Review: Opera News

May 2012 / Jeffery S. McMillan

“Since the death of Carlos Kleiber, in 2004, the maestro’s reputation, not to mention his mystique, has grown appreciably. Son of the famous conductor Erich Kleiber, Carlos eclipsed his father’s shadow through his own uncompromising pursuit of excellence and an ineffable sympathy for musical expression… His performances consistently left a blissfully dazed wake of artists and audiences. Barbara Bonney, one of Kleiber’s frequent Sophies in Der Rosenkavalier, said, ‘We, the singers and orchestra, were thrown into his blender of musical genius and came out of a performance not quite knowing how it all happened. It was always like that with him. It was glorious.’

“… Barber’s attempt to shed light on his enigmatic subject has one unique and undeniably precious asset — his fifteen-year correspondence with Kleiber. That the inscrutable maestro would let his guard down and exchange letters with anyone for so long is surprising, but he clearly appreciated Barber’s whimsical humor and passionate devotion to the art of conducting. Beyond their Northern California to Munich pen-pal exchanges, the two bonded over a joint project: Barber would comb through video archives for rare clips of famous conductors and make copies for Kleiber to critique and comment on. Like the nearly lost courtship ritual of exchanging mix-tapes, music broke the ice for a close connection.

“… The unapproachable demigod vanishes as we read Kleiber’s teasing complaints about America’s uncritical reverence for Abraham Lincoln, quotes from his beloved Emily Dickinson, or references to his chosen profession as “stick-waving.” Yet more than the man’s sense of humor comes through. When Barber asks to use Kleiber’s Fledermaus orchestra parts to copy the conductor’s markings, the maestro gives him some excellent advice: ‘If you take someone else’s material, the flight of your genius will be hampered. You will be confessing to laziness disguised as willingness to learn.’”

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