With our plans to present Elmer Gantry in three weeks and the world premiere of Rio de Sangre coming in the Fall, I have already gotten some correspondence (and can safely assume I’ll get more) asking me: Why these new operas?
Traditionally, the opera world has been more resistant to newer works, instead relying heavily on standard repertory pieces. What is interesting about this phenomenon is that few theatre companies, for instance, would schedule a full season of nothing but 17th, 18th, and 19th century playwrights a notable exception being a Shakespeare company or other specific repertory company).
Now, I take a backseat to no one in my love of the great, traditional operas, and they absolutely belong (and will stay) in our repertoire.
But the question I ask myself, and would also ask operagoers is: What if people had decided not to go to the FIRST Figaro, Tosca, Rigoletto or Rosenkavalier? The answer is, those works wouldn’t be here today.
I also take issue with the argument that only the companies that are in big culture centers should be looking at opera rep in new and fresh ways. A glance at the Opera map tells us that there is a lot of new and interesting work being done in what is ribbingly called the “flyover zone”. If you look at the repertory over the last couple of years in cities such as Nashville, Ft. Worth, Minneapolis, Louisville, Detroit, Denver, Pittsburg, Chicago, right here in Milwaukee, and others, you will see such new recent works as Margaret Garner, The Fall of the House of Usher, Dead Man Walking, Little Women, The Grapes of Wrath, Frau Margot, Surrender Road, Angels in America – and this is not the end of the list! Notice you did not see mentioned among the cities above New York, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Philadelphia and Boston. Those cities have all played a large role in new work as well, so I am in no way slamming them. I am simply making the point that all companies, regardless of their size (or their city’s size) are playing a part in the continual evolution of this art form.
The side benefit of this, is that when we place these great new works along side our tried and true masterpieces, we are able to gain a fresh, new perspective on why we love these masterpieces!
I am sure this will be an ongoing dialogue as we move forward, and I very much welcome your comments here.