America’s New Opera Season

Washington DC’s “National” Opera has announced their season. I put quotes around “National” because the word does not mean, like it would in Europe, that the company in any way is supported by the government. They are able to produce only five operas in their season, the results of declining audiences and the severe impact of the economic crisis. Standard repertory works is the rule with high-dollar stars in the main roles – a pattern throughout America.
The art of opera – widening the scope of the repertory and introducing new work – has all but been abandoned to commercial constraints. By contrast, little Bordeaux in France, with five times less population than Washington, has eight productions this season. Among them was a November production of Peter Eotvos’ opera “Le Balcon” (from the Jean Genet play). This opera, first seen in 2002 at the Aix-en-Provence festival, was hobbled by a severe Stanislas Nordney production.
Regarding the new staging, here is the final paragraph by one of France’s most respected critics: “All in attendance saw a magnificent opera which deserves to be seen all over France. It shows that contemporary opera is something for all opera lovers if it is presented with sufficient care.”
New opera, rare opera, and their own composers are the victims of the new order in American opera. A generation is being exposed to opera as a marketing exercise. In Paris last night, on a frigid Tuesday, there was a full house at the Theatre Athenee for a production of Philippe Boesmans 2005 opera, “Julie.” – a fine production and warmly received.

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