Last week I took a brief foray to our nation's bleak north, where reports hold that cultural life is back.
On Thursday I went to New York’s Metropolitan Opera for a performance of Richard Wagner’s monumental 1868 paean to the sacred place of art in society, "Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg."
The Met’s current beautiful storybook production premiered in 1993 and has delighted audiences ever since. Until recently, every revival played to full houses willing to sit for the opera’s six delightful hours of musical ravishment.
But this time things were different.
On "Meistersinger’s" opening night, only 57% of the house was occupied.
As I proceeded to my place at a later performance, I passed row after row of empty seats, a shockingly bad sign for a company that may have lost as much as $150 million in the pandemic.
The music was glorious, with the best possible cast imaginable and the famous conductor Sir Antonio Pappano, music director of London’s Royal Opera House, leading the performance.
So where have all the Wagnerians gone?
New York’s precipitous decline is a sad but indisputable fact.
No one can erase the horror of Bill de Blasio’s disastrous mayoralty, which witnessed unchecked violence, a radically defunded police force, broadly tolerated crime, all manner of urban blight, and determined efforts to sink virtually every standard and value that made the city great.
Few seem to have any real enthusiasm for his successor Eric Adams, apart from a vague optimism that he is not de Blasio.
Can it be any surprise in New York’s doldrums that much of the Met’s audience has abandoned the storied opera company?
Staying out late in noticeably deserted streets is inadvisable. Sitting for long hours in a mask is unpleasant, and, with a strict vaccination mandate imposed on all theaters, senseless.
New York taxes, and now consumer prices, are steadily increasing, as are urban stress levels.
And, it needs to be said, significant elements of the Met’s core constituency are no longer even New Yorkers.
A few days later, I found quite a few former New Yorkers over a thousand miles south, in the audience of the Palm Beach Symphony’s splendid season opening concert.
Now entering its 48th season, the Palm Beach Symphony has become a powerhouse orchestra of great repute, enjoying enormous local support and commanding international attention.
Last season, when almost all other North American performing arts companies closed their doors, a number of performances here welcomed limited live audiences while broadcasting worldwide.
Enthusiasm at the Nov. 7 concert was palpable. Energy levels were high, on and off the stage. The crowd at the capacious Kravis Center for the Performing Arts looked to be a near-sellout.
Pre-season kickoff events included a rooftop cocktail party and chamber performance held last month at one of West Palm Beach’s swanky new buildings — many of which are beginning to house major New York financial firms that find Florida climates and business conditions far milder and more welcoming.
A more traditionally Palm Beach evening was given at one of the Island’s private clubs to a bustling and unmasked group that would not have been out of place in 2019.
Those fortunate enough to take part had much to celebrate.
Maestro Gerard Schwarz, who arrived as music director in 2019, authoritatively led an ambitious program of Schumann, Tchaikovsky, and the contemporary American composer Valerie Coleman.
Coleman’s brief "Umoja: Anthem of Unity," which premiered in 2019, offered a shimmering call to end discord with furtive string musings yielding to edgy intrusions of brass and percussion before finally settling on a softer theme of harmony.
It was followed by Robert Schumann’s 1841 Piano Concerto in A Minor (Op. 54), one of the composer’s earlier pieces for orchestra, featuring the international renowned pianist Hélène Grimaud. She played forcefully, and with a sophistication that could have been found in any of our struggling traditional musical capitals but now shines a bright spotlight on Palm Beach.
The concert concluded with Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky’s Symphony No. 5 in E Minor (Op. 64). Dating from 1888, the composer’s journal documents it as a musical journey from a grim resignation to fate to new found faith to fortify any listener against adversity.
New York should be so lucky.
Paul du Quenoy is president of the Palm Beach Freedom Institute. He holds a Ph.D. in history from Georgetown University. Read more — Here.
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