Epilogue to the story of Leonard Slatkin's unfortunate night at the Metropolitan Opera
By Tim Smith
Jun 08, 2010 | 5:45 AM
Back in early April, the opera world went into gossipy overdrive over the opening night of "La Traviata" at the Metropolitan Opera conducted by Leonard Slatkin, who withdrew from remaining performances.
The reviews were scathing, and more than one critic noticed of an entry that appeared on (and was subsequently removed from) the conductor's blog, discussing how he had originally turned down "Traviata" (a consolation offer from the Met after the company scrapped plans for a Slaktin-led revival of Corigliano's "The Ghosts of Versailles). In his blog, the conductor wrote that "Traviata was
"... an opera I had never conducted and the first real repertoire standard for me at the Met ... I concluded that since everyone else in the house knew it, I would learn a great deal from the masters. There was a lot of digging for me to do. I consumed books about the composer and the work's history. Listening to a few recordings was helpful but confusing. What constituted tradition and why? This was a question I would ask often during rehearsals."
The conclusion that a lot of folks made was that Slatkin was not fully prepared and thus caused the many problems heard on that opening night. I only heard (via satellite radio) the last act of that performance, which did not reveal anything horribly amiss. I didn't think the conducting was all that special, however; I like more breathing room in the Act 3 Prelude, for example, than Slatkin allowed.
Then, Slatkin points a finger at diva Angela Gheorghiu, who sang the role of Violetta:
Slatkin did not completely absolve himself from blame and admitted he made mistakes opening night. But what he called Gheorghiu's 'unprofessional behavior' -- blocking his view of other singers, taking outrageous liberties that went beyond liberal notions of expressive phrasing, entering early and ignoring cut-offs -- so unnerved him that he lost his cool in the second act.
"It rarely happens to me, but I got thrown," said Slatkin. "All of a sudden, I was saying, 'What the hell is going on?' and there were places where I knew I was wrong, but I didn't know what to do. I was pretty much up in the air.
Needless to say, this interview had opera folks debating the whole affair all over again in the usual places, notably the ever-provocative Parterre Box. I still don't know what to make of it all. I don't even know for sure if I should care that much. But it was one of the more interesting episodes from the wild world of opera this season, and I felt I should alert you to Slatkin's defense, in case you missed it.
If Gheorghiu decides to jump in with her version, this story may keep on giving right through the summer.
PHOTO BY DONALD DIETZ FOR DETROIT SYMPHONY ORCHESTRA