I have often said that I think that, in general, the quality of conducting at the Metropolitan Opera has been high. It helps that the Metropolitan Opera Orchestra is an outstanding group of musicians who are flexible and versatile in many styles. One of their many strengths is that they are superb listeners, so they play with one another and with the singers.
Much of the orchestra’s consistency and continued excellence owes to James Levine’s 43-year association with the company. He has built and rebuilt the orchestra three times and has imparted his wisdom, which the musicians then transmit to younger colleagues. This season, Levine has come back from injuries in grand style with Cosí fan tutte, Falstaff and Wozzeck, and it is heartening that he is scheduled for six operas in the 2014-2015 season.
Excellent maestros who are frequent visitors include Marco Armiliato, Harry Bicket, James Conlon, Valery Gergiev, Vladimir Jurowski, Fabio Luisi, Yannick Nézet-Séguin, Gianandrea Noseda and David Robertson. I am very pleased that Alan Gilbert, who conducted Doctor Atomic in 2008, is returning next season for Don Giovanni.
With the recent death of Claudio Abbado, I deemed it a loss for New Yorkers that he only conducted seven performances of Don Carlo at the Met in 1968 and never returned. I don’t know why. He had a brilliant career in Europe as the head of La Scala and the Vienna State Opera, but it would have been wonderful to hear him work with the Met Orchestra.
Abbado’s passing set me to thinking about conductors whom I would love to hear leading performances at the Met. Some are quite young, others are venerable elders who still have much to offer. Each of these maestros would bring passion and specialization in certain repertory that would energize audiences and musicians alike. Some of them might not be the easiest people to get along with, but all have distinct artistic personalities that make for compelling nights at the opera. Here are my picks, listed alphabetically, including operas they might perform at the Met:
Richard Bonynge (age 83) is, for many people, linked to the career of his late wife, the peerless Joan Sutherland, and they fail to recognize his considerable achievements on his own. He still conducts and teaches. I would love to hear him do Verdi’s I Masnadieri or Massenet’s Cleopatre with Elina Garança or Magdalena Kozená in the title role.
Riccardo Chailly led a new production of Les Contes d’Hoffmann at the Met in 1982 and has never been back. He has done excellent orchestral conducting in Amsterdam and Leipzig (including a marvelous recent recording of the Brahms symphonies with the Gewandhaus Orchestra). He has done distinguished opera conducting in Zurich and is about to become the next music director of La Scala. How about Il Trittico at the Met?
Gustavo Dudamel would attract big audiences, as he has shown in Los Angeles and in Europe, and is game for meaningful repertory. I propose a revival of Janacek’s From the House of the Dead.
Daniel Harding (right) is a talented British conductor who has distinguished himself at La Scala, Salzburg and with the New York Philharmonic. I would be glad to hear him lead the Met’s outstanding productions of Billy Budd or Ariadne auf Naxos. Photo: K.MIURA
Philippe Jordan led Die Fledermaus, Don Giovanni, Carmen and Le Nozze di Figaro at the Met between 2002 and 2007. Born in 1974, the Swiss conductor became the music director of the Paris Opera in 2010. Last December I heard him lead an excellent Elektra there. For the Met, how about Meyerbeer’s L’Africaine, not heard in the house since 1934?
Zubin Mehta conducted nearly 100 performances at the Met between 1965 and 1971 with hall-of-fame casts in Verdian classics plus Carmen, Turandot and the world premiere of Marvin David Levy’s Mourning Becomes Electra in 1967. While New Yorkers might think of him primarily as a symphonic conductor after his long tenure at the New York Philharmonic, Europeans know him as an opera conductor through his relationships with the companies in Munich and Florence. Let’s have Der fliegende Holländer.
Andris Nelsons, who has just become the principal conductor of the Boston Symphony, led Turandot and Queen of Spades at the Met between 2009 and 2011. His recent Salome with the Vienna Philharmonic at Carnegie Hall was so phenomenal that I want to hear him do it at the Met.
Antonio Pappano led the premiere of Robert Carsen’s production of Eugene Onegin at the Met in 1997 and has since had a brilliant career in Brussels and then the Royal Opera in London, where he has worked wonders. He was superb in Salzburg’s Don Carlo last summer and has done an outstanding job as the head of Rome’s Accademia di Santa Cecilia. We need to hear him again at the Met in just about anything he would want to do. I would ask for Otello.
Nello Santi conducted nearly 400 performances at the Met between 1962 and 2000 and is a grand old maestro (age 82) who was the mainstay of the Italian wing. He is still active, mostly in Zürich. Singers and audiences love him. How about L’Amore dei Tre Re or Iris?
Christian Thielemann, the exacting Dresden-based conductor, led Der Rosenkavalier, Arabella and Die Frau Ohne Schatten between 1993 and 2002. I would ask him for a revival of Moses und Aron.
Alberto Zedda, age 86, is the heart and soul of the Rossini Festival in Pesaro. Last time I checked he was in fine fettle and bringing his remarkable knowledge of Rossini to performances and coaching there. He has worked with most of the top singers in this repertory and I would love to see him lead the Met premieres of either Il Turco in Italia or Tancredi. Failing that, a gala Rossini concert to raise money for the company’s endowment with singers such as Daniela Barcellona, Cecilia Bartoli, Lawrence Brownlee, Diana Damrau, Michael Fabiano, Vivica Genaux, Joyce DiDonato, Juan Diego Flórez, Angela Meade, John Osborn, Luca Pisaroni and any other young talent Zedda has discovered.
Which conductor would you like to hear at the Met who is not a regular?