Why are so few operas performed from the available repertoire?

Posted by on 2/03/2015 21:27 in Blog | Comments Off on Why are so few operas performed from the available repertoire?

This question has many many answers, many approaches, so this is just a start, the tip of the iceberg:

“Scared to try anything new” is not so off the mark. Opera is a small industry with the Metropolitan Opera only taking in about half a million in ticket sales last season, making up the rest of its budget in donations. When people denounce “opera” they have to first realize that this is a small group of struggling artists in the US. There may be powerful institutions, but other art industries out there have more money and power. American opera is not state sponsored, and does not have $60 million to spend on a new production like Julie Taymor’s “Spider Man.” It does not have the resources of the movie industry and it is often attacked as David Byrne did for a $32 mil Ring Cycle the LA Opera mounted, a production that will last for many many seasons. Regardless of US or EU, much of opera has to rely on standards to pay the bills, risk taking can have dire consequences if not thought through. They have to, in part, give the audience what it wants (much like Broadway using celebrities to sell tickets). If the audience were full of loyal young people clamoring for new works, the companies would certainly respond, and even though that’s not the case commissions to Nico Muhly, Golijov, Adams, Heggie (he recently premiered his “Moby Dick” at Dallas Opera), even Rufus Wainwright are out there. And yet, Alex Ross wrote recently about how even when Brahms premiered new works it was difficult. Nostalgia, or the tonality that one’s ear gravitates to, or is trained to, has always held power in classical music (http://www.guardian.co.uk/music/…). In the EU it may be more a question of tradition, but I can’t speak to that really.

However, it’s not like modern music & rare works do not have a platform. Handel operas were only revived in the 80s and are now a staple. “Doctor Atomic” played at the Met in 2008 and “Nixon in China” is playing now (to be broadcast nationwide on PBS), along with other rare works this season: “Armida,” “Le Comte Ory,”Pelléas et Mélisande.” Next season:”Satyagraha,” “Enchanted Island” [new production, original pastiche by Jeremy Sams, featuring music from Handel and Vivaldi], and “The Makropoulos Case.” I’ve left out the many Russian and Czech works that were once rare but are now becoming staples. There are rare works being played all the time with advocates such as music director Alan Gilbert at the NYPhil (who conducted the Met performances of “Doctor Atomic” in 2008). If you are looking for new or rare works, they are out there (in cities with opera houses). Just get all your friends to go, fill the hall, and demand more.

Another thing is that a lot of those operas are crap. Not everything is a masterpiece and worth spending all the money to mount it. There is such a thing called “standard repertoire” in opera as well, with the most popular operas codified (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lis… is a kind of good reference for this). These are the works that are masterworks, have stood the test of time, extensive study, audiences, repeat performances. There are masterworks that are not standard rep, but the rest are debatable. Standard rep has also been fluid with extremely popular works falling out of fashion.

Also there are specific demands that may make it difficult to mount a particular opera like the 6 tenors and the formidable soprano title role required for “Armida.” Wagner is becoming rarer as opera struggles to support big voices; the bigger frame & older age needed for bigger voices. A rare work in a rare language is going to need people to teach the singers how to pronounce the language. There can be many basic challenges.

I could go on, but there’s a start for you.

Sara Antunovich – Opera Singer

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