Wednesday, October 02, 2013


Sure, mistakes were made and the State Theater itself proved to be a slow
burning disaster though as friends of mine who went during the NYCO glory
years of Treigle and Sills remarked, hardly anybody complained about it in
those days.

But it isn't about one man, or one decision or a board gone wrong, it's
about the waning of interest in opera, period. All over the country opera
companies, big and small are in trouble, the audiences are aging and the
repertory hopelessly calcified. No matter how many awards like worthless
Pulitzers or Genius Prizes are given to modern "classical" ivory tower
academic composers, and how much praise is heaped on them in The New Yorker,
no new works have taken hold in a way that an opera company could actually
make money with. When many of us on this list were younger and first going
to opera, in the 1950s and 60s, it was only a few decades after the death of
Puccini. There were respected names among living classical composers who
were still writing operas that got major attention, although none of them
proved popular. When we were younger, we still believed the next great opera
was around the corner. I know I did. The fact is, there hasn't been a
bankable opera written since the 1930s. You say opera is a business and yes
it is, but what retail business can operate without profitable new product?

Opera has always been a star driven commodity and there is only one real
opera superstar in the world today, Anna Netrebko. She's the only really
bankable star there is. There is one conductor who has huge star power-
Dudamel and he's not an opera conductor. In the heyday of opera, companies
were built around stars and there are now few, if any box office stars to
build a company and a season around.

Opera Companies survive today not by making a profit (when was the last time
any major opera company operated with a surplus due to the box office
alone?) but by charity either from the state or individuals. In the case of
the United States, there are no indigenous operas that justify running opera
companies as a way of preserving national treasures. The rationale that
propel a national policy of keeping the Vienna Opera, Paris Opera or La
Scala operating does not exist here. Considering these problems, it's
amazing that it  has gone on as long as it has here, but it seems the party
is starting to wind down. The little "boost" that came from the early music
movement and the revivals of long neglected works from Monteverdi, Handel,
Rameau, Lully, Charpentier, etc has run its course. For a while, these stood
in for new works, providing novelty, but none of that has really mattered
enough to draw in a younger public. Not all the silly regie productions in
the world can put humpty dumpty together again.

Peter Gelb is much criticized in this forum, but I think he's done a
remarkable, superhuman job of keeping the Met alive and well, of keeping up
interest and already he's had major successes this year with sold out
Onegins, a hot ticket in Cosi Fan Tutte (when was the last time Cosi was a
hot ticket?), and a Norma that has everyone buzzing. The HD simulcasts, now
widely copied and imitated worldwide though never as well as the Met does
them, are a roaring success, the one really bright development in a time of
near total dessication for opera and the traditional musical performing arts.

I have hopes the Met will survive for its sheer excellence and value, and
for its unique primacy, but the demise of the poor NYCO seems inevitable in
retrospect and I expect many more operatic dominoes to fall.

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