Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Donald Rosenberg and The Cleveland Plain Dealer

Donald Rosenberg is the highly gifted music /arts critic for the Cleveland Plain Dealer. He's also the author of a recent history of The Cleveland Orchestra ("The Cleveland Orchestra: Second to None") that is beautifully written and a jolly good read. I'm not a regular reader of the Plain Dealer, nor of Don's pieces, but I know good writing when I read it and Don is a good writer. I'm not aware of anyone who questions his knowledge of music or professional integrity in any way.

The scandal broke late last week that Rosenberg will no longer be allowed to review
concerts by The Cleveland Orchestra. He has for years been critical of Franz Welser-Most, TCO's music director, and somebody somewhere, decided enough was enough. It apparently never occurred to those involved that Welser-Most, seasoned opera conductor in Europe he may be, has a ways to go before he can fit comfortably into the shoes of George Szell, Lorin Maazel or Christoph von Dohnanyi and Severance Hall. FWM, a good looking blond, has had his Cleveland contract extended through 2018. I'm not aware that even Toscanini was offered such terms by General Sarnoff at RCA for the NBC Symphony sixty years ago!

(I interviewed Franz Welser-Most in Cleveland a few years ago. He was highly intelligent, an enjoyable conversationalist and charming. A nice, unaffected man with a healthy sense of self worth. I've admired his latest recording, the Bruckner 8 with the Chamber Orchestra of Europe. I've only heard him once in Cleveland, conducting Verdi's "Don Carlo".)

The fact remains that a highly respected arts journalist has been removed by a well respected newspaper from the only art beat in the area that matters. My apologies to the worthy opera and chamber music in Cleveland, but they lack the international reputation of The Cleveland Orchestra. Rosenberg has been accused of a lack of journalistic objectivity by some, and his reviews have been admired by others. The consensus is that Franz Welser-Most can't get a break from Rosenberg and by extension the Plain Dealer, and he's meant to be in Cleveland for the next ten years. Conductors in America are no longer deities. In fact, George Szell may have been the last one, and he died in 1970. Rosenberg's criticisms are much less rabid then those of Virgil Thomson, or Olin Downes or Chicago's Claudia Cassidy who drove one fine conductor, Jean Martinon, out of town. (Go find out more about these critics. Go read Thomson's memoir, Virgil Thomson by Virgil Thomson).
There's more available to us. good or bad you can hear La Scala, the Berlin Philharmonic or any of America's great orchestras, live in real time with a click at our desk. There's room now more than ever for an intelligent and probing response to all of these performances. Rosenberg's demotion is a tragedy. Its embarrassing for all concerned, except Don Rosenberg himself. The Plain Dealer or whoever made this decision has made themselves look petulant and childish, rather than encouraging its leading musical light to get on with it....better. The Cleveland Orchestra is a great orchestra deserving great, intelligent press and someone has just kicked an astute critic down the front stairs of Severance Hall. For shame.

To know more, go to www.nytimes.com and search Donald Rosenberg.
The story broke on Tim Smith's blog at the Baltimore Sun.
This will also be discussed on NPR's All Things Considered.
Check out that program's archive at npr.org

Friday, September 05, 2008


Recently I read of a European based production of Mozart's "The Marriage of Figaro".
In Act II the director has Cherubino, the lovesick page boy, sniff a pair of Countess Almaviva's underpants. I wish I could say this kind of nonsense was new, but it's old, its real old, and it's getting older.

First problem: There is no music in this opera that would support such a vulgar and ridiculous gesture

Second problem: As titillating as it might be, and as voyeuristic as we all may be, it remains a gross thing to do and makes the audience uncomfortable.

Third and fatal problem: It robs the Countess of her dignity. Cherubino could almost be forgiven or understood, since he's meant to be a horny page boy where hormones overtake decency.

But the point of this mini-rant: every character on the stage is entitled to their dignity. Even the evil ones: Klytamnestra is still the Queen of Mycanae, not a ruined harridan who wants to kill her children (she wants to avenge the daughter her husband killed)
Baron Ochs is supposed to have horseshit stuck to his boots, but he is still a
nobleman. He's capable of all the dainty gestures expected of a man of his class in 1750's Vienna. Bardolfo and Pistola, Sir John Falstaff's slimy servants, refuse to insult a lady, but would probably filch her purse behind her back.

Just as in music every note has the right to live, so every character's self worth and self understanding,-- place!-must be understood by the audience. Every thief has his dignity. So does every monarch, priestess, soldier and serving girl.
Otherwise nobody would be moved when they go to the opera. It would just be noise.

So look, sniff the underpants in private, okay? Leave poor Mozart and his audiences alone....