On the opening night of the Metropolitan Opera’s revelatory new production of Borodin’s “Prince Igor” in February, you might have expected some of the backstage bitterness over the labor talks then looming to seep into the performance.
But there was not a trace of the animosity roiling the Met during that arresting evening of opera. The impressive Met choristers sang Borodin’s music with visceral intensity; the great Met Orchestra, under the inspired conducting of Gianandrea Noseda, played the score as if born to the Russian opera idiom; the backstage crew worked its typical miracles with this mesmerizing production. On that night, the Met seemed the most cohesive and artistically purposeful opera company in the world.
Who could have imagined that when the labor talks got underway this summer, one small scenic element of this alluring “Prince Igor” — the magical poppy field that covered the stage during the Polovtsian scene — would be seized upon to the point of absurdity by union members as evidence that the money woes of the Met came not from unsustainable labor costs, but from the general manager Peter Gelb’s spendthrift ways in mounting lavish new productions? That those in-house satin poppies cost $169,000 was decried. Did they have to be satin? How about pre-made plastic ones?
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