Tommasini does a nice job this morning calling out the elephant in the living room of Sunday's big Gelb article: the absence of new commissions on the agenda. As A. Ross noted yesterday, despite the many inspired ideas floated (the ticket price structure changes, the big name conductors, the big name theatre directors, the movie theater-cast thing) there's just not much here to get excited about music wise.
The more I think about it, it's actually quite distressing that Gelb's plan for reviving grand opera in the 21st century seems to be collaborating with the leading creative lights of every artistic discipline except opera itself. That doesn't leave a lot of hope that Gelb's Met is going to catapult the art form into the twenty-first century or shore up its twentieth century legacy, and its hardly very "daring". It also belies a fundamental misreading of complaints about the Volpe era. Lame productions are of course bothersome, but there's only one metric you need to know to indict Volpe on charges of hideboundness: four new commissions in three decades.
To answer Tommasini's question about Gelb's proposed high-brow Broadway workshop, it is indeed not the Met's job to help Broadway with its own issues. Just think for a second about the impact of the Met funding a high-profile project development program for the stable of contemporary composers Alex Ross suggests--John Adams, Kaija Saariaho, Thomas Adès--with the final goal of either a Met production or a production at some partner company. It would immediately make the Met THE hotbed for new opera in North America and generate publicity for contemporary opera for years to come. Why should an opera house spend that capital on developing Broadway talent?
Mind you, I am a big fan of envelope pushing musical theatre composers, but they have very different battles to fight. Those composers need to be writing with the goal of retaking territory on Broadway, not the opera house. Furthermore, it's hard to imagine any of these very viable Broadway composers wanting to put something on the Met stage with no chance for an extended run, no Tony conisderation, and no Broadway-level exposure. If the pieces in question are really written as 'opera' they probably won't be palatable or flexible enough to warrant a life on Broadway and will end up dying a noble death in the Met or the Vivan Beaumont. At the end, you just have energy being sucked from Broadway and focus and funding being sucked from new opera.
As for Osvaldo Golijov, I agree this is thin consolation. I enjoyed the Pasion at BAM several years ago, and have tickets to go again this month. But naming Golijov as your one commission from the classical camp is a fairly transparent bid to do 'new music' without engaging new music all the way. Now, I find the whole 'classical' or not thing with Golijov quite silly. His work is obviously a very different and very unapologetic animal: an aggressive hybrid. There's no question that the modern concert hall or opera house can handle it, and those venues are very right to support it. But ultimately it is what all hybrids are: instructive, iconoclastic and by definition an end in itself which lies just outside the traditions from which it pulls. That's not quite the same as explicitly moving the ball forward for contemporary opera.
Finally, I would question how much 'new' can really be accomplished by throwing theatre talent at the standard repertoire. I'm sure there will be some neat things, and I'm glad stinker productions like this year's Romeo and Juliette will be less likely. But unless you go the way of Regietheatre, designing for standard opera just doesn't engage theatre artists to the same extent as letting them shape new works. Reinvigoration for the Met repertoire for sure, but not for the opera world at large.
Of course, I'm not saying Gelb should sacrifice a shiny coat on the Met's bread and butter for a new music crusade (yeah mixed metaphors). But if part of his mission is to pull in the audiences which will do BAM, downtown theatre, and high-brow musical theatre, yet stay away from the Met, I think this strategy will only get him so far. At least as far as its daring-ness is concerned, the Met should focus on making the case that new grand opera is a vital part of the contemporary performing arts scene and worth investing in. Otherwise we're just talking window dressing.