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The Mines of Sulphur

Jessie Raven and Mark Duffin, The Mines of Sulphur, New York City Opera, 2005New York City Opera revived the Glimmerglass production of Richard Rodney Bennett's opera The Mines of Sulphur, which premiered on October 23 and runs until November 5. The first article I read was by Anthony Tommasini (A Composer Happily Returns to 'The Mines', October 21) for the New York Times:

But with such a great initial run over all, why did the international opera world appear to lose sight of the work? The score's gritty atonal language may have been one factor, putting off timid companies and mainstream opera buffs. In any event, "The Mines of Sulphur" was little known when it was presented by the Glimmerglass Opera in Cooperstown, N.Y., in summer 2004. Few people, including the composer, anticipated that it would be the surprise hit of that summer season. That production, directed by David Schweizer, opens at the New York City Opera on Sunday afternoon, conducted by George Manahan. (At Glimmerglass it was conducted by Stewart Robertson, a longtime champion of the work, who had heard it performed in England.)
There is also a review (A Dark and Stormy Night, With Doings to Match, October 23) by Allan Kozinn for the New York Times:
Sir Richard's music is perfectly suited to Cross's story. Like many eager young composers of the mid-1960's, he adopted 12-tone techniques to create angular vocal lines and spiky textures. But he was not after harshness as such: often his vocal lines soar, and they are supported by a vivid, lush and constantly moving orchestral score that tells listeners as much about the characters - and the supernatural undercurrents - as the arias.
Other Reviews:

Daniel Felsenfeld, "The Dark, Mad Side" (Playbill Arts, October 22)

Ben Mattison, Photo Journal: The Mines of Sulphur at New York City Opera (Playbill Arts, October 25)

Martin Bernheimer, The Mines of Sulphur, New York City Opera (London Financial Times, October 26)

David Patrick Stearns, Film composer's opera gets a worthy revival (Philadelphia Inquirer, November 1)
What is going to happen to New York City Opera, now that general and artistic director Paul Kellogg has announced that he will retire at the end of next season? It is not a good sign that Kellogg cites as the reasons for his retirement, among other things, "the burdens of trying to attract new funds and new audiences." Read more in Daniel J. Wakin's article (Paul Kellogg to Quit as Head of City Opera, September 15) for the New York Times:
Mr. Kellogg, 68, is in his 10th season at the opera. He will also retire next year as director of the Glimmerglass Opera in Cooperstown, N.Y., which he has led since 1979. "It's been a wonderfully exciting and satisfying time, and I've had the chance to meet extraordinary people, but it's mostly a 15-hour-day, seven-days-a-week job that is probably better suited to someone 45 years old," he said in a statement released by City Opera. In an interview, Mr. Kellogg said the constant work needed to entice the young and neophytes to opera was discouraging, though also fulfilling, taking note of the popularity of the house's "Opera for All" low-cost events last week.
People need to get out there and do this work.


Garth Trinkl said...

Charles, thank you for assembling this material and for your final editorial remark. Indeed, how are American opera companies going to attract "the young and neophytes" when some of America's most distinguished opera companies -- such as the San Francisco Opera and the MET -- still haven't committed themselves, in the 21st century, to producing one American opera each and every season!
And as you know, even the newly- nationalized Washington NATIONAL Opera has been slippery in its commitment to producing one American opera each and every season. There where only two performances, last year and outside of the Kennedy Center Opera House, of Scott Wheeler's well-received new opera "Democracy: An American Comedy". (And we'll have to see how they finesse their expected production, in 2007, of British composer Nicholas Maw's "Sophie's Choice").

Think of the "young and neophytes" who attended John Adams's "Doctor Atomic" at the San Francisco Opera or who will attend Tobias Picker's upcoming "An American Tragedy" at the MET this December. They have a gripping American musical-dramatic experience and they are turned on to opera until February, when it is announced that the following season the San Francisco and MET Operas will be performing NO American operas at all -- perhaps for several years!

In my view, former San Francisco Opera General Director Pamela Rosenberg's otherwise interesting and strong "Animating Opera" concept failed because it did not place American operas at the center of that project. (Western opera is just over 400 years old; how old are the performing arts in North America and the United States?)

Therefore, I will hope that you, Mark, Andrea, and anonymous (Jens is a bit too old world?) will help sell the national American opera field on a new concept "Animating American Opera!" (TM), whereby all companies will pledge to produce one American opera each and every season, and that opera will be staged on the company's main stage and not at a cramped university Auditorium.

Thanks for the space.


Also, Charles, did you read the Washington NATIONAL Opera patriarchal press release to this Sunday's upcoming free performance on the NATIONAL MALL of the Gershwin's Porgy and Bess? Apparently, the production is a "gift" to the public from the Company's Trustees, President, and General Director. First, they want to be a NATIONAL company (and they petition Congress to do so), but then they want to remain a closely-held aristocratic company, bowed to, and not criticized. Charles, what's that French phrase -- something about eating your cake and having it too?

Again, thanks for the space.

jfl said...

I am too old world to champion living music of the country of which I am a guest? I must object. I might even say that my blood is 'Boyling'. ;)

Anonymous said...

Garth, you're "Zeno" over at S21, aren't you? That's almost verbatim what you wrote over there, but that thread slipped off the front page and so it's died in the comments section.

So what if the major companies don't make some silly agreement to do an American opera every year? You could do that and go through the viable, quality American pieces in about 5 or 6 seasons unless you start scraping the bottom of the barrel and start doing awful, awful pieces like the ghastly Regina by Blitzstein or Menotti and his pieces that are closer to through-composed Broadway pieces or start stretching definitions to include people like Tan Dun, who aren't American, they just live here, just to comply with some bogus plan.

I couldn't possibly care less about the nationality of the composer or the "American-ness" of a piece, I just to want to hear terrific operas that aren't Boheme and Carmen. And as it was, is and always will be, that means European operas by and large.

Think of the "young and neophytes" who attended John Adams's "Doctor Atomic" at the San Francisco Opera or who will attend Tobias Picker's upcoming "An American Tragedy" at the MET this December. They have a gripping American musical-dramatic experience and they are turned on to opera until February, when it is announced that the following season the San Francisco and MET Operas will be performing NO American operas at all -- perhaps for several years!

Oh please, or as Bugs Bunny once said "Oh Guinevere!". I would be willing to bet that those "young and neophyte" audiences won't give a damn about Picker's piece, and if his operas since Emmaline are any indication, it's going to be another bust for the Met (see: The Not So Great Gatsby). That's a typically American narcissism you're putting forth--unless it's *specifically* about something they directly have knowledge of, it won't play. I'd be willing to bet that strawman demographic would be more excited about a great new production of Turandot with excellent singers than a production of Susannah.

I, for one, get more out of a routine performance of Peter Grimes than Adams' turgid new piece, because *gasp* Britten is a great opera composer and Grimes is a fantastic opera, neither of which Adams or his overhyped opera remotely is.

Here's a list of operas that I think are vastly more deserving of productions at the Met/SFO/Chicago/LA etc. than any American opera:

Schreker: Der Ferne Klang, Das Spielwerk, Die Gezeichneten, Der Schatzgraber
Sallinen: The Red Line, The Horsemen, Kullervo, The Castle
Birtwistle: Mask of Orpheus, Gawain (revised version), The Second Mrs. Kong
Reimann: Lear, Der Schloss, Ein Traumspiel
Dove: Flight
Henze: The Bassarids, Der Junge Lord, Der Konig Hirsch
Blomdahl: Aniara
Landowsky: Montsegur
Saariaho: L'amou de Loin
Ades: Powder Her Face, The Tempest
Magnard: Guerchoer
Ginastera: Don Rodrigo, Bomarzo
Rautavaara: Thomas
Zemlinsky: Der Zwerg, Florentine Tragodie, Traumgeorg, Konig Kandales
Zimmerman: Die Soldaten
Vaughn Williams: Riders to the Sea, Sir John in Love
Hindemith: Mathis der Maler; Sancta Susanna/Morder, Hoffnung des Frauen/ Das Nusch Nuschi
Szolkay: A Blood Wedding
Symanowski: King Roger
Schulhoff: Flammen
Korngold: Die Tote Stadt, Violanta/Der Ring des Polykrates, Das Wunder des Heliane
Holloway: Clarissa
Schoenberg: Das Gluckliche Hand, Erwartung, Von Heute auf Morgen
Merikanto: Juha
Delius: A Village Romeo and Juliet, Fennimore and Gerda

Some are in the Strauss/Wagner vein, some are fiercely modern but they all have one thing in common:

they aren't American.

In my view, former San Francisco Opera General Director Pamela Rosenberg's otherwise interesting and strong "Animating Opera" concept failed because it did not place American operas at the center of that project.

Yeah, and what American pieces did they do during her tenure? Four Saints in Three Acts, a ten minute joke stretched out for about 15 hours--OK, it just seemed that way. Virgil Thompson, as a composer, he was a good critic. What was before that (not in her reign)? Jake Heggie's ghastly--and I mean appallingly bad--Dead Opera Walking. Sure, it got tons of publicity (99% of which was based on what it was about) but nobody I know liked that lame pastiche of Britten, Berstein & Puccini. Harvey Milk? Streetcar Named Desire? Dangerous Liasons? All failures and vast strains on the SFO budget, leading to seasons of safe choices to make up the difference.

So why should American companies waste precious resources on operas that aren't any good (and in the case of Streetcar, should never have been written in the first place) when there's a VAST repetoire of virtually unknown operas in this country that could do what St. Francoise di Assisi did a few years ago, draw crowds because even though they are tough, knotty operas, they are actually GOOD? I've seen a production of a good percentage of the operas I listed and they WORK.

I'm tired of the whole "We have to do CNN operas! We have to be relevant to today!" argument about producing operas in this country. It's a bogus claim, I'm convinced that's why so many American operas are pointless--opera is best at telling timeless stories, why bother with something that's already been done so well on film? I find all this desperation to get "young and neophyte" audiences in to be lame. Do quality works in good, well rehearsed productions with good singers and people of all ages and experience levels will show up.

No, no, American opera companies! Resist Garth's plan! That way madness (and budget deficits) lie!

(Yes, I'm American, born and raised here)

Charles T. Downey said...

Ooh, this is a good argument. I would like to hear more American operas (more in the vein of Bolcom's A Wedding and Danielpour's Margaret Garner than Wheeler's Democracy, I have to say). At the same time, I would be ecstatic to hear any of the operas Henry's list, too. Am I perverse?

Garth Trinkl said...

Something told me that I should have checked back in here after my hour long nap on a hidden bench at Dumbarton Oaks Garden on Friday afternoon, and return visits to the garden two times on Sunday afternoon in lieu of the projected opera on the Mall. (On Saturday, I was planning to take the bus to NYC to see the "Mines of Sulphur" matinee, but the previous evening I mistakenly opened, all at once, my gas, electricity, and water bills. Instead I purchased, and listened to on Sunday morning, the "Mines of Sulphur" CD (which I had passed up earlier fearing that SACD would blow up my small living room. I also wish that a DVD had been available).... Also, last Wednesday, I checked with The Musical Source, on 15th Street, to see whether the score to "Mines of Sulphur" was still there from years back, but it was gone.)

Thanks, Jens, for your good cheer. I'm glad you're on my side. We'll discuss this further over espresso.... And no, Charles, you are not perverse. You, Jens, Mark, Andrea, and others (including Henry) are a few of the cultural participants in this area who are not asleep. (I actually missed Scott Wheeler's "Democracy", having been overseas at the times of its two performances.)

Now, Henry, don't you know that Jerry badly wants you and others to ignore what zeno posts over at Sequenza21? Can't you get with his program?

Henry, it seems to me that you probably live on the West Coast -- probably in the Bay Area (given your knowledge of the San Francisco Opera). And you do appear to be genuinely concerned with opera and yet don't appear cynical enough to be a New Yorker -- you didn't once mention Philip Glass or Corigliano's "Ghosts of Versailles"). I also think that it is interesting that the operas which you cite as most thrilling to you (excluding the Grand Tradition wannabees on your excellent list) seem to end with Puccini's "Turandot" and Britten's "Peter Grimes". Thus, I assume that you feel that the Grand Tradition ended in 1945.

And don't try to tell me that the Grand Tradition continues with Messiaen's "Saint Francois" (which I saw in Berlin in the stunning Daniel Libeskind production) or with Birtwistle's "Gawain" (which I saw unrevised at its London premiere in 1991, but listened to later and repeatedly, revised). As I cited (somewhere), the Seattle Opera's Speigth Jenkins told me that there was not a chance in hell that he could successfully introduce Birtwistle to his Wagner loving (and drowning?) audiences in Seattle.
(Yes, I await a new generation of General Directors.)

Now, as to my "bogus plan" and that bit about "typically American narcissism". Well, I strongly agree with you that it was a stupid idea for the San Francisco Opera to do Thomson's "Four Saints in Three Acts". (Wasn't that, and the new Adams opera, the only two American works on Ms. Rosenberg's "Animating Opera" concept?... What a travesty, in my view.)

Now, "Dangerous Liaisons", "Harvey Milk", "Dead Man Walking", "Street Car Named Desire" (or "Great Gatsby" or "An American Tragedy" at the MET) are not my ideas of well-conceived operatic projects, but they are, as someone says, facts on the ground. I did not get up and make one bit of an effort to attend any of those works in S.F. or N.Y.C., though I could have if I had wanted. (Nor did I attend the Adams-Sellars). I have, though, heard them all --"Liaisons" and "Streetcar" were boringly transferred to the Kennedy Center Opera House, and I heard the remainder either on the radio or on CD.... Also, I don't see you mentioning Jay Reise's earlier "Rasputin" for NYCO, or Deborah Drattal's "Nicholas and Alexandra" for Los Angeles starring Placido Domingo as Rasputin.... Throw in "Ghosts of Versailles", "The Voyage", "What's Next?", "Haroun and the Sea of Stories", "Emmeline", "Modern Painters", "Madam Mao", "Therese Raquin", and... well even Tan's "Marco Polo" [and the "First Emperor"?]... and I agree with you that no one has yet hit, or is likely to hit, the Puccini-Britten jackpot.

As to your excellent list of non-American operas, I will admit to not knowing Das Spielwerk, the later two Riemanns (did you miss his Trojan Women, available briefly on DGG?), Flight, Montsegur, Ade's Tempest (is it really better in your view than John Eaton's The Tempest for Santa Fe in the 1980s?), or Fernimore and Gerda.... And where on your list is Henze's L'Upupa?)

I have seen live opera productions, from your list or a similar list, by Schoenberg, Weill, Janacek, Tippett, Birtwistle, Henze, Ginastera, Reimann, Zimmermann, Syzmanowski, Messiaen, and Ruzicka. I agree with you as to the strengths, and need for American premieres, of many of these works. Can I ask what else you are doing to bring about these American premieres? Are you collaborating with Jerry Bowles of Sequenza21 to turn the NYCO into a modernist-only peoples opera house?

One of my plans on Sequenza21 (the one other than the "bogus plan" you cite) was to have the NYCO do every third season only modernist works (European and American). Boy, you must hate this plan as well, I imagine. And you haven't commented on my list of top five modernist American operas to be produced again -- or for the first time -- in America.)

As to my other(?) bogus plan and my "typically American narcissism", yes perhaps I am partially driven by my professional role, at the margin, in the American opera [and oratorio] field. Or it could be that I travel to Peterburg, Russia and see a company capable of producing season after season of high quality Russian-only operatic music-drama, and then bringing these Russian works to American shores season after season. (Damn the costs, as they say in ripe Empires. And do you really think new and young audiences are going to flock to the Kennedy Center this February to see the Mariinky[Kirov] Opera do Turandot and Parsifal?)

Perhaps it is that I hold operatic rights to certain Nobel laureate works (I'm sure you know what I am referring to) and that I once myself spent time, additionally, working on a late 20th century version of Coriolanus, set in America, or a -- dreaded I'm sure in your view -- "CNN" type contemporary opera based upon Robert McNamera. So yes, perhaps you can put me down as a "typically narcissistic American".... But then again, wasn't there something "typically narcissistic European" about all of the European modernist masters that you cite?

-- garth trinkl

"Animating American Opera!" (TM)

"Long Live Garth's Bogus Plan!!" (TM)

Garth Trinkl said...

By the way, I think the San Franciso Opera did Thomson and Stein's feminist "Mother of Us All", instead of "Four Saints in Three Acts". My comment on the SFO doing this non-sensical type of work remains valid, none the less. (Charles I think might disagree. He is younger and more open to the non-sensical and surreal.)

jfl said...

i notice that this comment section does not have a maximum word limit... maybe for the better (here), maybe for the worse (see a less insightful exchange above). after reading HH's list, I am tempted back into the euro-camp that garth had me in. schrecker... zemlinsky... von schillings... pfitzner... henze... braunfels - i'll trade several 'shadowtimes' for those -- even if i think that opera should be alive in every country and modern pieces made and performed. but i am not sure if affirmative action for modern us operas would be the way to go...

Garth Trinkl said...

schrecker... zemlinsky... von schillings... pfitzner... henze... braunfels

This is fair and concise, Jens. Thanks.

Now, lets go deeper. I have posted elsewhere pointing to what I perceive to be the quality of Henze's L'Upupa and his The Sailer Who Fell from Grace with the Sea. I have advocated that the MET do the L'Upupa, and that some American company -- perhaps the LAO or the SFO -- (re)mount the Mishima-Henze Opera. Didn't the NYCO do the Henze King Stag some years back? Would you like the WNO (Washington National Opera) to do King Stag (or Bassarids) instead of an American or American modernist opera one year?

The Braunfels Aristophanes Birds treatment was done in the U.S.last summer, as I pointed out elsewhere (there are some colorful pictures available on the Web.) Would you like the WNO to produce this opera? I believe that Braunfels's other, newly revived and recorded operas (in Germany) are all operettas. Please correct me if I am wrong. (His Claudel oratorio is another matter.)

Would you like the WNO to produce Bennett's Mines of Sulphur some coming season in lieu of an American or American modernist opera? Are you willing to trade Nick Maw's Sophie's Choice for an early 20th c. German revival? Are you prepared to explain to the 13,000 Washington opera neophytes who jammed the Mall on Sunday for the Gershwin opera, why upcoming seasons regularly feature revivals of early German 20th c. operas, but not other American 20th c. (and 21st c.) operas?

I recall that the NYCO also produced Pfitzer's Palestrina (possibly the year after it produced Hindemith's comparable masterpiece, Mathis der Maler). Would you like the WNO to produce the Pfitzer or Hindemith one year in lieu of an American or American modernist opera?

Do you favor the WNO reviving von Schillings Mona Lisa, once performed by the MET? (Correct me if I am wrong.) (Please note that I have never advocated the MET remounting Hanson's Merry Mount, as advocated by some Americanists.)

Then there are the Schrecker, Zimlinsky, and other von Schilling
German expressionist or proto-expressionist operas. Yes, I'd love to see them staged, but not at the cost of American earlier or contemporary expressionist or proto-expressionist operas.

The WNO gives seven operas and I doubt it will revive a German expressionist masterpiece in the same season as an American work. What do you want to give way?

Elsewhere, I have written that I would like to see American opera houses mount revivals or premieres of 5 works: Sessions' Montezuma, Imbrie's Angle of Repose (based on Wallace Stegner), Kirchner's Lily [Henderson the Rain God](based upon Saul Bellow), Thulani and Anthony Davis's Amistad, and Glass's Waiting for the Barbarians (based upon J.M. Coetzee). I will stand by these five American modernist, unperformed operas. Jens or Harry, have either of you heard or seen any of these works?

Jens, affirmative action is a fact of life here in America. Perhaps you are uncomfortable with it, despite it being reviewed and narrowly tailored by the U.S. Supreme Court. (Associate Justice Sandra Day O'Conner wrote the opinion allowing for narrowly tailored affirmative action programs.)

Do you think that there would be a Russian opera repertoire without affirmative action on the part of the Russian Imperial Theaters? Aren't the MET and the WNO our American Imperial Theaters -- one of which rarely performs or commissions American operas and one of which tenuously commits to making the performance and commissioning of American operas part of it national mission?

(no time to edit for length, sorry)

Garth Trinkl said...


jfl said...

Now that you ask... Yes. Of course I'd take "Palestrina" over "Sophies' Choice". I'd be insane, not to. Aside, this is about me, and MY taste - the public be damned. I am just expressing my likes - and quite frankly this debate is silly in lieu of another Tosca and Aida and no Lully and no Rameau. We need better Opera, not bickering about how modern is modern enough or whether it ought to be Bavarian or American or English.

And NO, the WNO and MET are not American Imperial Operas... they are privately financed buisnesses and don't get money from the state (although I'd love to see them get money from a federal trust-fund outside the reach of politicians) and have no mission to keep American opera struggling. And ultimately I don't care about it, either... I care about OPERA per se... and that *should* include modern, contemporary opera and it would be odd if we didn't have American operas to join the crowd (hey... we have them, come to think of it). Just about anything that is more *alive* than Opera at the MET and WNO currently is would be good... and perhaps, just perhaps, a really *hot* French baroque opera might be closer to an immediate solution than "Shadowtime" and "Democracy".

were in the same boat, on different oars... let's not mistake it for a race against each other.

Charles T. Downey said...

A small correction: both the Met and WNO receive funding from the National Endowment for the Arts, but nothing on the level of most European companies, I think. Your point about their nature as businesses is well taken. Given that Baltimore Opera has almost folded this season, opera in the United States is obviously a risky business.

Charles T. Downey said...

And, yes, oh please, a Baroque opera, WNO. Given how well Caldara held up against Handel in La Bartoli's selection of arias, maybe Caldara?

jfl said...

The NEA entire budget is smaller than the expenses of the opera house in Oberschweinbach or Hinterrummelberg. I am not sure if Caldara would be my first choice, but I'd be excited if we got any. We might be able to hope for the Washington Concert Opera to do baroque opera in the near future, though!

Garth Trinkl said...

Heave ho...

Jens, have you written to Michael Sonnenreich and Placido Domingo requesting that they consider mounting Pfitzer's Palestrina in lieu of Maw's Sophie's Choice, in 2007? I, on the other hand, will dutifully, and respectfully -- and with some sense of aesthetic interest -- look forward to the WNO mounting, in 2007, of Sophie's Choice (and not the WNO reviving Floyd's Of Mice and Men, a whispered alternative.)[I have had unfortunately missed opportunities to hear Palestina in Europe.]

And, by the way, will you be there when the Mariinsky (Kirov) does Parsifal and Turandot at the Kennedy Center this February? Is this the acme of operatic excitement that the Kennedy Center can offer Washington and international audiences?

Jens, I also envy you for your operatic experience which has allowed you to hear Maw's Sophie's Choice in London, Scott Wheeler's Democracy in Washington, and Brian Fernyhough's Shadowtime, in either Amsterdam, London, or New York City. I know that when I find time to look up your reviews of these operas in the archives, I will find your reviews very insightful.


Aren't I supposed to be jousting with Harry about the most critical issue on the face of the earth today ... whether my "Animating American Opera" (TM)scheme floats or sinks; or whether the NYCO agrees to mount an all-modern season every three years and the WNO and the SFO and others agree to mount both an American opera and a modern opera in a single season?

(Charles is too nice to joust with.)

Where are the kids? When I first heard about the site ionarts, I thought that it was a classy and avant-garde Adams Morgan or Logan Circle operation run by D.C. sound-composer Richard Chartier and contributed to by dozen's of D.C.s finest artists, intellectuals, and patrons. Granted, it indeed does have the finest, but where -- as they say in politics -- are the numbers?

"Give Us Better and More Modern Opera!!" (TM)

P.S. Jens, have you heard of the Charitable Tax Deduction, used to offset paid income taxes by the wealthy and affluent, and to fund currently a high percentage of cultural activity in the United States (in addition to foundation and corporate support for the arts)?

Anonymous said...

Mr. Trinkl, the charitable deduction is available to most taxpayers, not just wealthy, and is expressly designed to minimize the state interference in charitable/cultural ventures associated with direct subsidies.

Further, affirmative action as a concept is only about individuals deemed members of groups deemed historically denied full equality, and has only been slightly limited by Supreme Court.

Finally, of course merit before nationality should dictate choice of repertoire. On that score Frank Martin's "Der Sturm" should go ahead of any the other works listed on this long thread.

George Pieler

Garth Trinkl said...

Thank you, Mr Pieler, for your strong recommendation for Frank Martin "Der Sturm".

Unfortunately, I do not know the full opera, but only the 20 minutes, or so, available on a Chandos recording (from the mid-1990s), and, I believe, a DDG recording reissued from the 1970s. I envy you that you have experienced live what is probably truly a neglected masterpiece. (I do know his Masses, and his Golgotha oratorio.)

By all means, write to Mssrs Sonnenreich and Domingo and recommend a WNO production of the Frank Martin "Tempest"! Frankly, I think that I would be more excited by seeing this work produced locally than the Pfitzer "Palestrina" (but not necessarily the Nicholas Maw "Sophie's Choice").

Did you know that the Kennedy Center and the Shakespeare Theater are hosting, next year, a city-wide multi-disciplinary Shakespeare Festival? In my view, this is (or would have been) an opportunity for the WNO to raise the bar for itself and produce the Frank Martin "Tempest" (in lieu of perpetual re-mountings by the WNO and the Mariinsky (Kirov) of Verdi's MacBeth).

The Martin is an excellent choice, and one which I do think should be placed at the top of Henry (not Harry, sorry) Holland's fascinating list. And yes, I will posit that the work should probably take precedence over a regional premiere of John Eaton's Tempest, from the 1980s, or Thomas Ades (and John Woolwich's?) latest Tempest effort, in London.


As for your policy comments, I stand by my posting. The wealthy and affluent have more of an impact on the direction of non-profit culture in the United States than does the American middle-class. For example, while I and millions of other middle-class Americans can give $100 a year to PBS and the Kennedy Center, we cannot direct which operas or musicals are produced or televised. The wealthy can, in fact, influence what is culturally produced (pace Gordon Getty) or broadcast.

I am also well aware that the relatively large financial flows associated with these tax policies are expressly designed to minimize the "state interference in charitable/cultural ventures associated with direct subsidies". However, I will continue to maintain and argue that American culture could be strengthened by a higher level of direct cultural subsidies.

An honest disagreement, I believe. Your preferred model has ruled for the past 25 or more years, and perhaps an alternative model could be tried -- in my view.

I am well aware of the economic and legal underpinnings to racial and gender-based affirmative action programs here in the United States. I assume that you are objecting to my use of this concept as a metaphor and applying it to my support for a modicum of healthful cultural nationalism. You are free to object to my using this language. On the other hand, I am free to use this language and to support the Washington National Opera's commitment to producing one American opera each and every season.

Thank you again for you Frank Martin opera recommendation.

Anonymous said...

Those who pay more have more say, no doubt, but that applies to the govt as well: in US politics that can be a risky proposition when interfacing with culture, EXCEPT when public $$ go to support institutions generally as supplement to private contributions. As to affirmative action it's just that American opera isn't discriminated against, but on average not quite good enough. It's as though Europe subsidized musical comedies to compete with premium American product (or maybe they do).

Your Shakespeare celebration interface is an excellent idea, will give it some thought.

George Pieler

Garth Trinkl said...

Found your comment, Mr Pieler. Thank you.

Well, as you state, significant art can come from the riskiness of the interface of politics and culture. Of course, it is a slippery slope. I, for one, will accept a higher level of beta (risk) in order to foster/encourage greater artistic accomplishment. Others may be content with our national culture which in the past 25 years allowed for "performance artists" to apply for opera/music theater funding, and for subsidized national musical spokespersons repeatedly to call jazz America's "classical music".

As for your suspected mantra that American opera isn't quite good enough, I might have let this pass if I hadn't heard Placido Domingo tell NPR World of Opera, on Sat., that the WNO had performed "all" of the significant post-World War II American operas before turning to the Gershwin's (et al) "Porgy and Bess". (No time for Lisa Scimione to question him on this.) Does it sound to me like the WNO is preparing to break its affirmative action commitment to performing one American opera each and every season? ... Or will the WNO boost its commissioning program by throwing its resources, and NATIONAL designation, behind a new program of commissioning 21st c. American operas? (I seem also to recall women once not being considered quite "good enough" -- like your view of American opera? -- to be considered for university presidencies, the Senate, the Supreme Court, the position of Secretary of State, and the VP and Presidency.)


I listened to the 22 minutes of Martin's "The Tempest" that I have. I believe it could be a strong choice for the WNO (based upon knowledge of Martin's other works, in addition) -- but perhaps not the strongest. Given the Shakespeare theme of next years city-wide festival, I hope that it is considered.

I also listened to the Korngold "Heliane" opera. Stronger music; weaker general theme and libretto -- in my view.