Mighty Mouse has come to save the Met

Shanghai Daily - - FEATURE - Ron­ald Blum

Yan­nick Nezet-Seguin con­ducted his first per­for­mance as just the third mu­sic di­rec­tor in the Metropoli­tan Opera’s 135-year-old his­tory when he mounted the podium of the fi­nan­cially chal­lenged com­pany Tues­day night in a new pro­duc­tion of Verdi’s “La Travi­ata” by Tony Award­win­ning di­rec­tor Michael Mayer.

Some in the Met orches­tra have taken to calling the 165-cen­time­ter Mon­treal na­tive by the af­fec­tion­ate an­thro­po­mor­phic nick­name first be­stowed by mezzo-so­prano Joyce DiDonato.

“It has to do with the in­cred­i­ble amount of en­ergy and su­per-heroic dis­po­si­tion, wrapped in a more com­pact pack­age,” she said in an email.

Rafael Kube­lik lasted just six per­for­mances as the Met’s first mu­sic di­rec­tor in 1973, quit­ting af­ter clashes over cast­ing. James Levine started a 40-year reign in 1976 that lasted more than 2,300 per­for­mances; he was pushed out two years ago fol­low­ing a decade of de­clin­ing health and fired from his emer­i­tus role last March af­ter al­le­ga­tions of sex­ual mis­con­duct the Met found to be cred­i­ble.

The Met said in June 2016 that NezetSeguin would be­come mu­sic di­rec­tor for the 2020-21 sea­son, then moved up the timetable last Fe­bru­ary.

“There’s a boy­ish en­thu­si­asm about him that’s very sin­cere, and I think that brings some­thing dif­fer­ent to the ta­ble,” said Sylvia Dan­burg Volpe, as­so­ciate prin­ci­pal sec­ond vi­o­lin.

Nezet-Seguin, 43, rep­re­sents a gen­er­a­tional change from the 75-year-old Levine, a dy­namo in his prime but con­fined to con­duct­ing from a mo­tor­ized chair since 2013 due to back in­juries, his left arm im­paired by Parkin­son’s dis­ease.

Clar­inetist Jes­sica Phillips, chair of the Met’s orches­tra com­mit­tee, felt “in the last 10 years we were left sort of rud­der­less” and “it was just kind of a slow, steady de­cline.” She en­cour­aged Nezet-Seguin to move up the start of his ten­ure.

A draw­ing of him by Em­manuelle Ayr­ton was com­mis­sioned by the orches­tra, which along with Met gen­eral man­ager Peter Gelb toasted Nezet-Seguin with Cham­pagne af­ter a mati­nee of Wag­ner’s “Par­si­fal” last win­ter.

Be­cause of his rel­a­tive youth, NezetSeguin is more ap­proach­able and mu­si­cians are more re­laxed.

“Jimmy was awe-in­spir­ing and then like kind of ter­ror-in­spir­ing,” Phillips said. “Not that he was a dic­ta­tor, but if you hadn’t worked with him for a long pe­riod of time, you would be ter­ri­fied. He would just work and work and work, and ei­ther you grew or you be­came very wor­ried about ev­ery­thing that you were do­ing be­cause he would nit­pick so much. I think Jimmy would only nit­pick with the peo­ple he thought could grow from it.”

Nezet-Seguin has been mu­sic di­rec­tor of the Orchestre Metropoli­tain in Mon­treal since 2000 and of the Philadel­phia Orches­tra since 2012-13. He was chief con­duc­tor of the Rot­ter­dam Phil­har­monic from 2008-09 through last sea­son.

He be­comes Met mu­sic di­rec­tor at a time when ticket sales have sta­bi­lized at about 75 per­cent of ca­pac­ity and 67 per­cent of avail­able box of­fice. Levine fo­cused on Verdi, Wag­ner, Mozart and Strauss but broad­ened the reper­tory. Nezet-Seguin wants to widen it even more, in­creas­ing baroque op­eras in the 4,000-ca­pac­ity house.

“I feel that the orches­tra is con­fused, not only the orches­tra, the house is con­fused at how to be­have with the size of the au­di­to­rium,” he said. “I hear a bit too much about, oh it’s big here, there­fore this and that and that. I un­der­stand the box of­fice and the seats is­sue. That is easy. But acous­ti­cally I al­ways found that here the size of voices, the vol­ume of the voice, is not what re­acts the best. What re­acts best is ac­tu­ally the right res­o­nance of the voice.”

The Met hopes to present some stag­ings out­side its home, sub­ject to union agree­ments, in­clud­ing Missy Maz­zoli’s “Break­ing the Waves” at the Brook­lyn Academy of Mu­sic in 2020.

While Levine’s in­ter­ac­tions with stu­dents were con­cen­trated to those on an elite track, Nezet-Seguin is open­ing the house to school groups. A class from Queens at­tended a “Travi­ata” orches­tra re­hearsal, and he an­swered ques­tions af­ter. A post-opera meet-and-greet is planned for the house’s new south en­trance space af­ter the sec­ond “Travi­ata” per­for­mance to­mor­row.

His mu­si­cal im­pact al­ready has been sig­nif­i­cant.

“It’s the first time that we had a con­duc­tor be able to tell the di­rec­tor what to do,” Phillips said. “It’s been the other way around for a very long time.”

Nezet-Seguin is an ur­ban­ite without a driver’s li­cense, mus­cu­lar and with a tat­too of a tur­tle hold­ing a ba­ton on his right shoul­der.

He has one as­sis­tant, Ben Spal­ter, plus his agency, Askonas Holt in Lon­don. Clau­dine Nezet, his mom, takes care to get his clothes and scores to the right city. His hus­band, Orchestre Metropoli­tain vi­o­list Pierre Tourville, tends to cats Rodolfo, Melisande and Rafa (named af­ter Nadal) at home in Mon­treal but in­tends to move to the new two-bed­room apart­ment — a six-minute walk from the Met — cats Pel­leas and Par­si­fal have passed on.

He got the orches­tra’s at­ten­tion this fall when he man­dated new parts for “Travi­ata” to re­place ones that some play­ers had marked up dat­ing to the per­for­mances con­ducted by Car­los Kleiber in 1989. While Nezet-Seguin made his Met de­but on New Year’s Eve nine years ago in Bizet’s “Car­men,” the re­la­tion­ship changed with the shift from guest con­duc­tor to mu­sic di­rec­tor.

“When­ever some­body vis­its, they kind of treat you more like they’ve got you out on the first date. Now we’re mov­ing in to­gether,” Dan­burg Volpe said. “I can tell from what he says that he spent a lot of time in the house lis­ten­ing to us in other per­for­mances. And so he’s kind of crafted a very spe­cific ver­sion of how he wants things to read in the house. And so, yes, I think he wants us be­ing richer. He does ask for vi­brato a lot. He does want things a lit­tle bit longer.”

Nezet-Seguin’s plans in­clude the first Met per­for­mances in French of Verdi’s “Don Car­los” in three years and “Les vepres si­cili­ennes (The Si­cil­ian Ves­pers)” in the Ste­fan Her­heim stag­ing from Covent Gar­den.

He will con­duct the Met pre­miere of Jake Heg­gie’s “Dead Man Walk­ing” with DiDonato in 2020-21, when he likely will lead six pro­duc­tions.

“I think he will bring with him his in­cred­i­ble en­thu­si­asm and ex­u­ber­ance, wrapped in a huge de­sire to lift ev­ery per­for­mance to its ut­most po­ten­tial,” DiDonato said.

“He has a won­der­ful way of get­ting the artists around him to con­trib­ute and to par­tic­i­pate in a way where all of us have a stake in the qual­ity of what we are giv­ing the au­di­ence. I also sense in him a to­tal de­vo­tion to the craft — there is no ego to wade through, no self-serv­ing agenda. This will win the hearts of the mu­si­cians, the pa­trons and the pub­lic.”

French-Cana­dian con­duc­tor Yan­nick Nezet-Seguin with the Piladel­phia Orches­tra dur­ing the Dres­den Mu­sic Fes­ti­val at Sem­per­oper in Dres­den, Ger­many. He be­comes Met mu­sic di­rec­tor at a time when ticket sales have sta­bi­lized at about 75 per­cent of ca­pac­ity and 67 per­cent of avail­able box of­fice. — IC

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from China

© PressReader. All rights reserved.