Leonard Slatkin's disastrous week yields great opportunity for Steven White

Even if you hate opera, you gotta admit the art form never ceases to produce juicy stories. I'm reminded all the time of the old crack that music is an insane asylum and opera is the wing for the incurables.

The buzz on April Fool's Day was no joking matter. That day, word came that conductor Leonard Slatkin had withdrawn from his remaining scheduled performances of "La Traviata" at the Metropolitan Opera.  The rocky opening night had been on Monday. Slatkin had never conducted that work before and, by his own admission on his blog (according to various reports), wasn't fully prepared.

I happened to hear, thanks to the Met's channel on Sirius-XM, the final act of Monday's performance while driving home from DC. I remember thinking that the poignant prelude to that act had no distinguishing interpretive characteristics. I didn't think the rest was wretchedly conducted, so much as impersonally. (I rather liked some of the singing, though, by Angela Gheorghiu and James Valenti as the unlucky lovers in the opera.) From what I've read, things were far from ideal during the rest of the evening, and the blame was laid at Slatkin's dressing room door.

This sort of thing is nearly unthinkable at such an august institution. Where was management during the rehearsal period? Weren't there warning signs? Singers are "withdrawing" from productions before opening night all the time, for "personal reasons" (the phrase used in the Slatkin case), "artistic differences" or "illness." A conductor could surely do the same.

On the other hand,

what was Slatkin thinking? He had not originally been contracted to conduct "Traviata," but Corigliano's "Ghosts of Versailles." When that latter was canceled for financial reasons, he was retained for the Verdi replacement. In hindsight, he clearly should have said "no thanks," should

have admitted that Verdi was not his thing. For that matter, Met management should have understood this from the get-go and simply found him something more suited to his considerable talents. And, at the very least, Slatkin should have arrived thoroughly immersed in the Verdian style, fully alert to every aspect of the "Traviata" score.

The whole mess is just too odd for words.

On the bright side, Slatkin's withdrawal allows opportunities for other conductors. Of particular note for Baltimore area opera fans is the news that Steven White will be one of those stepping into to help finish the "Traviata" run, making his Met debut to lead the performance on April 10.

White became a popular figure at Baltimore Opera in the few seasons before that company's demise; his sensitive conducting was a decided asset in works by Rossini, Bellini and Gounod. A successful Met debut could give him a substantial boost in many ways.

Marco Armiliato conducts "Traviata" on April 3, a few hours after conducting the "Aida" matinee that day; Yves Abel will be on the podium April 13, 17, 21, and 24. A conductor for April 7 performance has not been named. (Not they'd ever ask, but I could make a good suggestion or two.)


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