Reviews: Gunn in concert -- and to Philadelphia

September 30, 2012

I’m late in posting Robert Battey’s review of Nathan Gunn’s recital for the Washington National Opera. WNO has certainly started this season with a lot of energy — two productions plus a concert on the Celebrity Series, which I thought was inaugurated to fill in the gaps in the season when there were no opera performances, but never mind.

Gunn’s biggest news this fall, however, has been his appointment to the role of Director of the American Repertoire Council of the Opera Company of Philadelphia, putting a public face on the company’s praiseworthy initiatives for promoting American works.

I found this announcement disappointing. The Opera Company of Philadelphia has been quietly emerging as a force to be reckoned with in terms of American and contemporary opera on the East Coast, with a commitment to producing one American work a season for the next ten years; this season sees both the East Coast premiere of Kevin Puts’s Pulitzer Prize-winning opera “Silent Night” and a production of Thomas Ades’s “Powder her Face.” The company has also instituted (with help from the Mellon Foundation) a serious composer-in-residence program currently involving three-year gigs for two young composers, Lembit Beecher and Missy Mazzoli. All of this is exciting and forward-looking, but naming Gunn, an amiable singer without a particularly high artistic profile, seems to mark a calculated retreat to safer terrain, following the Lyric Opera of Chicago’s lead in naming a high-profile singer who can appeal to donors to an unspecified position involving advice and regular performances.

I hope that Gunn can provide useful feedback to the composers and useful insights to the company, and that I’m wrong in thinking he hardly seems like an artistically stimulating choice.

In other Washington concert news, the Washington Bach Consort celebrated its 35th year — Cecelia Porter reviewed — and the Verge Ensemble opened its season with a concert exploring different approaches to notation, which Stephen Brookes was happy to attend.

Bonus: In Gay City News, David Shengold offered a thoughtful review of Washington’s bel canto weekend.

Above: Nathan Gunn with Susan Graham and Patricia Racette in Tobias Picker’s “An American Tragedy” at the Metropolitan Opera in 2005. Now, he’s going to be advising composers and the Philadelphia Opera about new music.

Anne Midgette came to the Washington Post in 2008, when she consolidated her various cultural interests under the single title of chief classical music critic. She blogs at The Classical Beat.
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