Alex Ross has an interesting post at The Rest Is Noise (we're glad he's back!) about the step backwards planned at Lyric Opera of Chicago. Despite having hosted, in William Bolcom's The Wedding, what was one of the most successful opera premieres of the season, by most reliable accounts (Alex himself included), the company has opted to bow to conservative taste by planning a season with no premiere or 20th-century work. As for conservative opposition to a controversial production of Rigoletto, Alex has the mot juste:
I think that premieres and twentieth-century repertory are signs of a progressive spirit; I don't think the same of director-driven opera. I still hope these retrenching companies can find a way to recommit themselves to new opera, because composers are doing something far more brave and far more important. Opera directors are cheap substitutes for opera composers. Invest in the real thing.I could not agree more that the energy and money spent on creating and defending radical new productions of old works should probably be spent instead on creating and defending new operas. I wrote about this (The Phoenix, November 23, 2004) in relation to the choice of La Fenice in Venice for the opera that opened its rebuilt theater. Instead of commissioning a new opera, La Fenice had Robert Carsen direct a new production of the original version of La Traviata, which was premiered there in 1853. As I wrote at the time,
Carsen has set the action in the 1970s, with Violetta as a drug-addicted luxury prostitute (the guests at the party of the first scene throw dollars at her), supposedly in reaction to Verdi's desire that the opera be shown in costumes contemporary with the viewers. Marie-Aude Roux, writing in Le Monde calls it a "No Future for Violetta the jet-set whore, who lives and dies in sequins and black lingerie, for a few fistfuls of dollars."Couldn't we just have a new opera that is actually about a drug-addicted jet-set prostitute in Las Vegas, rather than trying to shoehorn a 150-year-old opera into such a story?
Thanks to Alex Ross for the addendum to his post, in which he mentions this response to it, and for calling my concluding sentence above "the perfect kicker."