Friday, September 21, 2007

Plaza wars

Like many in town, I'm excited by Gérard Mortier's impending arrival at City Opera. He's just outlined some of his plans in an interview, and the expectations are even higher.

Which brings me to a general point brought up by this interview: Mortier's arrival symbolizes the arrival of competition, and that's something opera lovers are not used to here. The Met has for years been secure in its self-appointed role as the center of opera, not only in New York but in the world (sure, if it makes them happy to think that). Suddenly, a new sheriff waltzes into town, goes up to the old one and says "Show me your stuff!"

Another monopoly being challenged here is the New York Times' hold on arts coverage: It is significant that Mortier's interview was in the New York Sun, not in the Times—seen by many as the go-to place to read the Met's press releases.

While Americans give verbal props to capitalism and competition, the reality often boils down to monopoly situations. (If you've ever had to deal with a cable company in New York, you'll know exactly what I mean.) Of course the world of opera is a rarefied one, but what's at stakes here is actually rather wide-ranging.

In cultural terms, you have an outsider coming in and showing that there are ways to do things other than the ones adopted by the local powerhouse. (Despite its cosmopolitanism, New York is actually relatively provincial when it comes to being aware of what's going on in other countries.)

In media terms, it means the local 800-pound gorilla may need to start looking over its shoulder a little more.

Exciting news, indeed.

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