How about the Munich premiere of Wagner's "Meistersinger," a work he [Levine] conducts magnificently? I love the idea of Mr. Levine's giving a sublime account of this humane comedy and forcing the anti-Semitic composer to confront his twisted prejudices.[Mea culpa, see below...] To spell it out: circa 45 seconds of googling confirms that the conductor of that Munich Meistersinger was, indeed, Mr. Hans von Bulow, preeminent contemporary interpreter of Wagner's works, wife supplier, and notorious Jewish whipping boy to the maestro. So the whole "What if a Jewish conductor had premiered it...hah!" line kind of goes up in smoke, don't it?
Not to mention the fact that by choosing Meistersinger specifically, Ton is obviously trying to hook the "Meistersinger as half anti-semitic polemic" angle--the kind of take one gets from people who hear the opera once while also knowing Wagner was a crazy racist. Unfortunately, there's not such a one-to-one connection to be drawn from the man's lunatic bigotry and his operas. A complication to be sure, and that's why people really interested in the work don't toss it around so absentmindedly.
There are two big points of contention as to Die Meistersinger's politics: the chareacter of Beckmesser, and the drama's glorification of German art and nationalism. The problem with calling Beckmesser an anti-semitic character is pretty straightforward, i.e., Beckmesser is a fully integrated member of the town and its society--one who is hidebound and pathetic, but a member nonetheless, which the forward looking and creative elements embodied by Walther and Sachs play off of. If Beckmesser becomes an alien to the other characters in the play, as an anti-semitic reading would suggest, the whole thing would fall apart. There's no need to reject and triumph over Beckmesser if he's an outcast in the first place.
The second charge is somewhat more complicated. The problem has to do with our natural tendency to read the past through the lens of the militaristic German Nationalism which bred the first and second World Wars. Interrelated trends to be sure, but its simply a historical fallacy to elide the German nationalism in Wagner's time, when "Germany" was a motley amalgamation of principalities staggering towards unification, and the Nazi state of the 20th century. In this context, the notorious "Honor Thy German Masters" passage Sachs sings at the end of the opera should be read more as a an affirmation of that political project against other countries' aggression, not as a veiled threat against Germany's Jews.
None of this means that Wagner wasn't a wretched anti-semite. But trying to understand Wagner means delving into the contradictions that allow for both his awful bigotry and his creation of sublime works which offer little evidence of it. And in any event, there's little room for the kind of lazy "I gotta finish a paragraph" sentiment expressed above.
Update: Well now, isn't that a way to wake up. Fact checked by A. Ross himself. A full retraction of the paragraph and snipe about Hans von Bulow is in order and apologies to T. My penance will be getting my 19th century conductors that start with H straight. And no more blogging after post-plane cocktails.
However wrong that may have been, though, I don't think the campaign against TT is at all unwarranted. I am very sure it is difficult to be a music reviewer on short deadline, and certainly think I wouldn't be capable of it. But, uh, the whole thing about having a music critic at the preeminent paper of arguably the preeminent music city in the world is that you shouldn't have to read their reviews and make excuses for them. In fact, they should actually be enlightening. If J and I, who in the grand scheme of things know relatively little about opera (see above), can be routinely floored by the shoddy construction and shallowness of T's reviews, then I think we have a problem, Houston.
Later update: Urf. Well, nice to see that Mr. Ross is still reading. For the record, and then I'm going to think really hard of something new to post, at the time it did strike me as suspect that he chose Meistersinger to make his convoluted point, considering the rap it takes as described above. I also think that someone could call it a "humane" opera while trying to play off the juxtaposition of certain parts--i.e., he's saying that Levine would bring out the best qualities in it over the racism thus warming the cockles of Herr Wagner's heart. But looking back, his comment didn't really warrant that insinuation. Sorry T. I will totally buy you a drink sometime.