Pete's Blog

Slatkin's "Traviata"

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The New York critics have spilled a lot of ink (or its digital equivalent) this week over conductor Leonard Slatkin's debut at the Metropolitan Opera in Verdi's "La Traviata." Slatkin, who had never conducted the work before, was described as "shaky," "unprepared" and quite out of synch with the singers. Slatkin has withdrawn from the rest of the opera's run, "for personal reasons," and in today's Times the curtain calls with new conductor Marco Armiliato were described as something of a love feast. On the surface this seems like something of an embarrassment for Slatkin, but I think he comes off rather well, considering. Slatkin is an important American conductor, whose tenure with the St. Louis and National Symphonies built his reputation as a champion of contemporary and especially American orchestral music. A day or two after the Met debacle he led the Juilliard Orchestra in a tribute to William Schuman at Carnegie Hall that sounds like it was a fabulous evening. In a classical-music scene dominated by compositional warhorses, where new voices are marginalized by an increasingly sclerotic arts establishment and audiences look anywhere else for interesting, compelling performances, it is refreshing to see a major figure like Slatkin saying, in effect, that he has better things to do with his talent than make yet another sumptuous "Traviata" for yet another Met opening for yet another gathering of glossy plutocrats. Metropolitan opera boss Peter Gelb, whose first season has been generally knocked as inconsistent, comes off pretty well, too, it says here. He's taking chances, which is what they hired him to do in the first place. And if the new "Tosca" sounds gimmicky and faddish, mounting a "Traviata" that ruffles the feathers of its diva doesn't strike me as altogether a bad thing.

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