March 19, 2006


In Search of the Next Great American Opera (ANNE MIDGETTE, 3/19/06, NY Times)

No one told audiences at Mark Adamo's "Little Women" that they weren't supposed to like contemporary opera: the work has been staged by 40 different companies since its premiere at the Houston Grand Opera in 1998. Jake Heggie's "Dead Man Walking" has been performed around the United States and Europe. Richard Danielpour's "Margaret Garner" (with a libretto by Toni Morrison, based on her novel "Beloved") played to sold-out houses in Detroit, Cincinnati and Philadelphia.

Declining ticket sales overall are forcing American opera presenters to take a broader view of the future, Mr. Adamo suggested between rehearsals for a revival of his second opera, "Lysistrata," at the New York City Opera, which opens Tuesday.

"We've got to think outside the box," Mr. Adamo said, "because the box is crumbling around us."

There has certainly been a surge in commissions, and not just for experimental theater, young-artist programs and children's opera, often the main arenas for new work. The Metropolitan Opera and the major companies in San Francisco, Chicago, Houston, Dallas, Minnesota, Seattle and Miami are all planning at least one premiere within the next five seasons.

"We're in a boom," said Philip Glass, who is writing "Appomattox," his 22nd opera, for the San Francisco Opera. Mr. Glass said he recently called his music copyist to ask about availability and learned that the copyist was preparing three other opera scores.

But while more companies are subscribing to the idea that American opera is worth preserving and expanding — and is also a way to generate the press and local interest that can help ensure their futures — everyone still seems to be trying to figure out what exactly it takes to make the next great American opera.

With the possible exception of Porgy & Bess, it seems a tad early to call any of them great.

Posted by Orrin Judd at March 19, 2006 10:55 AM

I used to subscribe to the Philly Opera. Sitting through Carlisle Floyd's "Susannah" and being asked to renew my subscription for a season including "Margaret Garner" was almost the final straw. The final straw was that the opera company has formed a subscriber group called "Out at the Opera," to welcome the alternative-lifestyle crowd into the operatic experience, on (conveniently) the night of my subscription package. Opera will suffer the fate of Broadway in the next 20 years.

Posted by: Random Lawyer at March 19, 2006 6:17 PM