Feeding frenzy

By LLOYD SCHWARTZ  |  September 3, 2010

As for the Globe's suggestion that the orchestra look for a "musical-director prodigy" (not so easy to find) to take it in a "dynamic direction" — didn't Levine do that six years ago with a commitment to contemporary American music and adventurous programming unknown here since Koussevitzky? Or is his "dynamic direction" the very problem? Some concertgoers would rather go to (or read about) Beethoven concerts, or programs with a more "popular," easy-listening element — the kind that Arthur Fiedler used to create for the Boston Pops, and that Gustavo Dudamel is now bringing to LA.

Dudamel is an exciting conductor. But I was dismayed when, in London a couple of years ago, I heard him lead the Gothenburg Symphony, his Swedish orchestra, at a Proms concert. The playing was barely on a professional level. As an orchestra builder — which is a major part of being a music director — he showed himself to be a failure. And the program itself had a high proportion of musical dreck.

We've been damn lucky to have Levine in Boston. He rescued the BSO. The orchestra is now making recordings again. (Its Ravel Daphnis et Chloé, with Levine, won this year's Grammy for Best Orchestral Performance.) The programming, at least for some of us (maybe even for the players), has been exciting and refreshing. Levine is one of a handful of important living world-class conductors. Of course he can't continue if his health doesn't permit. But that would be a tragedy. Let's not spank him for having medical problems. Let's hope he fully recovers and continues the trajectory he's begun. We're in real trouble only if he doesn't.

Over its five seasons, Boston Midsummer Opera, succeeding the short-lived Opera Aperta as a producer of summer operas at BU’s Tsai Performance Center, has had a spotty record, with stagings that have lacked taste and versions of Mozart and Bizet that have cut some of the best music. So this summer's double bill of short American operas, Trouble in Tahiti (1951), Leonard Bernstein's tuneful but bitter satire on suburbia, and Lee Hoiby's Bon Appétit! (1989), a musical amalgamation of two actual Julia Child French Chef episodes, might have been BMO's most successful program — especially since the Tony-winning Judy Kaye had the audience eating out of her hands as Julia, and since two of the best of the younger generation of singing actors, baritone Stephen Salters and mezzo-soprano Sandra Piques Eddy, played Sam and Dinah, Bernstein's unhappy suburbanites. Scott Edmiston's staging for the Bernstein was cleverly inventive (though sometimes misguided), and Kaye's husband, David Green, had her baking an actual gâteau de chocolat on stage.

Bernstein wrote his own libretto for Tahiti, and to his married couple (inspired, it seems, by his parents) he added a motionless trio of smiling radio-jingle singers extolling 'burban life (in Shaker Heights, in Ozone Park, in Beverly Hills, in Brookline). Edmiston also used the trio (terrific David Lara, Brian Richard Robinson, and Megan Roth) to embody Bernstein's disembodied colleagues and clerks, and he added a live young "Junior." Although they filled the stage with movement, they undercut the emptiness Bernstein is depicting.

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