Subscribe to
Opera Today

Receive articles and news via RSS feeds or email subscription.


facebook-icon.png


twitter_logo[1].gif



Plumbago_9780993198359_1.png

9780521746472.png

0810888688.gif

0810882728.gif

Recently in Commentary

Wexford Festival Opera Gala Concert - Remote Voices: as part of Waiting for Shakespeare …The Festival in the air

Some of the most famous and outstanding stars from the opera world are to take part in a very special evening from Wexford Festival Opera, including Aigul Akhmetshina, Joseph Calleja, Daniela Barcellona, Juan Diego Flórez, Igor Golovatenko, Ermonela Jaho, Sergey Romanovsky, and many more.

OperaStreaming announces second season of nine new productions from the opera houses of Emilia-Romagna, free to view on YouTube

Following its successful launch in 2019, OperaStreaming streams nine operas on YouTube from the historic opera houses of Emilia-Romagna during the 2020-21 season, with fully-staged productions of Verdi's La traviata in October from Modena and Verdi'sOtello from Bologna in...

Connections Across Time: Sholto Kynoch on the 2020 Oxford Lieder Festival

‘A brief history of song’ is the subtitle of the 2020 Oxford Lieder Festival (10th-17th October), which will present an ambitious, diverse and imaginative programme of 40 performances and events.

Bampton Classical Opera 2020: Gluck's The Crown at St John's Smith Square

Bampton Classical Opera returns to the Baroque splendour of London’s St John’s Smith Square on November 6 with a concert performance of Gluck’s one-act opera The Crown, the first in the UK since 1987. The performance will also be filmed and available to watch on demand on the Bampton website from 9 November.

A new opera written during lockdown with three different endings to choose from to premiere this October as part of Wexford Festival Opera

While many of us spent lockdown at home taking it a little easier, composer Andrew Synnott wrote an opera.

Grange Park Opera presents Britten’s Owen Wingrave, filmed on location in haunted houses in Surrey and London

Owen Wingrave is part of the new Interim Season of 19 brand new events, all free to view online between September and December 2020.

Music and Theatre For All launches three major new projects supported by The Arts Council

The Arts Council has awarded innovative UK charity Music and Theatre For All (MTFA) a major new grant to develop three ambitious new projects in the wake of Covid 19.

English National Opera to reopen the London Coliseum with performances of Mozart’s Requiem

English National Opera (ENO) will reopen the London Coliseum to socially distanced audiences on 6 and 7 November for special performances of Mozart’s Requiem. These will provide audiences with an opportunity to reflect upon and to commemorate the difficulties the nation has faced during the pandemic.

The Royal Opera House launches autumn digital programme with a new series of Friday Premieres and screenings on Sky Arts

The Royal Opera House is proud to continue its curated #OurHouseToYourHouse programme into the autumn, bringing audiences the best of the ROH through a new series of Friday Premieres and cultural highlights.

Take a Bow: Royal Opera House opens its doors for the first time in six months as part of Open House London

After six months of closure, the Royal Opera House is thrilled to be opening its doors to the public as part of Open House London weekend, giving visitors a taste of one of the world’s most famous theatres for free.

Academy of St Martin in the Fields presents re:connect - a series of autumn concerts at St. Martin-in-the-Fields

The Academy of St Martin in the Fields is thrilled to announce re:connect - an eight concert series with live socially distanced audiences at its namesake church, St. Martin-in-the-Fields. The autumn concerts will take place at 5pm & 7:30pm on two Saturdays per month with guest artists including baritone Roderick Williams, soprano Carolyn Sampson and composer-conductor-pianist Ryan Wigglesworth performing a wide range of repertoire.

Connections Across Time: The Oxford Lieder Festival, 10-17 October 2020

Music and poetry unite and collide across centuries, from the Medieval to the Enlightenment to the present day. This year, the Oxford Lieder Festival will present a thrilling and innovative programme comprising more than forty events streamed over eight days.

The English Concert Autumn 2020 series: Handel and Purcell, Britain’s Orpheus

The English Concert with artistic director Harry Bicket is delighted to announce a series of concerts from 1-15 October 2020. The concerts take place in historic London venues with star soloists and will be performed and streamed live to a paying audience at 7pm GMT on each performance date. The programmes include first-class vocal and instrumental works from the two pillars of the English Baroque, covering different aspects of the repertoire.

Glyndebourne announces first indoor performances since lockdown, and unveils 2021 Festival repertoire

Glyndebourne has announced plans for a ‘staycation’ series of socially-distanced indoor performances, starting on 10 October 2020.

Royal Opera House announces autumn opera and ballet concerts

The Royal Opera House is delighted to announce two packed evenings of opera and ballet, live from our stage in Covent Garden and available to view wherever you are in the world online.

New edition of Handel cantata: Guildhall School of Music and Drama

A new edition of Handel’s cantata Mi palpita il cor has been created by a group of students from Guildhall School’s Historical Performance department during lockdown.

Autumn season: free digital events at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama

Guildhall School of Music & Drama today announces its Autumn Season of events, which will all be delivered digitally and free of charge.

Wigmore Hall: Artistic Director John Gilhooly confirms 100 concerts from 13 September to 21 December

John Gilhooly today announced repertoire and artist details for Wigmore Hall’s autumn series of 100 concerts, including 28 lunchtime concerts in association with BBC Radio 3. All 100 concerts will be live-streamed in HD and free to watch on demand for 30 days after broadcast on Wigmore Hall’s website.

Glyndebourne extends its summer season of outdoor performances into September

Glyndebourne is extending its summer season of outdoor events, with an additional two weeks of open-air concerts and Open Gardens between 29 August and 13 September.

Garsington's Fidelio in Concert: BBC Radio 3 broadcast

Garsington Opera is delighted to announce that its Fidelio in Concert will be broadcast by BBC Radio 3 on Saturday 26 September, 6.30pm.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Commentary

Ruth Ann Swenson (1996)
07 Apr 2007

Ruth Ann’s Rampage: Nobody Wins

Based on reading the New York Times’ account of Met opera soprano Ruth Ann Swenson’s distemper with her home company in New York, published Thursday 5 April over the byline of Daniel J. Wakin, it is hard to find either motivation or reasonable expectation of reward for any of the participants in this travesty – reporter, newspaper, opera manager Peter Gelb (who comes off best), or, least of all, the distraught diva.

Perhaps Swenson has played too many mad-scene heroines on the great stage at Lincoln Center and has gone a touch daft herself? After twenty Lucia di Lammermoors and a few Puritani Elviras, Swenson knows how to pull off a scena. But her angry denunciation of the Met, and especially General Manager Gelb, in the Times may well come back to haunt her as well as the newspaper editors who made the, in my opinion, unfortunate and unprofessional decision to print such clearly un-fit ‘news.’ The lady feels ‘snubbed’ and some of her trophy roles are being given to arch-rivals. Head for the hills!

Swenson, a native New Yorker, made a successful Met debut in 1991 as Don Giovanni’s Zerlina, and has sung leading roles at least 225 times for the company, according to the Met’s archives, including not only the many Lucias, but 49 Gildas (perhaps a house record) in Rigoletto, 25 Rosinas in The Barber of Seville and dozens of La bohemes, Elisir d’Amores and so on. Alas for Swenson, this all came to a screeching halt last autumn when she was sadly diagnosed with breast cancer. Surgery followed, and as recently as six weeks ago, according to the Times, she was completing chemotherapy. Her famous long mane of red-gold hair is gone, “I have peach fuzz,” she says – no problem on stage as the Met’s wig department is renowned.

The problems derive from the fact Gelb has reduced Swenson’s upcoming performances of Violetta (La traviata) in season ‘08 from nine to five and given four of them to Renée Fleming. Ouch! Is there any poisonous snake or spider more lethal than a diva threatened by another? Swenson’s angry tone, claiming weight discrimination, perhaps age discrimination, and just plain “he does not like me” on the part of Gelb rings a little hollow.

Swenson came back from her cancer treatments only a few weeks ago to sing (presentably) Marguerite in Gounod’s Faust, including the broadcast, and as I write is singing Cleopatra in Handel’s Giulio Cesare, which will be featured on the Met broadcast of April 21, and will air several times on the Met’s satellite connection via Sirius Radio. . .; hardly a lack of exposure for any singer. In addition, Gelb is quoted by the Times as commenting during the Cesare rehearsals that Swenson “is singing beautifully... she not only survived this marathon opera but flourished in it... That’s the uniform consensus of the artistic staff and her colleagues.” Gelb tried to water down the complaints but may have added fuel to the fire by mentioning, “Any time we can get Renée Fleming to sing at the Metropolitan Opera is a good day...for the opera..”

Critics have been divided on Swenson’s Violetta finding she sings the demanding coloratura showpieces of Act I well enough but in the later acts of the dramatic Verdi chestnut can lack in theatrical effect. Fleming, on the other hand, is generally praised for performing the entire role splendidly.

So what was behind all this display of hubris and, perhaps, sour grapes? No one really knows, but this observer can make some guesses: chemo is miserable treatment; not only does your hair fall out, but you lose energy and often feel ill and terrible. So, do you go on one of the world’s biggest stages and sing a major role six weeks after completing such a course of medication? And do you talk to the New York Times? Unwise, to say the least. In the Times article Swenson claims to have little knowledge of public relations or press technique (“I am not a PR animal”), so she probably did not expect how chilly are the waters into which she has strayed. Was she ill-advised? Quite possibly. Finally, one has to wonder if Swenson was aware that Peter Gelb is the son of Arthur Gelb, for many years top editor of the Times and one of their revered elder statesmen – the Met manager has ‘a friend at the Times,’ to say the least. Anyone who seeks to air grievances against the mighty Met had better find a different venue from The Paper of Record, just for starters.

How much better it would have been if Swenson, herself, had announced she was cutting back on Violetta and thanked her friend Renée for taking on four performances to help share the burden! How much better it would have been for Swenson to pay tribute to the great opera company and express her appreciation for all the opportunities it has given her! She might even have said she hopes to return to the Met frequently in fresh health and voice to sing many more times over future years Instead, she said “I totally comprehend” where Elizabeth Edwards ‘is’ in terms of cancer treatments and the Edwards’ decision to include Elizabeth in John’s presidential campaign. “You can’t crawl under the covers,” said Swenson. True. But you don’t set the covers on fire before you depart.

I cannot imagine walking into the Met to sing the prima of the Handel opera (April 6) with all the Times’ poison drifting around the place, inflammability that Swenson herself uncorked. I do lament the “new journalism” of that newspaper and other media that will take a scandalous story just about anywhere they can find one, with little respect for damage done to the participants. Yep, Ruth Ann should have kept her yap shut, but the Times should never have poured the hot lead. Nobody wins.

© 2007 J. A. Van Sant

Send to a friend

Send a link to this article to a friend with an optional message.

Friend's Email Address: (required)

Your Email Address: (required)

Message (optional):