by Jeff Lunden
Weekend Edition Saturday
Bryn Terfel as Wotan in the Met's production of Wagner's Ring cycle, one of the productions that has been criticized by some as too costly.
When an opera company is in the midst of contentious labor negotiations, the results can be dramatic. This week, the war of words between unions and management at New York's Metropolitan Opera, the world's largest opera company, escalated. An Aug. 1 shut down now seems likely.
At the center of the debate is the ballooning Met budget, which stood at $200 million in 2006 but has since climbed to more than $325 million. Met General Manager Peter Gelb asserts that union salaries and benefits are his biggest costs, accounting for two-thirds of the operating budget.
The Met's orchestral musicians get paid more than any other orchestra members in the U.S., and its stagehands and choristers are among the best paid in the world. Management's proposal to rein in rising costs does not include cutting base salaries, but instead cutting about 16% of workers' total compensation by changing work rules governing overtime payments, as well as trimming health benefits and pensions.
But the unions blame Gelb for the rising deficits, saying he has been irresponsible in his spending and accusing him of increasing his salary while asking them to accept reductions. Alan Gordon of the American Guild of Music Artists says Gelb has doubled the number of new productions since taking over: "There are so many, in fact, that the employees made twice their salary in just the overtime necessary to deal with the new productions."
"No matter how you slice it," Gelb says, "opera is incredibly expensive." Earned income, he says, has not kept pace with rising costs.
Negotiations are slated for next week. If agreements aren't reached, Gelb has warned the unions to prepare for a lockout.
All Things Considered
Metropolitan Opera General Manager Peter Gelb has warned union workers of a lockout if a contract deal isn't settled by July 31.
The clock is ticking for the Metropolitan Opera in New York. The world's largest opera company may be headed for a shutdown. Most of the union contracts for the Met expire in a week. Yesterday, Met General Manager Peter Gelb sent a letter to the unions, warning them to prepare for a lockout if they don't come to terms.
For months now, the company and its unions have been at an impasse. Management has proposed cutting 16 percent of union members' compensation. Otherwise, Gelb contends, the company could go bankrupt in two to three years.
"The fact of the matter is that two-thirds of our costs are driven by our union payments," Gelb says.
Gelb is not proposing cuts to base salary, but overtime, health and pension benefits. The musician's union says its members could actually see cuts of twice that after they crunch the numbers, according to Jessica Phillips Rieske, acting principal clarinetist of the orchestra and a member of the bargaining committee.
"Actually, the cuts that we're talking about would be more like 25 to a worst-case scenario of 37 percent," Rieske says.
Since Gelb took over the Met in 2006, the company's budget has ballooned to more than $325 million. He's doubled the amount of new productions and he's created high definition broadcasts that bring Met performances to movie theaters around the world.
"When I took over the Met," Gelb says, "the budget was about $200 million a year and we invested in new efforts to help make the opera more accessible and more successful."
More successful, but revenues from those efforts have not come close to matching expenses, so Gelb is more dependent than ever on private and corporate donors. "We had to raise about $150 million in the last fiscal year in annual donations to make ends meet," he says. "And that's a level that our donors are not willing to continue to bear."
The unions counter that Gelb has been reckless in his spending and now they're being asked to pay the tab. They say that all this new activity has triggered costly overtime payments and the expensive new productions haven't filled the theater.
"We consider the Met Opera our family," says D. Joseph Hartnett of the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees. He's at the bargaining table for the six unions that represent the stagehands, wardrobe workers and box office personnel, among others. "We feel that, just as any family that has a budgetary crisis, everything needs to be on the table. And that includes Mr. Gelb's spending. And if we're being asked to tighten our belts, Mr. Gelb is gonna have to cut up some credit cards."
One credit card is Gelb's salary, which is roughly $1.4 million. Unions say Met management has withheld crucial financial information that would help them negotiate. And they contend that Gelb has wanted to lock them out all along. But Gelb says a lockout isn't the point.
"But more important than even the opening night is that we fix this economic problem that the Met has," Gelb says, "so that we have many opening nights in the years to come."
All of the unions have bargaining sessions scheduled in the coming week. But if they don't reach an agreement, a lockout would almost certainly delay the Met's opening night in September.
by Anastasia Tsioulcas
The French horns of the National Youth Orchestra of the USA — a yearly summer project organized by Carnegie Hall — rehearsed Saturday in Purchase, N.Y., in advance of their tour around the country.
Last year, the Carnegie Hall-organized National Youth Orchestra of the USA launched amid a rush of media attention from across the country and around the world, with performances in Moscow, St. Petersburg and London. This week, a fresh crop of very talented young musicians, all between the ages of 16 and 19 and hailing from 35 states plus the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico, are hitting the ground running with a concert tonight at New York's Carnegie Hall.
Their first performance was Wednesday evening, when our friends at the NPR-distributed program From the Top taped their newest show at Purchase College. It featured four NYO-USA musicians playing Saint-Saëns and Fauré alongside host and pianist Christopher O'Riley, as well as selections from their full 2014 concert program.
I went to the 2014 orchestra's first full concert on Sunday in Purchase to hear a program that was right in the pocket of their conductor, St. Louis Symphony music director David Robertson — and showed off their youthful exuberance and considerable technical command. The concert included a sparkling new work called Radial Play by 28-year-old composer Samuel Adams (son of John Adams, whom he strongly resembles physically); Bernstein's Symphonic Dances from West Side Story; Mussorgsky's Pictures at an Exhibition; and Britten's stunning but drastically underheard Violin Concerto with soloist Gil Shaham, who made a fantastic recording of it not long ago on his Canary Classics label.
These young artists couldn't ask for a better guide in playing American music than St. Louis Symphony Music Director Robertson — who, as it happens, made one of my favorite recordings of the first half of this year, an album featuring the music of Samuel Adams' father, another thoroughly American voice on the scene.
In the Bernstein suite, Robertson teased out every last hint of swing in the score — not just in the most famous sections, but also in the gossamer-light moments the violins have in the Scherzo. The Adams piece, Radial Play, with its glittering bursts of color and texture arranged in dense skeins of counterpoint that project out of a single note, was a welcome thrust into 21st-century music, and a piece that deserves to make it onto other orchestras' programs in the seasons to come.
You can hear Radial Play now courtesy of From the Top, who recorded the NYO-USA world premiere:
Though there were occasional slips of stamina and attack in the Mussorgsky that tipped off the musicians' ages, it was a raring outing nonetheless for some greatly beloved music. But even more exhilarating was their performance of the Britten. Shaham treated them as real collaborators in this harrowing piece, which the British composer wrote as a response to the gathering clouds of war across Europe, and specifically after the bombing of the Basque town of Guernica.
Carnegie Hall has been releasing a string of videos to celebrate this year's ensemble, including a performance of the group's encore, music from Porgy and Bess: A Symphonic Picture. (And no, that's not David Robertson leading the charge, it's NYO-USA Orchestra Director James Ross.)
The 2014 players have also made a bunch of little videos showcasing their personalities — some of them sweet (like a group of cellists covering "What A Wonderful World"), many of them a little goofy (percussionists, of course). My favorite is one that a clever YouTube commenter has dubbed "gang violins" — you'll see why.
After their date at Carnegie Hall tonight, the 2014 NYO-USA players head out on tour across the United States, with stops at Tanglewood, Appalachian State University in Boone, N.C., Chicago's Grant Park Music Festival, the Grand Teton Music Festival in Wyoming, Sonoma State University in Northern California, and Walt Disney Concert Hall in Los Angeles. And for the program's 2015 participants? A tour of China with conductor Charles Dutoit and pianist Yundi.
by NPR Staff
Weekend Edition Sunday
Milos Karadaglic's latest album, Aranjuez, released this July.
If you're a classical guitarist, it may be impossible to resist the pull of one iconic piece: the Concierto de Aranjuez by Spanish composer Joaquín Rodrigo. Many musicians regard it as the holy grail of guitar repertoire, including a man so big in the classical world he is known by only one name: Milos.
"One thing about this particular piece is that this melody really transcends into so many different areas, to so many different genres," says 30-year-old Milos Karadaglic, who was born across the Mediterranean from Spain in the tiny Balkan country of Montenegro. "While it is a classical guitar piece and the most iconic of classical guitar pieces, it has inspired so many other musicians to play it."
Milos' latest album is called Aranjuez, but as he explained to NPR's Arun Rath, it isn't just a tribute to Rodrigo: "It's about the journey of the guitar in the 20th century." He spoke with Rath about crafting a narrative from the work of Rodrigo and another Spanish composer, Manuel de Falla. Hear their conversation at the audio link.
Milos performs a Tiny Desk Concert at the NPR Music offices.
Milos Karadaglic's latest album, Aranjuez, released this July.
Placido Domingo, José Carreras and Luciano Pavarotti at Dodgers Stadium in Los Angeles, with conductor Zubin Mehta.
The Three Tenors joined to conquer. When this trio of famous opera singers — José Carreras, Placido Domingo and Luciano Pavarotti — gave a one-night-only show at Los Angeles' Dodger Stadium on July 16, 1994, it was a massive spectacle watched by a billion people worldwide. More than that, the Three Tenors phenomenon permanently altered how a large amount of classical music is presented, packaged and sold.
Timed to coincide with the Brazil-Italy World Cup final being held the next day at the Rose Bowl in nearby Pasadena, the live concert was filmed for TV broadcast in more than 100 countries. It was enough of a draw that it was shown either immediately before or after the big game in most places.
The stadium was filled to capacity for the debonair Carreras, heroic Domingo and golden Pavarotti. The VIP list was a star-studded 1990s dream cast. Former President George H.W. Bush and his wife Barbara were in attendance, as were Tom Cruise, Arnold Schwarzenegger and David Hasselhoff (don't discount what an international megastar he was back then). Gene Kelly and Frank Sinatra were on hand, too — smiling and nodding indulgently as the three opera singers gingerly made their way through "Singin' in the Rain" and "My Way."
Backed by the Los Angeles Philharmonic and the Los Angeles Music Center Opera Chorus and conducted by Zubin Mehta (who also did much to shape the program), with arrangements by Hollywood legend Lalo Schifrin, the trio winged their way jovially, if not terribly convincingly, through a string of haphazardly linked opera arias, Neapolitan songs and easy-listening favorites for a crowd of 56,000.
All three pairs of the tenors' eyes were glued to music stands through the musical theater tunes and American pop standards. The words for the English-language selections were hidden under nearly impenetrable accents. Through most of the show, Pavarotti chomped gum insouciantly.
"Beaming, smirking, sweating, bellowing, selling, blowing kisses, waving hankies, punching the air with victorious fists and the sound system with climactic not-too-high notes" is how Martin Bernheimer of The Los Angeles Times put it.
In the end, none of that mattered one iota. The Three Tenors in Concert 1994 was an astonishing success on every level. Well before Carreras, Domingo and Pavarotti got to their grand-slam encores — the Verdi arias "La donna è mobile" and "Libiamo ne' lieti calici (Brindisi)" (which Atlantic Records had released as a single before the live date, and which went immediately to No. 1 on the European charts), followed by Puccini's "Nessun dorma" — all the hard work had paid off. The CD and DVD versions of the concert, which the Warner label is rereleasing for this anniversary, went on to sell more than 8 million copies worldwide.
But how had it come to be? And was the Three Tenors phenomenon, as conductor Zubin Mehta dubbed it at the time, only just "like a comet " — having its blaze of glory and then vanishing without a trace?
Hardly. Not only did the Three Tenors become a global pop-culture touchstone, but their albums, tours and videos shifted an entire segment of the music industry for good.
The 1994 Los Angeles concert wasn't the first time the three singers and Mehta had joined forces. In 1990, a concert presenter from Bologna, Italy, Mario Dradi, had brought the trio together in Rome for a concert at the Baths of Caracalla. According to a New York Times review of that concert, Pavarotti said the three had been asked "at least 50 times" to appear together before, but had always said no.
What drew them into the Rome performance, they said, was a twofold impulse: to welcome Carreras' return to performing after defeating leukemia, and the tie-in to the 1990 World Cup, because football is a particular passion for them all. Carreras is an avid Barcelona fan; Pavarotti played on his hometown team in Modena, Italy, as a young man; and Domingo, who has occasionally played in charity games, is a fervent Real Madrid supporter who was also tapped by FIFA a couple of years ago to serve on its ethics committee.
It was Hungarian-born impresario Tibor Rudas, who was already Pavarotti's promoter, who created the Los Angeles spectacle. (Dradi was on the outs after he had sold the recording rights to the Rome show to the Decca label with no royalties going to the artists, only a fixed performance fee. Domingo in particular was said to have been furious: The Decca release was a worldwide smash in its own right that triggered the original Three Tenors craze.)
Rudas — a born showman who had long worked in bookings in both Atlantic City, N.J., and Las Vegas — did his best to create an outsized event, all meant to help the audience forget that they were in a baseball stadium. His five-story set, inspired by the architecture of Budapest, was built in Hungary and assembled at an Air Force hangar in California. It included massive amounts of suspended greenery, Hollywood production-house painted backdrops, and even waterfalls that had to be turned off at the beginning of the concert due to their noisiness. According to Rudas, the whole enterprise was so expensive that the ticket sales wouldn't cover his costs.
Rudas wasn't the only impresario hovering around after the runaway success of Rome four years before. Both Carreras and Domingo had been working with German promoter Matthias Hoffmann, who also wanted in on the action. The single most telling moment in a hagiographic behind-the-scenes documentary that accompanies the LA concert film is when Domingo recounts how the performance came to be. Domingo says he went to FIFA himself to discuss an encore Three Tenors/World Cup extravaganza for Los Angeles in 1994, only to be told: "Mr. Rudas has already the rights."
On camera, Domingo gives an elaborate shrug: "Well, fine, he has the rights, here we are." And one can't help but read some financial meaning into this account — securing those rights meant having a huge monetary stake in its success. And make no mistake, these spectacles, as a franchise, represented enormous money. After the LA concert, they soon appeared in arenas and other huge venues around the world, from Tokyo to Göteborg, Sweden, with Hoffman finally at the helm after having bought Rudas' set and staging.
"Is it good money?" Pavarotti once asked a reporter rhetorically about the lure of the Three Tenors billing. "By God, it's good money." Each tenor was paid about $1 million plus royalties for the Los Angeles show. (That would be worth approximately $1.6 million today.) When they headed out on their worldwide tour two years later, the three singers were earning $500,000 per concert apiece — about $800,000 in today's dollars — plus a percentage of all the merchandise sales and royalties. (James Levine, who replaced Zubin Mehta on the later tours, earned a flat $500,000 per performance.)
For the Los Angeles concert, VIPs were seated in the infield, and tickets went for between $15 and $1,000 apiece. The New York Times quoted Rudas as saying that the ticket income for the LA show alone — not even counting the copious amount and variety of artist merchandise for sale at the venue, ranging from seat cushions to autographed baseballs — was a record-setting $13.5 million. The Los Angeles Times reported the concert gross as $12.5 million — still a huge number — and pointed out that the gross for the World Cup final between Brazil and Italy was just over $45 million.
For a while in the mid- and late 1990s, after The Three Tenors hit, you couldn't open labels' new release books each month without having trios of singers vying for your attention. Tibor Rudas tried to strike gold again with a sopranos outfit (minus any household names). There were the African-American Three Mo' Tenors (at last count, actually 13 who have come and gone from the group). A rush of regional acts sprang up, from The Irish Tenors to Australia's Ten Tenors to The Three Tenors from the Holy Land to Three Chinese Tenors to The Three Welsh Tenors to The Canadian Tenors (who have now settled into being just The Tenors, which is apparently description enough).
Even the normally reserved label Harmonia Mundi entered the fray with a tongue-in-cheek trio of countertenors. The teenage Italian act Il Volo followed the same template, as did the Simon Cowell-produced quartet Il Divo. And just last week, a threesome called The Texas Tenors cracked the Billboard crossover Top 10 chart — and, yes, the Lone Star State singers, just like Carreras, Domingo and Pavarotti, have their very own PBS pledge-drive special. There's plenty of evidence that the original tenor trio altered PBS' music and pledge programming permanently — and it marked the point at which artist managers and record labels started to see PBS as a crucial driver for album and ticket sales. The 1990 Three Tenors show was so successful on PBS that it was shown nine times. (Clarification: a former Decca label executive has written to me to say that on the first night that the Rome special was shown on PBS in March 1991, it was played nine times in a row on the same evening on New York's Channel 13.) James Scalem, then vice president for fundraising programming at PBS, told the New York Times in 1994 that it was "by far the highest grossing fundraising program in public television history." Though Scalem didn't give the Times specifics, Channel 13, the main New York City-area PBS member station, told the paper that broadcasts of the 1990 special from Rome had raised more than $1 million for the channel.
Very soon, Three Tenors-style partnerships between record labels, PBS, independent producers and artist managers crystallized in a symbiotic relationship that persists to this day. Artists from the teen purity-dream Charlotte Church back in the early 2000s to this year's Benedictines of Mary, Queen of Apostles nuns have launched projects with simultaneous album releases and PBS specials. These dovetailing efforts are explicitly spelled out on press releases and on the sales sheets record labels distribute internally and also send out to retailers. (I've also been privy to such discussions during my own stints working at direct-to-consumer departments within two major-label companies, the now-defunct BMG and Sony, and when I was a columnist for Billboard Magazine, covering the business of classical music; in addition, my husband, Joshua Sherman, was directly involved in the production, sales and marketing of such crossover projects at BMG and later at Denon/Savoy Label Group.)
PBS stations started to play an enormous role in the success of crossover acts at large venues across the U.S. During PBS pledge drives, many public TV stations showcase concert specials by such artists and offer, as high-priced pledge premiums, tickets to those artists' upcoming area concerts (which are booked by the artists' impresarios). This helps create regional touring circuits for performers who might otherwise not be able to sustain such tours.
Using those public television pledge drives as their vehicles, impresarios can pre-sell huge venues with the help of PBS premium ticket sales — and, along the way, continue to build buzz for their artists. And those successes, in turn, drive more success. If a crossover act does well during pledge drives, PBS stations will immediately buy into that group or artist's next television project and recycle previous TV pledge specials as well. That's a win for the artists and the impresarios, too, as the loop helps solidify an artist's American fan base between tours.
But what The Three Tenors — who, despite their diplomatic official billing in alphabetic order, soon became enshrined in American pop culture via Seinfeld as "Pavarotti, Domingo and that other guy" — also ushered in was a new era in crossover music that arguably outshined even the trios' own idols from previous generations, such as Mario Lanza in the 1940s and '50s and Enrico Caruso decades before that. Caruso and Lanza were surely icons, but they were singular superstars in their own respective eras.
By contrast, The Three Tenors created a hugely lucrative subgenre. Call it "popera," call it "stadium classical," but a whole generation of artists from Andrea Bocelli to Jackie Evancho to Josh Groban (whom Domingo has recorded with) were birthed on the Three Tenors aesthetic. It features big vocal sounds (amplified, unlike traditional opera), backed by big, lush orchestras, in huge nonclassical venues — and sweepingly emotional old and new repertoire in arrangements that sound more like 1954 than 2014. And it's an aesthetic that still dominates the marketplace as well as the ears and eyes of concertgoers and TV viewers, even 20 years after that one concert at Dodgers Stadium.
by Tom Huizenga
Citizens of Paris, headed by the National Guards, storm the Bastille prison in an event which has come to be seen as the start of the French Revolution, 14th July 1789.
"The Star Spangled Banner" turns 200 this year, and the attention it's been getting is again a reminder of how difficult it is for many Americans to sing our national anthem.
Not so for the French, who have "La Marseillaise," composed by Claude Joseph de Lisle in 1792 as the French Revolution was in full swing. With its steady, martial beat and pleasing melody, the French anthem has found its way into many other contexts, musical and otherwise. For Bastille Day — the French holiday celebrating the fall of the Bastille in Paris, signaling the start of the French Revolution — test your level of Francophilia with a "Marseillaise" quiz.
Score high and feel strong enough to topple a monarchy. Score low and ... eat your cake.
"Our DSO to Go app has not only helped our live webcasts reach tremendous success around the globe, but has been an accessible sales channel for many first-time concertgoers without prior ticket or contribution history."