From my email:
B, was just reading some random review in the New Yorker by young Alex Ross and wonder if he's a critic you follow?
You had a good point about Dr. Atomic, when you wrote something along the lines--BC's interpretation--that opera isn't really good as documentary; why in my view "Dead Man" [Dead Man Walking by composer Jake Heggie and playwright Terrence McNally] was "better" than "Harvey Milk." [Harvey Milk, Libretto by Michael Korie, music by Stewart Wallace.]
[Dr. B--I think there is a failure to write for the ages. Perhaps it is what Gertrude says, that we simply know too much about the day to day world we live in and imagine our immediate political events to have some kind of universal appeal. I'm dubious at best. From a theatrical point of view "Dead Man" was excellent. The presence of the name Terrence McNally, a real playwright, is undoubtedly not a coincidence here. Operas are first plays.]
And another thing: your friend's question why "they" don't write music like they used to--hummable, I guess is meant....I'd argue that "they" in fact do that, and constantly. But the music is commercial and pop: movie music, TV music, music behind advertising, advertising jingles, &c. Maybe it's a subject for you to explore & blog on: Bach, Haydn, Mozart, Beethoven, Verdi, they were popular entertainers, yes?...somewhere in the late 19th century/early 20th, that European, through-composed music tradition, let's say, and dance-popular-theater musics [and I mean the plural] diverged, and one became "high art," and having become "high art"...well, y'know...you get Second Vienna School [Schoenberg, Berg, Webern]and that really academic tradition...and Philip Glass....some composers, especially in America, tried to do both or bridge the gap--Gershwin with "Rhapsody in Blue" and his piano concerto and of course P&B [Porgy and Bess] which yielded at least one "pop" tune vehicle; Bernstein--after all, West Side is a singspiel, yes?, and it also is tuneful to the teeth and Maria is a perfectly decent pop ballad...
[Dr B--where to begin? Classical music was its most advanced and truly modern in the 1920's and has steadily reversed field ever since. What's going on nowadays is a kind of stylistic potpourri where they imagine it's all about technique. I remember being taught counterpoint as though its rules applied in any context instead of the middle Renaissance one it actually applied to. West Side Story is a Singspiel. Haha! We keep saying it's an opera so, yes, it's a Singspiel in English, with spoken dialog and lower class characters, like Fidelio.]
Suddenly he diverges: last Tuesday I was at a jam session where the leader called "Some Other Time," and played it gorgeously ["Some Other Time" Composer: Leonard Bernstein]
....and both of them had reputation problems, partly as a result.
(Anyway, it's an idea for you to explore....)
Tell me though your thoughts on Ross.
Oh, and I'd add that "L'Amour de Loin" [L’amour de loin Music by Kaija Saariaho and Libretto (in French) by Amin Maalouf] is maybe better'n all of 'em. Not that I'd want to defend that statement at any length. But it's more in the tradition of, oh, Masked Ball or Don Carlo than Dr. A is...
[Dr B--challenging, n'est pas?]