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Subject: Stryker in Detroit: Comment on Slatkin.
From: Lloyd Thoms <[log in to unmask]>
Reply-To:[log in to unmask]
Date:Sat, 3 Apr 2010 09:04:18 EDT

text/plain (108 lines)

_Mark  Stryker_ ( 

Posted: 6:05 p.m. April 2, 2010 
Slatkin will rise above poor reviews at the Met
DSO still his most important focus

Well, that certainly didn’t go according to plan. 

The  gossipy world of opera loves a kerfuffle, and it got a doozy Thursday 
when  Detroit Symphony Orchestra music director Leonard Slatkin withdrew 
from the  Metropolitan Opera’s production of “La Traviata” after a single 
performance. The  move came in the face of brutal reviews in the New York Times 
and elsewhere that  condemned his performance as unusually clumsy and 
disconnected from the singers.  The reviews seemed to confirm the blogosphere and 
backstage buzz that he had  arrived at the Met without fully knowing the 
score to Verdi’s masterpiece — and  that there was tension between the 
conductor and the temperamental superstar,  soprano Angela Gheorghiu.

The episode is a major embarrassment for Slatkin, who still has something 
to  prove to the wider classical music world after his tenure at the National 
 Symphony Orchestra ended less than triumphantly. You can’t belly flop on a 
much  grander stage than the Met. But some perspective: The real shame 
would be if  this incident diverts attention from the transformative leadership 
Slatkin has  brought to the DSO in his young tenure.
The DSO’s financial struggles are well-known, but artistically the 
orchestra  is rocking. The DSO is playing better than ever for Slatkin, whose 
performances  across a variety of repertoire have been thoughtful, well-prepared 
and often  thrilling. He had the orchestra in peak form on its recent Florida 
tour, and the  newly issued CD of Rachmaninoff’s Second Symphony is a 
beaut. His big-picture  vision, devotion to new American music and commitment to 
nurturing new  audiences, education and injecting the DSO into the marrow of 
city life remain  among the orchestra’s most palpable assets.
The DSO musicians have been galvanized by Slatkin’s presence, and it wouldn’
t  surprise me if the players used this opportunity to rally around him. 
Detroiters  are a loyal bunch, and we don’t like it when the rest of the world 
gangs up on  us — again.
So, what happened at the Met?
Slatkin, who declined to comment through a DSO spokesperson, surely didn’t  
help his cause by writing so openly on his blog 
(_http://leonardslatkin.com_ ( )  in recent weeks about his inexperience 
with Verdi and “Traviata.” Slatkin  originally had been contracted by the Met 
to lead John Corigliano’s “The Ghosts  of Versailles,” a contemporary 
American work right in his wheelhouse. But when  Corigliano’s opera was canceled 
for financial reasons, Slatkin was offered  “Traviata” instead.
“At first, I said I would not do the switch,” he wrote on his blog. “After 
 all, this is an opera I had never conducted and the first real repertoire  
standard for me at the Met. But after a while, 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.”
In retrospect, Slatkin should have stuck with his first instinct. Still, a  
conductor of his skill and stature should have been able to handle the  
challenge. Slatkin doesn’t conduct a lot of opera, but he’s no neophyte. In  
fact, his last appearance at the Met in 1998, when he conducted Saint-Saëns’  
“Samson and Delilah,” drew stellar reviews, as did his 1991 Met debut in  
Puccini’s “Girl of the Golden West.” 
There is certainly no excuse for showing up unprepared, but only Slatkin  
knows for sure whether he gave himself the best opportunity to succeed. If 
not,  shame on him. But it is also worth noting that the compressed rehearsal 
schedule  for a staple like “Traviata” at the Met is like making instant 
opera — add  conductor, singers, staging, stir and serve. And when you throw 
in a dynamic yet  willful diva like Gheorghiu, who skipped a key rehearsal 
and who critics said  was sometimes rhythmically erratic on opening night, 
things can turn south in a  hurry.
Whatever the case, Slatkin will survive. He may not return to the Met, but  
his most important work right now is in Detroit, and so far he’s giving it 
his  all.
Contact MARK STRYKER: 313-222-6459 or [log in to unmask] 
(mailto:[log in to unmask]) .
Lloyd L.  Thoms Jr., Greenville,  Wilmington, Delaware. United  States.

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