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Music: New Manager for the Met

4 minute read

I wish him well, poor dear. He doesn’t know what he is in for.

With that touch of urbane cynicism, Rudolf Bing last week introduced the man who will succeed him two seasons hence as general manager of Manhattan’s Metropolitan Opera. He is Sweden’s Goran Gentele (pronounced Joran Gften-tell-uh), 53, who for the past seven years has directed the Royal Opera House in Stockholm. He will move to the Met next June to learn the ropes during Bing’s final season. When Gentele takes full control in July 1972, he will assume the most prestigious, toughest and probably the highest-paying (reportedly $100,000 a year) administrative job in all the arts.

Goran who? That was the reaction to the appointment from almost everybody, except Swedes, on the tight little island of international opera. As opera directors go, he is a virtual unknown whose work has been seen outside Europe only once. At Montreal’s Expo 67, his company staged productions of Tristan, Ballo in Maschera and an Ingmar Bergman-directed Rake’s Progress to excellent critical acclaim. In the guessing game that followed Bing’s decision to retire, Gentele’s name did not figure among the popular favorites: Conductors Leonard Bernstein and Erich Leinsdorf, Impresarios Julius Rudel of the New York City Opera and Hamburg’s Rolf Liebermann and Composer Peter Mennin, the president of Juilliard. “I didn’t even know myself until three weeks ago that I was being considered seriously,” says Gentele.

Shunning Rivalry. The Met is one of the world’s few major opera houses that lacks a musician at its helm. Gentele is not a musician−he plans to hire a music director−but his own theatrical credentials are highly in order. In younger days, he directed some 30 plays for Stockholm’s Royal Dramatic Theater, and at the Royal Opera he has mounted 28 operas. That background ought to equip him for the badly needed revitalizing of stagecraft at the Met. “Opera is a popular art, and it should be as exciting as a bullfight,” he says. Gentele has also directed eight creditable films (no international hits)! That fits in with Met President George S. Moore’s desire to get the Met into cinema and video tape.

Repeating one of his Stockholm innovations, Gentele intends to sponsor experimental operas by young composers in inexpensive productions to be staged, probably, in the small but well-equipped opera auditorium next door to the Met at Juilliard. Like Conductor Pierre Boulez, who takes over the New York Philharmonic next fall, Gentele thinks that the creative units of Lincoln Center should shun rivalry for artistic integration. Though he is but the latest European to win a top arts job in the U.S., he does not think America should have an inferiority complex about the Old World. “On the contrary,” he says, “you have much talent here, and I intend to travel round the country to find as much of it as I can.”

Despite Gentele’s onstage credentials, there is some skepticism as to whether he is the right man for the job. Swedish critics have tended to prefer his directing to his administrating. In Stockholm, where the government picks up all but $800,000 of the Royal Opera’s annual $6,400,000 budget, Gentele never had to bother with such problems as fund raising and the kind of bitter union bargaining that last year forced the Met to cancel half its season. If the Met has its way, the fund-raising load may be lighter in the future: last week the company announced that it was actively seeking Government support for the first time in its history.

Bing was a gifted fund raiser, but not much of a collective bargainer; still his act will be tough to follow. Although criticized for his arrogance and for the woefully uneven quality of Met productions, he undeniably brought the company back from the edge of artistic bankruptcy and vanishing prestige to which it had fallen under the regime of the late Edward Johnson. By the time Bing quits, he will have lasted 22 seasons−longer than any other general manager except Giulio Gatti-Casazza (1908-35). But if charm counts for anything, and it certainly does among the matrons and patrons of the Met, Gentele should be able to match Rudi Bing and endure for quite a while himself. He is a man of slender elegance with a graceful manner and clear, purposeful blue eyes. His wife Marit, a trim, Nordic-blonde who could have stepped out of a Bergman movie, is fond of pointing out that Goran has a master’s degree in political science. He may need it. A hail fellow does not necessarily guarantee a well Met.

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