example of Isaac Stern and Carnegie Hall, although of a diferent time and circumstance. Such a person could help to drive the direction of solid legislation and funding, as Mr. Stern did.

Thanks again for your first person and global perspective, Fred. It is of benefit to have a foward thinking view. There is always something to be learned from other people and cultures-so important to keep the mind, imagination and conversation open. And you are indeed a gentleman and a scholar.Margaret

Oct. 22 2013 03:15 AM
Kenneth Bennett Lane, Lake Hiawatha, NJ from Richard Wagner Music Drama Institute, Boonton, NJ

FRED, I have many friends who remember my singing in n Italy and recall sentimentally "the gpod old days."
I get e-mails and telephone calls wishing that somehow America will come to their aid financially. I tell them the unvarnished truth that Americans are unclear as to their own futures and even those with advanced degrees, find that poterntial jobs for them have been outsourced to other countries where salaries are lower and unions do not interfere between worker and management. My brother Dr. Ben Lane has six degrees from ivy universities, is a nutritional optometrist, with patients from Dubai, France, Germany and the Scandinavian countries who find his knowledge and expertise in preventing or reversing eye problems is "unico." Because health concerns are everywhere acknowledged to be essential, people make great efforts to attain good health. But if our cultural needs are not satisfied we will become addicted robotic couch potatoes. Last night as a JUILLIARD alumnus I attended a concert of BARTOK and BRUCKNER by the 100 member JUILLIARD ORCHESTRA conducted by the NEW YORK PHILHARMONIC's Maestro Alan Gilbert in the Isaac Stern Auditorium of CARNEGIE HALL that was astonishing in every respect, reminiscent of TOSCANINI conducting the SYMPHONY OF THE AIR. Yes, it was that good !!! America must not lose its pursuit of its own cultural aspirations. I am a Wagnerian heldentenor and director of the Richard Wagner Music Drama Institute and may be heard singing in 37 out of the 100 selections that I have sang in four three-hour-long solo concerts in the main hall, the Isaac Stern Auditorium of CARNEGIE HALL, at the RECORDED SELECTIONS venue on my website On Sunday October 27th at 5 PM, at the NEWLIFE EXPO at the New Yorker Hotel I will sing my fourth concert in New York of the series "The 300 Greatest Love Songs of Broadway Musicals, Movies, and The Grammys." The 300 Love Songs on ten DVDs recorded live on the VALHALLA RECORDS label will be obtainable commercially on February 14th, 2014, St. Valentine's Day.

Oct. 22 2013 01:46 AM
Fred Plotkin

A couple of civil and brief comments to Mr. Fischbein:

1. I cover all of the opera world in my column. You can click my name in blue on the byline and find 265 articles on many operatic subjects. Because Italy is the birthplace of opera and the nation that gave us some of the most beloved composers, what happens there ultimately affects all of Planet Opera.

2. Be careful about using stereotypes about people, especially those you do not know. Each and every one of us is more subtle and distinctive than any stereotype can describe or embrace.

Respectfully, Fred Plotkin

Oct. 22 2013 12:47 AM
David from Flushing

In Europe one finds national cultures based on tradition. That is not the case in the US. This is due in part to our being immigrants from all over the world and also the great geographical distances found within the country. In many senses we are a country without tradition. We have no traditional dress and many of our observances are of relatively recent origin.

Under these circumstances, you are not going to have any kind of consensus of whose culture should be tax supported. Classical music is now that of the elderly educated classes and will largely vanish with their deaths in 16 years or so. Government support will not stop this trend. Then there is the just complaint of why there is not tax support for free rock concerts that far more people would enjoy. Public support for the arts in the US is vulnerable to attacks that it is elitist and does not reflect the wishes of the vast majority.

Oct. 21 2013 08:34 PM

Mr. Plotkin, just drive South on I-95 south past Washington D.C. into Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina and then a bit west to the Appalachian Region of the U.S. What you will hear most people in the region say is " We eat less now than we did a year ago." This has become the battle cry through the Appalachians especially since Obama declared war on the regions vital coal industry throwing entire towns and counties which once prospered, into third world poverty.
I am sure your readers are interested in the happenings in Italy, but your column seems to focus more on internal Italian politics than music.
Regardless if I am in my favorite Front Royal, Va. coffee shop, The Daily Grind, or on the golf course, or talking to families on Main St. or at the Feed Mill getting grain for my horses, most all people I meet seem to say the same thing you hear in Italy, "we eat less now than we did a year ago."
Record numbers of Americans on food stamps, record numbers of Americans going to Food Banks and Soup kitchens. We have Mr. Liberal himself, President Obama to thank for this, and while he may not be the cause of an Italian economic decline, he certainly has destroyed thousands of hard working men and women in the coal fields of my region.
The fall out of his hatred of hard working Americans who "cling to their Bibles and guns" ( my neighbors)has made ghost towns of formerly prospering hamlets and counties.
It would have been nice if Mr. Plotkin would say a few words about the economic declines in America, and acknowledge the suffering of his fellow countrymen, but he fits the description of the average New York liberal who thinks the world ends at the Nassau County line, and uses the International departure terminal at JFK for his personal escapes. Just how much we mirror Italy may be hard to see from the Upper West Side of Manhattan, but come on down and see reality.. God Speed, Charles Fischbein

Oct. 21 2013 07:12 PM

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Operavore is WQXR's digital 24/7 audio stream and devoted to Opera. The Operavore blog features breaking news, expert commentary and reviews by writers Fred Plotkin, David Patrick Stearns, Amanda Angel and others. The music stream features a continuous, carefully programmed mix of classic and contemporary opera recordings.

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