Fri, Aug 27, 2010 - Page 13 News List

Felix Chen and ‘Rigoletto’ return to the Taipei Symphony Orchestra

After leaving the orchestra seven years ago in controversial circumstances, the conductor surprised many by taking up the baton again at his old stomping ground

By Bradley Winterton  /  CONTRIBUTING REPORTER

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far the most interesting aspect of next weekend’s production of Verdi’s opera Rigoletto is the name of its conductor, Felix Chiu-sen Chen (陳秋盛).

Chen was the music director of the Taipei Symphony Orchestra (TSO) for 17 years. As such he conducted, and sometimes also directed, numerous Western operas. This was before the National Symphony Orchestra (NSO) began staging operas in Taipei, and Chen’s productions, apart from invariably being excellent in themselves, were consequently almost the only Western operas that Taiwan then knew.

Even before taking up his post with the TSO, Chen was one of the leading figures in Taiwan’s classical music world. He taught both Chien Wen-pin (簡文彬), the NSO’s innovative musical director from 2001 to 2007, as well as the same orchestra’s current maestro Lu Shao-chia (呂紹嘉).

Then, in late September 2003, Chen was the subject of articles in Taiwan’s Apple Daily newspaper accusing him of financial irregularity. The Taipei City’s Department of Cultural Affairs, which finances the TSO, felt it appropriate to instigate an investigation. Soon afterwards Chen offered his resignation, and many believe he was told he had to do so.

While all this was going on, Chen and the TSO were preparing a major opera production, Richard Strauss’s Salome, in the National Theater. At the end of the last performance Chen was on stage, along with the cast, receiving the applause of the audience. I watched astonished as half the TSO musicians stood up and offered him red roses, while the other half sat immobile in their seats. Chen moved from the TSO soon afterwards, and the orchestra, beset by seemingly endless problems over the appointment of its subsequent music directors, never appeared to return to its former eminence, leaving the NSO as the unchallenged leader in the field.

PERFORMANCE NOTES

WHAT: Taipei Symphony Orchestra, Rigoletto

WHEN:Sept. 3 at 7pm and Sept. 5 at 2:30pm

WHERE: Metropolitan Hall (城市舞台), 25, Bade Rd Sec 3, Taipei City (台北市八德路三段25號)

ADMISSION: NT$300 to NT$1,200. For reservations call (02) 3393-9888 or go to www.artsticket.com.tw


According to many in Taipei’s classical music scene, not a shred of evidence involving Chen in any wrongdoing was ever discovered. He meanwhile returned to university teaching, making occasional appearances here and there as a guest conductor.

Now, suddenly and unexpectedly, Felix Chen is back conducting an opera for the TSO. Things appear to have run full circle. Whatever the reason for this extraordinary turn of events, it constitutes an exceptionally welcome development.

So then, to Rigoletto itself. When the TSO last staged it, under Chen in the National Theater more than 10 years ago, the production was distinguished by an amazing effect, a shooting star that curved down across the sky at the end of Gilda’s Act Two aria Caro Nome (“Dear Name”). No information is available at the time of writing as to what kind of production we can expect at the Metropolitan Hall (城市舞台) next weekend. But there are hints.

The director, Robert Lummer, has issued a statement in which he gives it as his opinion that the heroine, Gilda, is the victim of an oppressive father, the hunchback Rigoletto, and that her tragedy is, in effect, his fault for denying her her sexual freedom. This is supported by a reference to the writer of the Frankfurt School much venerated by the academic post-structuralist theoreticians, Theodor Adorno. In order to assess this position, it’s necessary to look at the opera itself.

Rigoletto is based on a stage play by Victor Hugo called Le Roi S’Amuse (“The King Has a Good Time”). It was an attack on the sexual profligacy and exploitation of his female subjects by a French monarch, and was sufficiently controversial for Verdi to be forced by the censors in Italy to move the action of his opera into the Renaissance past, and to make the ruler a duke from a dukedom that no longer existed.

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