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August 25, 2008


Henry Holland

I assume its all true

You know what's said about you at Parterre Box and other opera blogs? That you're a hack, another one of the seemingly endless supply of Brits that plague performing arts companies the world over (see: Richard Hickox current travails in Australia) because you people don't have an Empire any more, you're not ruining countries so you're ruining arts companies with your bad taste, favoritism towards 3rd rate British singers who shouldn't even be chorus members at the local church and fondness for crappy British composers like Britten and Vaughn Williams and Tippett.

I assume it's all true.

Oh, wait, it's not, as I've noted on more than one occasion. I find your willingness to put the boot in on Gerard Mortier's abilities and reputation based on the scribblings of a provincial (= Chicago) critic and blogger appalling. YOU of all people, a longtime director of opera companies, should be a little more circumspect in your glee at such piss-taking, considering that Mr. Mortier is coming in to a bad situation at City Opera, far worse than Golden Boy Peter Gelb had to deal with the Met.

He's taking over a company that did productions of "Carmen" with 3rd rate casts and crappy musicals best left to Broadway, a company that needed to have its space renovated, a bad space for opera that is de facto run by the ballet company in residence (with no prospect of a new arts center like in Toronto, say) and who has already shown more creativity, forward thinking and commitment to opera as something more than just a vehicle for star singers to park-and-bark in his first full season's programming than the mausoleum across the Lincoln Plaza has shown in.....well, forever.

Hmmmmm...what other company is dedicated to opera as more than a vehicle for star singers to park-and-bark? Hmmmm....can't think of one off hand.......maybe that one in Chicago that's NOT in the barn on North Wacker Drive? Hmmmmmm.....

Disappointing stuff from you.


well yes, but Gerard is an old friend and I yield to no one as an admirer of his remarkable work over 40 years. And I know so well his impish sense of humor. His arrival at NYCO was certainly set to to be a fantastic coup for NY.

But the reality may have changed. Its really tough up there and Gerard's splendid plans have to be financed. So who knows what's going on - certainly not me.

We shall have to see whether these NYCO or Bayreuth things work out. My assumption of truth was based on the widely reported piece in the Frankfurt newspaper......of course the papers are the papers.

And no, I do not know about Parterre etc. The Internet is a wide open space full of all kinds of stuff that is good, bad and indifferent.

Andrew Patner

Brian Dickie is ever the gentleman, even when foul-mouthed serial Internet posters from Los Angeles (apparently a capital of cosmopolitan sophistication judging from this awful rant) run nasty -- and wholly untrue -- comments about him on his own weblog.

A better man than I . . . .

Neither Brian not I -- both fans of Mortier's for many years -- were saying that Mortier *should* fail and should *not* want to come to City Opera -- just that, as Brian wisely observes above, economic and other circumstances and situations change and opportunities come along that might appeal more to one person than other opportunities did.

Andrew Patner
98.7WFMT Radio Chicago and
Chicago Sun-Times and


Thank you AP!! We might want to call a halt to this. I am not great on censorship so I let this kind of thing go in the expectation that common sense prevails. But any more of this thank you!

Marc Geelhoed

I'm fine with Britten operas at COT and LULU at Lyric Opera, and with having a Brit run COT. Yeah, that provincial charge really hurts.

Timothy Nelson

Mr. Patner seems like he is a true admirer of Mortier and we should take him at his word! Perhaps Mr. Holland was thrown off, as was I, by the tone of Mr. Patner's piece which did indeed seem to indicate at best disdain for Mortier, and certainly not abivalent reporting as to the goings on at Bayreuth. At least there was nothing to indicate respect for Mortier as the brilliant and passionate impressario he is. Though the post was unclear that is understandable, and Brian is right in asserting that circumstances do change. Still, there is NO evidence that Mortier would not want to still come to New York, and we shall all wait to see.

I would point out one potentially faulty argument with Mr. Patner's piece:

"If there were any other reasons that he put in for the City Opera post, I've never encountered them."

I think Mortier has absolutely proven that he likes challenges (gets off on them even), and let us give him the benefit of the doubt that this is the reason he decided to come to New York (incidentally my understanding was that he was asked, not that he sought the position). There are clearly other companies he could have gone to from Paris, if forced retirement were the reason, that would have a larger budget and pay a larger fee. No, New York City Opera seems to about something more than needing some place to go from Paris. I think it is unfair to insinuate that NYCO was just somewhere to go from Paris.

In ANY case, we can all agree with Mr. Patner that Mr. Holland's tone was unfair and unkind. BD of all people needs nothing but praise for contributions to the American opera scene!

Henry Holland

"In ANY case, we can all agree with Mr. Patner that Mr. Holland's tone was unfair and unkind. BD of all people needs nothing but praise for contributions to the American opera scene"

No, we can NOT "all agree" because there has been a collective misunderstanding of my post here (the post at Mr. Patner's blog is a separate issue) from all people NOT posting as "Henry Holland".

After the *intentionally* way over the top bit of Brit Bashing that comprised my first paragraph, I wrote this at the end:

"I assume it's all true.

Oh, wait, it's not, as I've noted on more than one occasion".

In your haste to reply to my *perceived* hammering of Mr. Dickie, you all must have glossed over that part or it didn't include enough lawerly disclaimers for your taste, which isn't my problem. I don't apologize for the schoolmaster-ish tone re: thinking it was flippant to link to what I and another person here perceived to be a problematic post and call it "mischief", flippant because unless stated otherwise, links on blogs = agreement with the linkee. The charge of being "foul mouthed" is absolutely true, I love the f-word, I think it's one of the most versatile words in the English language.

Let the record reflect: I have nothing but the highest regard for Mr. Dickie, his sterling CV, his stewardship of COT (I have the money saved to attend the "Owen Wingrave" next year, it's the only of my beloved Britten's operas that I've not "seen live"), his blog which I avidly visit daily, his lovely British wit and not least, wonderful use of a digital camera.

Thank you Mr. Nelson for chiming in and confirming that I was not the only one "thrown the tone of Mr. Patner's piece". You quoted the one bit from the piece that really grated for me:

"If there were any other reasons that he put in for the City Opera post, I've never encountered them."

Shorter Andrew Patner: "...but hey! let me snidely speculate on them anyway, even though there's this thing called Google AND I'm in the newspaper profession, I could make a few phone calls and find out, but why bother?". Doesn't feel good to have your motives impugned or to have something that's clear to you being misinterpreted on the Internet, does it? Welcome to blogging, by the way.

I can't tell you how much time I've spent defending Mr. Mortier since the announcement of his taking over the NYCO job --and, I'll note, defending Mr. Dickie and his fellow Brits too, that meme is a staple of the arts blogoshpere-- simply because I've seen how one remark on a blog can become conventional wisdom that is impossible to dislodge, which then makes that person or organization's job harder down the road (for an example in "the real world", see: the myth of Al Gore saying "I invented the Internet"). Um, sure, I'm a total saddo with no life, but that's neither here nor there. :-) Just one example:

As you all probably know, Mr. Mortier's former associate Alexander Neef was hired to run the Canadian Opera Company. There's been some absolutely outrageous suggestions of why a man who had never run so much as a hamburger stand got the job.

My favorite is that he's part of the openly gay Mortier's cabal of homosexuals (who boink young boys, of course) who are plotting to take over arts orgs all over the world (it's the homophobic corollary to "Effin' Brits, ruining everything" xenophobia); never mind that the gentleman in question appears to be resolutely heterosexual and that as a gay man, I'm not fond of "gay cabal" theorizing to say the least-- I've consistently said "Here's a thought: maybe Mr. Neef was trained well by Mr. Mortier and the COC felt that he didn't NEED to do time at a small company in Rostock before handing him the reins".

This was met with howls of derision at one site because OBVIOUSLY Mr. Mortier is a Fountain of Pure Operatic Evil and is up to no good, no good I tells ya!, what with his foreign regie theater ideas and intense dislike of Puccini! [Note: the preceding was sarcasm] It's surreal, it really is.

Until you've spent an evening online defending Gerard Mortier, a total stranger, from charges that he's a ch*** mo*****r simply because the charge could show up in Google searches > possibly explode in to a scandal of the "You've been accused of being a ch*** mo*****r" "I'm not, that's a lie!" "Can you PROVE you're not a ch*** mo*****r?" sort, you really haven't lived. If you think that couldn't happen, you're hopelessly naive. I used all those stupid ***'s to evade Google searches.

In a way, I envy Mr. Dickie's lack of knowledge of the murkier, less civil regions of the Internet, but alas, I've been on it since the early 90's and have learned that sometimes you have to go diving to great depths to find pearls.

I have a selfish, personal interest in Mr. Mortier staying out of prison and succeeding at NYCO: if he fails, and especially if he is driven out of town by, say, the New York Times or socialites or a board member on a warpath or 3/4 empty houses, the knottier 20th century and the contemporary stuff he programs is likely to be harder than ever to patronize in this country, because the conventional wisdom will then become "Well, if a man of his experience can't make it work in ultra-sophisticated New York, it can't work here either, let's program "La Boheme" for the 12th straight season".

"I'm fine with Britten operas at COT and LULU at Lyric Opera, and with having a Brit run COT. Yeah, that provincial charge really hurts"

It got a reaction out of "Second City" sorts like you and Mr. Patner though, didn't it? A fine one yours was, too. :-)

Yes, good for Chicago, I've had a great time when I've been there, you lot are lucky to have two fine opera companies doing stuff that's not Top 40 fare, in addition to having one of the greatest orchestras in the world, not to mention thriving theater and indie rock scenes.

We Angelenos have a good opera company that used to be pretty adventurous but is now strictly ruled by the bottom line (3 Puccini operas in an 8 opera season?!?!), one that has completely lost the plot (Long Beach Opera) and another in Orange County that is so dull it's best left to the people there; a very fine but not-quite-world class orchestra; a totally non-existent theater scene (!!) and a rock scene geared towards mainstream bands. Chicago wins! Of course, if the Cubs win the World Series this year, we're all doomed because the world is obviously coming to an end. :-)

Andrew Patner

For those who might be interested, I have a follow-up post on Mortier/NYCO/Bayreuth matters at

Best wishes,

Andrew P.

Henry Holland

Mr. Patner, first off, I apologize for the crudity and brusque tone I took on your blog yesterday, I'm actually glad you deleted that post. :-) I was having a horrible day and I broke one of my rules about reading blogs: don't comment when tired or stressed out or pissed at the boss, let it sit a day, it'll still be there.

It might not be apparent that I followed my own advice upthread, but I spent all day at work writing and editing that monstrosity so it reflected what I felt in as neutral tone as I could manage in between bouts of my boss driving me insane with his love life problems and losing his car keys and actually getting some work done. The classical/opera blogosphere can be a pit full of vipers --hahaha, "the sandbox at Parterre" is perfect, much as I love it there-- and I'm ashamed I dove in with both feet on your blog.

I think the update's viz Mr. Mortier's statement are interesting. I read it as "I'm here to train Nike Wagner how to run a major international opera festival, should we/she get the job, I'll fade in to the background once she's learned to do that". From your second post:

"But one can admire Mortier and his Salzburg accomplishments and still find him an odd fit for City Opera"

Here's a possibility: To make this perfectly clear, I'm fully cognizant he has a very tough road ahead of him, but maybe he figures "There's no place for City Opera to go but up, it's a blank slate unlike any of the other high profile jobs I could have, New York is one of the great cultural capitals of the world, if I can tap in to the money pipeline, I can run a company without a lot of the historical baggage that Salzburg, Paris and even La Monnaie have and without the entrenched holdovers of the previous administration hounding me". The chances of ignoble failure are high at this point, but IF it works out, he could retire on an incredible high. You also wrote:

"such as the economically questionable one to shift it from a repertory schedule to a one opera at a time stagione system"

Mr. Dickie, if I haven't pissed you off completely and driven you away from this thread, could you or anyone else address this? It's my understanding that over time, the stagione system saves money because you can operate with a smaller staff, especially the unionized stagehands etc. Plus, resources in the house can be focused exactly where they need to be much quicker than in the hurly-burly of a "something different every night" system, where an "all hands on deck" approach rules and there's a lot of duplicated labor costs because of the "one crewing tearing down, another building up" dynamic. You also wrote:

still wonder why he keeps coming back to the same interpreters and the same works in his various international posts

Isn't that true of a lot of people, really? To use an example, I'm a huge fan of departing Los Angeles Philharmonic MD Esa-Pekka Salonen. He took an orchestra that was moribund and in total disarray after Andre Previn left/was asked to leave and built it in to what it is today. Since the early/mid-90's, he's worked with a lot of the same people over and over both here and elsewhere: Peter Sellars, Dawn Upshaw, Yefim Bronfman and he's programmed a lot of the same stuff over and over (I never want to hear him conduct "La Sacre du Printemps" ever again) and works by his classmates at the Sibelius Academy.

His programming choices will probably be felt more in the 2009-10 season at the Philharmonia, but looking at what he's conducting with them, I see the same stuff he's played repeatedly here: Stravinsky (his opening Philharmonia concert as MD is centered around "Oedipus Rex" the last piece he'll conduct as the full-time MD of the LAP!), Mahler and Bartok, for example. Not a criticism, obviously, because when Gustavo Dudamel takes over here in 2009-10, he'll bring his own slant and I'll probably be bored with his personal favorites by the time he leaves too.

Andrew  Patner

I think we've all probably overstayed our welcome on Brian's page, but a few quick points in moving on and then let's all yield to Brian's wishes in seeing if he starts a new post, responds, etc., shall we?

1. Thank you, "Henry Holland." Rule No. 1 of e-mail and posting -- Think, breathe, take a walk around the block before hitting "Send."

2. Certainly GM would view NY as a challenge. My guess is that the more he learns about the nature of this particular challenge the less appetizing he finds it. That said, your "blank slate" point has some real validity.

3. The economic problems I see with "stagione" are not on the production costs/running/expenses side-- rather on the ticket sales/marketing/income side. A weekend or even a weeklong visitor to New York under the proposed new NYCO system would have a choice of seeing or not seeing a single opera. A visitor to a repertory company has the choice of/ability to see two, three, or even four different productions, depending on the company. Even with its relatively brief season and relatively short runs, Chicago Opera Theater is actually moving *to* a schedule that would allow a visitor to Chicago to see two productions (of a total of three in the season) in close proximity. For its own month-long season, Opera Theatre of St. Louis also has a schedule that does this.

4. Esa-Pekka Salonen plays something besides "The Rite of Spring"?! ;-) Seriously (well, frankly, that *is* serious), I think there is a difference between a performing artist and a conductor having a focused range of interests and an impresario doing the same with his/her programming. Ardis Krainik certainly told anyone who asked that she preferred "the spaghetti and meatballs" repertory, but she successfully expanded Lyric Opera of Chicago in every direction imaginable during her tenure.

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