Music: Opera's Tightrope Walker

IN a moment of wrath, Hamburg State Opera Impresario Rolf Liebermann once exclaimed: "It's the directors who ruin everything. It's never the composer, conductor or singers. The directors are just so many dilettanti who don't know their job. Their only concern is their own vanity."

True of some, but not of Nathaniel Merrill, the resident stage director of the Metropolitan Opera, whose eleven productions are among the best that the company has ever mounted. The youngest (40) and first American-born director ever to hold that post, Merrill is almost devoid of flamboyance or...

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