Opera America Showcases New Opera

Wonderful Singing and Sonos Chamber Orchestra

By: - Jan 15, 2017

New Opera Showcase
Opera America
Town Hall
New York, New York
January 13, 2017

Photos by Jeff Reeder courtesy of Opera America

Opera is again a cutting edge art form. Marc Scorca, the CEO of Opera America for twenty-five years, has helped place the form in future mode.  New works by contemporary composers, audience outreach, political savvy deployed to get money from foundations and government have all yielded results on display at Town Hall this week.

Excerpts from five new operas were presented. The composers ranged from young to older. The librettists were known and unknown. Many women were represented. Ethnicity was varied. Musical texture often was similar, with heavy use of percussion and brass.

Yet each piece had a theme. The first was reminiscent of Margaret Atwood, with mysteries of odd birth and sexuality explored. One work was in German and had been inspired by an art book the composer found in the Strand book store.  In it, a young German girl fights her way through serial suicides of relatives to find solace and salvation in making art.   The wonders of the night sky were humanized as the twin constellations, Castor and Pollux. Can we achieve perfection by becoming robots was a question raised in Machine. Boston readers can look forward to Julian Grant’s The Notorious but Highly Profitable Enterprise of Mr. Burke and Mr. Hare, a dark story of murder for money, premiering in November at the Boston Lyric Opera. Bodies for research are coveted in medical schools and Mr. Burke and Mr. Hare, entrepreneurs, take to killing and selling. The star of librettists, Mark Campbell, has jointed Grant in creating this opera.

You leave an event like this sensing that opera is thriving.  And it is. But it is chamber opera, more intimate and best set in smaller halls. These operas are not for the Metropolitan which is much too large and distancing. It is not built to invite. Although many of the oversized stories we heard and saw were dark, they were also inviting.

Scorca noted that just this year we have had many new operas produced.  Moby Dick (a few years old!) and It’s a Wonderful Life by Jake Heggie.  William Bolcom has Dinner at Eight coming up in Minneapolis. Kevin Puts’ Silent Night has been produced by Dallas and Atlanta. Carlisle Floyd’s work is mounted throughout the country. Particularly adventuresome are St. Louis and Philadelphia Opera, whose Breaking the Waves by Missy Mazzoli played to packed houses in New York last week after a much admired world premiere in Philadelphia in the fall.

Subject matter invites young people. Performances are terrific. Young singers like to embrace the new.

The Metropolitan Opera will sink or swim filling seats to the tried and true operas of the last few centuries. All their griping about audiences has more to do with lack of innovation and unappetizing 4,000 seat house. Out in the real world, opera is alive and well. Brava!