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Met Orchestra Musicians Respond to Conductor's New York Times Comment

French conductor Nathalie Stutzmann was quoted saying “There’s nothing more boring than being an orchestra musician and being in the back of a cave with no idea of what’s happening on the stage”

 

The Metropolitan Opera has launched a new production of Mozart’s The Magic Flute directed by Simon McBurney, which is now playing at the opera company until June 10, 2023. 

In light of its launch, its conductor Nathalie Stutzmann was featured in a recent New York Times article about the production — which involved the orchestra pit being raised almost level with the stage.

“We decided, ‘Let’s raise the orchestra, let’s make people aware of the players,’” the set designer Michael Levine said in the article. “Because we’re so used to the players being hidden, and they weren’t in the 18th century.”

“There’s nothing more boring than being an orchestra musician and being in the back of a cave with no idea of what’s happening on the stage,” Stutzmann told the New York Times in response. “Can you imagine spending three or four hours, five for Wagner, at the bottom of a pit and have no idea what’s happening above you? Not only can the musicians see this ‘Zauberflöte’; some also become part of the action.”

Stutzmann’s comments have received objections from the Met Orchestra musicians, who took to social media in a Facebook post titled “Breaking News: Met Orchestra Not Bored.” The post reads:

“In the recent otherwise excellent article in the New York Times about the Met’s innovative new production of Die Zauberflöte, we were disheartened to read our guest conductor’s supposition that the Met Orchestra might be bored playing in the pit.

“Our time spent in the orchestra pit is anything but a mundane experience, and we do not consider it a cave. Though we may not see the grand visual spectacle unfolding above us, we know exactly what is happening onstage. We want to emphasize the passion we feel for our craft and the enormous amount of preparation we undertake in order to have a deep knowledge of that which we cannot see. We study the score and the synopsis and are keenly aware of our role at any given moment—sometimes supporting, sometimes soloistic. 

“We intuitively understand the difficult acoustics of our enormous opera house, and we have cultivated a state of artistic flexibility that allows us to smoothly adjust to the sometimes nail-biting moments of live theater. We are highly attuned to the ever-changing needs and choices of singers, and we enjoy collaborating with them to meld the artistry on stage with that in the pit. In this way, we offer our audience a fresh artistic perspective night after night. In short, we are not bored but, rather, exhilarated. And we take immense pride in our ability to both support the world’s greatest opera stars and be one of the world’s greatest orchestras.”

This production is Stutzmann’s second major project with the Met Orchestra since her debut with them in the past month, performing Don Giovanni. In addition to being a contralto singer, Stutzmann is currently the music director of the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra.

In a letter obtained by slippedisc, Stutzmann apologized to the musicians of the Met Orchestra saying:

"It saddens me deeply that my comments, as reported in the New York Times on 18 May have caused such disappointment amongst the orchestra. My intention was only to celebrate the fact that Simon McBurney’s wonderful production of The Magic Flute celebrates the orchestra visually, including it in the production, and I wanted to focus on that."

The audience can see you like never before, and you can see all the action on stage. It gives me much joy to be part of this positive experience. It was certainly not my intention to diminish or undervalue in any way the stature and standing of your outstanding orchestra. I understand the great pride you take in always being attuned to the singers on the stage, regardless of the physicality of the pit.

Maybe I should not have overlaid my experiences in the opera pit, when I was a bassoonist all those years ago! I am convinced that opera is the ultimate art-form which unites so many different genres, but for me the most important of all is the musical soundtrack – maybe we could more often work with directors that bring more visibility for orchestral players in particular."

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