Fantastic! Met Opera Database Open to All Online!!!

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Ralph
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Fantastic! Met Opera Database Open to All Online!!!

Post by Ralph » Sat Jul 30, 2005 8:04 pm

From The New York Times:

July 31, 2005
How to View 26,000 Operas at Once
By ANTHONY TOMMASINI

LAST year Joseph Volpe, the general manager of the Metropolitan Opera, went to Robert Tuggle, the Met's archivist, with a simple question. In how many seasons throughout its history, Mr. Volpe wanted to know, had the Met presented a production of Puccini's "Turandot"?

At one time, Mr. Volpe's question would have sent Mr. Tuggle, who has been the Met's director of archives since 1981, riffling through the record books and flipping through rows of index cards in the archive, a windowless office in a subbasement of the opera house.

But these days, finding the answer is easy. All Mr. Tuggle needs to do is to open the Met's new database on his desktop computer. Moreover, since it was unveiled this spring, the database has been available, free, to anyone who logs onto the Met's Web site. (Go to metopera.org, select Met History from the toolbar and click on Launch Database.)

By any measure, the Met's database is exceptionally comprehensive. But what's more, it is sheer fun to explore.

Want to know how many times, say, Birgit Nilsson sang at the Met? Easy. Select the Browse function, type in "Nilsson, Birgit," click on Met Careers, and in a blip the answer arrives: 222. Click on that number, and a complete list of every Nilsson performance at the Met appears, in chronological order, including complete casts, conductors, directors and other pertinent information. And you can just as easily refine your search and discover complete cast lists for all the performances Ms. Nilsson sang with, say, Franco Corelli (45, including tours and a few galas).

Want to know more? Here's a question only opera mavens would think of: how many sopranos made their Met debuts singing the role of Wagner's Sieglinde? The answer, easily available on the database, is 13, starting with Olive Fremstad in 1903 and ending (for now) with Gwyneth Jones in 1972.

For countless opera buffs, the database, which includes entries on all performances since the Met's opening in 1883, has already become more than a repository of information. You can relive the career of a favorite singer, like Renata Tebaldi, as well as the era in which she sang, by going through the complete list of her 269 performances, starting with her Met debut in 1955 as Desdemona in Verdi's "Otello."

And check out the cast that night. Mario Del Monaco as Otello, Leonard Warren as Iago, and, taking the supporting role of Roderigo, a young tenor named James McCracken. McCracken later became a famous interpreter of the title role, singing it in a string of performances with Tebaldi in 1964, as well as on the night of her Met farewell in 1973, with the young James Levine conducting.

The database's Repertory Report option lists, among other things, all the operas ever performed at the Met, starting with the most frequently presented work: "La Bohème" holds the record at 1,165 performances. Check the Performers Report, and you'll find that during a career of 51 years so far, the tenor Charles Anthony has accumulated the most performances in Met history, 2,896, the majority in smaller supporting roles, though Mr. Levine, in third place at 2,237, is catching up.

Opera fans will be pleased to know that Mr. Tuggle and his staff keep adding information to the database. Increasingly, entries on individual performances include reviews from critics, pertinent related documents and photographs (the production photos from the 1910 world premiere of Puccini's "Fanciulla del West," starring Enrico Caruso and Emmy Destinn, for example).

It's somehow fitting that the Met's sophisticated, user-friendly database has finally opened up that sunless archive. It is a cramped but endearing office, with an adjacent humidity-controlled storeroom that houses rare documents and legendary costumes, like the princely finery Jussi Bjoerling wore in the landmark 1950 production of Verdi's "Don Carlo."

Opera buffs everywhere are finding the database addictive. Mr. Tuggle has a growing file of correspondence from appreciative users. Recently, an ominous letter arrived from one "Enzo Adorato," informing Mr. Tuggle that he was being sued in a class action brought by employers across the United States for "wrongful interference with their employees' productivity" because of the Met's engrossing database. Moreover, the letter continued, a separate class-action suit was being filed against Mr. Tuggle and his database by neglected spouses, children and significant others for causing "alienation of affection" in their homes.

At first glance, Mr. Tuggle, 73, may seem an unlikely champion of the Internet. Affable and inviting, he has an archivist's bent for meticulous detail and a perpetually cluttered desk. Born in Virginia, he studied music at Princeton, writing a thesis on the early operas of Verdi. After serving in the Army for two years, he was hired as the director of education for the Metropolitan Opera Guild, the private organization that supports the activities of the Met and publishes the magazine Opera News. Mr. Tuggle held that post for 20 years before becoming the Met's archivist.

He has been a cautious custodian of the archive's files and documents. He encourages scholars, critics and musicians to use the archives for serious research and only rarely sees a reason for restricting access. "I wouldn't give people, say, Joseph Volpe's correspondence from the last 15 years," he said.

But "for security reasons," he said, he has discouraged opera fans from dropping by the office. "You can't have fans browsing through historic materials," he explained. True enough. To let an opera fanatic near a photo of Rosa Ponselle as Bellini's Norma in 1927 would be tempting fate.

Because he has had to be cautious about who uses the archive office, Mr. Tuggle is delighted that the database is the ultimate in availability. At first the Met proposed charging a fee for using it, but Mr. Tuggle persuaded the company to put the whole works right on the free Web site.

If Mr. Volpe's correspondence will remain restricted for the time being, the papers of his predecessors are largely open to scholars. Mr. Tuggle has been posting selective correspondence, including letters of Sir Rudolf Bing, the Met's general manager from 1950 to 1972, who could be delightfully blunt and witty in dealing with singers.

You can, for example, find on the database a 1953 letter an exasperated Bing wrote to the Met's agent in Italy, asking him to keep pressuring Tebaldi to commit to a Met debut. "You might tactfully remind Madame Tebaldi that we have now, on and off, tried to arrange an engagement since 1949," he wrote. "I know that Madame Tebaldi is extremely young," he added, "but even Italian sopranos don't get younger with the passing years!"

Most letters of historic note will remain available only to researchers at the archive. Another classic Bing letter from 1962, for example, chides the tenor Richard Tucker, a pillar of the Met, for trying to withdraw from a performance so that he could sing some lucrative dates during the Jewish holidays at a hotel in the Catskills.

"We realize the importance of the Jewish holidays and the enormous pay you get for your services, and we have always tried to be helpful and cooperative," Bing wrote to Tucker. But, he added, "to cut out an agreed performance at the Metropolitan, which is important to us, just to have a little more rest for your work at the Concord Hotel seems to me a rather cynical approach of which I cannot approve."

For decades, the only record Met fans had of performances was the published Metropolitan Opera Annals. These volumes, which went in and out of print, listed all performances and artists, but the information was incomplete. (No first names of singers were given, for example.)

The Metropolitan Opera Guild released a CD-ROM in 2002, covering 117 seasons. (It is updated regularly.) Mr. Tuggle was recruited to work on this project, though he resigned from it in 2001 because, he said, "I objected to their conception of it." Indeed, some of us who have bought the CD-ROM have found it confusing and cumbersome.

Mr. Tuggle decided that the archive should have its own annals on a database. His colleagues in the archive at the New York Philharmonic recommended a company, Inmagic, whose representatives, after a consultation, told Mr. Tuggle that the published annals could be converted for use in the database. A great deal of information had to be added to each entry, of course. Still, that the printed books could be converted gave the database project an enormous head start.

"If we had to enter the information by hand, we would still be in the late 19th century," Mr. Tuggle said. The total number of Met performances is approaching 26,000.

Click the New on the Database bar, and you get a daily update of the additional reviews, photographs and information that Mr. Tuggle and his staff keep adding. His main disappointment is that he cannot include links to recorded excerpts from Met broadcasts. For those, the union contract with the orchestra would have to be renegotiated. Instead, for now he has included excerpts from commercial recordings as part of the company's Web site, under Sights and Sounds of Met History.

Meanwhile, opera buffs, many of whom, like baseball fans, pride themselves on knowing statistics, are contacting Mr. Tuggle with suggestions and corrections. One enthusiastic user, sending an e-mail message from Vienna, reported a mistake. On Feb. 21, 2001, in a performance of Rossini's "Italiana in Algeri," it was not Jennifer Larmore who sang the role of Isabella but Wendy White, her "first and only time," the writer said. Mr. Tuggle made the correction immediately.

"That's the beauty of it," he said. "I can change things in two seconds."

By the way, the answer to Mr. Volpe's question is that "Turandot" has been presented at the Met during 24 seasons, starting in 1926 in a production starring Maria Jeritza, who had created the title role in Milan earlier that year. After 1930, the opera disappeared from the Met's repertory for 31 years. So you can understand what an impact a new production of "Turandot" made when it arrived in 1960 with a couple of singers named Nilsson and Corelli.

Now anyone can find this information in two seconds.
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