Disclaimer: Opera Chic not only likes Gustavo Dudamel...she loves him. She was at la Scala for his Don Giovanni debut (an uneven performance of a monstrously difficult work, by the way, but this is beside the point) even before she had an actual blog, in the early fall of 2006.
And she's been blogging about him more or less since day one.
So, let's make it clear that Opera Chic really likes Gustavo and she totally adores Eloisa, generous and easygoing, who endures politely all the talk about her husband being a genius when, in fact, she's the one who wears the smartypants.
Therefore, this post isn't really about Dudamel, but more about the choice of marketing him (especially as of late) by the LA Phil the way he's being marketed.
Let us go, then.
Everybody is excited for Gustavo Dudamel's impending inaguration, too. But when you start alluding to Dudamel as a deity ("Some have taken to referring to the new music director of the Los Angeles Philharmonic by his initials, thus: G*D."), when you seriously start comparing a great talent with a major league career that started 3 years ago with Leonard Bernstein, things are starting to get seriously out of hand. And when it comes to the mostly embarrassing, fawning, breathless media coverage of Dudamel's debut as Music Director of the Los Angeles Philharmonic, we can safely say that most of the "general-interest" media is behaving poorly.
The media seems to be fascinated by the fact that, for once, on the podium they don't have an elderly Italian gentleman (Giulini), a weird-looking Jew with a French name (Previn), or a taciturn, shy, very blond Finn. Hence all the silly talk about Dudi as "the Obama of music" (actual quote) -- they simply wouldn't care otherwise, let's face it. Do you think that Robin Ticciati, that soft-spoken, polite British cherub with a posh accent who's even younger than Dudamel -- and not necessarily a worse conductor -- would turn them on that much?
The media -- with more than a little help from the LA Phil itself, who should know better -- is itching badly to turn Dudamel into the Roberto Benigni of classical music, half mad genius and half court jester (speaking of Benigni, interestingly enough, off the air he has a much lighter Italian accent when speaking English -- he hams it up shamefully for the cameras, pretending to be the cartoonish Italian one would expect in the lamest of stereotypes).
All the "Gustavo" branding -- Amanda Ameer, who has X-Ray vision like Superman for this kind of thing, explained it all here -- is just that: gimmick. They needed a word that ended with a vowel, and "Dudamel" is not ethnic enough for their concept. It's ~MOLTO MARIO~ for classical music -- watch out soon for Dudi on the Food Network making arepas. Unless you also remember all those "ESA!!!" billboards when Salonen took over in the 1990s, and the English/Finnish dual language microsite -- OC doesn't.
Opera Chic wants Dudamel and the LA Phil to succeed but you don't build a new audience with stunts.
Salonen basically bored the non-classical media because he doesn't go against the grain of how a conductor is supposed to look like in the mind's eye of the people -- a vast majority of the public, after all -- who never go the symphony. But it's just plain wrong to assume -- or even hope -- that Dudamel would excite them because they assume he should either be parking their car or at least be playing the Mariachi instead of Beethoven. Just as TIME magazine a couple years ago, famously, was so impressed by a (then) thin soprano that they put Anna Netrebko on one of their "Most Whatever" zany lists -- they expect fat German ladies with horns, they saw Anna, and fainted.
Yes, yes, yes: conductors are no longer exclusively European, no longer Anglos (the occasional gay Jew didn't count): for more than a few years now there have been Asians, women, blacks and even countertenors on the podium. In backwards-a$$ Italy, a place where a 2009 workplace looks like an episode of Mad Men with updated wardrobe and less stupid dialog, even there, Milan's second orchestra, La Verdi, hired a new Music Director and knew better than to beat the "she's female & Asian" angle to death in the press -- they just hired her because they really, really liked the way she made their orchestra sound. No Year of the Dragon parties, Bruce Lee t-shirts. Just music. They hired her because they really like the music she makes. Xian Zhang is not a prop for a PR campaign to bring different ethnic groups to the concert hall -- she's a musician. You only need to look at her picture to know that something big has changed. It has. It will change even more deeply, because history moves forward and PR campaigns are not the engine of history. Now let's make some music, OK?
Can Deborah Borda say the same? Really?
Xian Zhang -- in an undeniably sexist, racist country like Italy, by US standards, where stuff that would get you fired on the spot elsewhere simply provokes a chuckle -- conducted la Verdi while she was eight months pregnant and the Italian media, magically, mentioned that in a couple lines then simply wrote about the music.
It's a circus mentality and the LA Phil is milking that for all it's worth. I think it's a mistake but I hope it works out for them.And by the way, Gustavo's back hurts when he's overworked. And he's almost always overworked. Let him rest a little, between microsites.