« Music for Good Friday from the incomparable Marian Anderson | Main | Music for Holy Saturday from Bach's St. Matthew Passion »

April 2, 2010

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 That day, word came that conductor Leonard Slatkin had withdrawn from his remaining scheduled performances of "La Traviata" at the Metropolitan Opera.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.)


Posted by Tim Smith at 10:51 AM | | Comments (5)


Apparently, Met management _should_ ask, because they were obviously letting things run on "autopilot" and now have to damage control. Asking Slatkin to conduct Puccini or Verdi is like asking Serafin to conduct Penderecki or Zimmermann -- NOT their strong suits! (Flip those choices, and you'd have something more ideal.)

And I'm betting that Slatkin had better things to think about when they asked him about the replacement -- unfortunately, he _really_ should have been paying attention!

The latest information I have heard is that White will conduct on April 3, 7 & 10 and Abel will take over on the 13th.

This debacle with Slatkin is only one of several that have taken place under Peter Gelb's management - that's what happens when you hire someone to manage, arguably, the world's greatest opera house who has no experience running an opera company of any size.

The mortgaging of the Chagall paintings is another thing that happens ...

Your info sounds even better for Steven White (the dates I have come from the Met's press release yesterday). TIM

Also, if I read the Baltimore Concert Opera website correctly, Mo. White will conduct their 'A Flight of Verdi'. BP

Thanks for the reminder. That 'Flight' is scheduled to take off May 21 and 23 with Steven White, an early supporter of Baltimore Concert Opera, conducting. TIM

I heard Slatkin conduct a lack luster Tosca at WNO a few seasons ago. We has again saved by the singers. As I watched him he seemed far to engrossed in the score of the work and seemed to pay no min to what was going on. I have enjoyed several concerts of none operatic material with the NSO maybe she should avoid opera in the future.


Just because someone is a revered orchestral conductor doesn't mean they can lead opera well. If I'm not mistaken, Mo. Slatkin also conducted I Pagliacci for WNO and might have been sited for 'attempted murder' of the singers. Michael Tilson-Thomas was engaged years ago to conduct "La Boheme" at the Lyric Opera in Chicago. When asked how things were going, one of the rehearsal pianists replied: Perhaps he should have listened to it once or twice to get an idea of how it goes.!!!

Post a comment

All comments must be approved by the blog author. Please do not resubmit comments if they do not immediately appear. You are not required to use your full name when posting, but you should use a real e-mail address. Comments may be republished in print, but we will not publish your e-mail address. Our full Terms of Service are available here.

Verification (needed to reduce spam):

About Tim Smith
Born and raised in Washington, D.C., I couldn't help but develop a keen interest in politics, but music, theater and visual art also proved great attractions. Music became my main focus after high school. I thought about being a cocktail pianist, but I hated taking requests, so I studied music history instead, earning a B.A. in that field from Eisenhower College (Seneca Falls, N.Y.) and an M.A. from Occidental College (Los Angeles). I then landed in journalism. After freelancing for the Washington Post and others, I was classical music critic for the Sun-Sentinel in South Florida, where I also contributed to NPR. I've written for the New York Times, BBC Music Magazine and other publications, and I'm a longtime contributor to Opera News. My book, The NPR Curious Listener's Guide to Classical Music (Perigee, 2002), can be found on the most discerning remainder racks.

I joined the Baltimore Sun as classical music critic in 2000 and, in 2009, also became theater critic, giving me the opportunity to annoy a whole new audience. In 2010, my original Clef Notes blog expanded to encompass a theatrical component -- how could I resist calling it Drama Queens? I hope you'll find both sides of this blog coin worth exploring and reacting to; your own comments are always welcome and valued (well, most of them, at least).

Think of this as your open-all-hours, cyber green room, where there's always a performer or performance to discuss, some news to digest, or maybe just a little good gossip to share.
Note: Tim Smith now writes about the fine arts at This blog will be kept in place as an archive for an indefinite period. Please visit the new location to get the latest Mid-Atlantic arts coverage.
View the Artsmash blog

Baltimore Sun coverage
Baltimore Symphony Orchestra
Marin Alsop
Famous faces in classical music
Sign up for FREE entertainment alerts
Get free Sun alerts sent to your mobile phone.*
Get free Baltimore Sun mobile alerts
Sign up for nightlife text alerts

Returning user? Update preferences.
Sign up for more Sun text alerts
*Standard message and data rates apply. Click here for Frequently Asked Questions.
  • Weekend Watch newsletter
Plan your weekend with's best events, restaurant and movie reviews, TV picks and more delivered to you every Thursday for free.
See a sample | Sign up

Most Recent Comments
Stay connected