In Opera News for August is an article titled “Is Opera still Relevant?” My immediate reaction is the question, “When was opera ever relevant?” Who said opera was supposed to be relevant?
There’s nothing at all relevant about people standing around singing. Opera is about love, and we who love the opera are there to experience passion, not relevance. In fact, I would even go so far as to say it is the incessant desire for relevance that kills a good many new operas today.
His examples are perfect. In Death of Klinghoffer, Adams is working overtime to be relevant. Ditto the more recent Doctor Atomic. He just leaves out even the tiniest representation of human emotions. With him it’s all relevance. So there should be no surprise that no one wants to revive Klinghoffer.
Verdi was probably the most political of opera composers, but it is the Verdi who writes about human relationships that is “relevant” to our ears and hearts: Rigoletto, La Traviata, Aida, La Forza del Destino, Otello, Falstaff.
I agree that Dead Man Walking was one of the best of the recent efforts, but its place in the world wouldn’t have been improved by trying to preach its relevance. It needs to appeal to everyone, not just to those who are against capital punishment. The opera is great because it is about people, because it is about love. Dead Man brought us passion and tears as few modern operas do.
Opera is to make us laugh and cry, to feel as much passion as each of us is capable. We are trying to make it, or we should be trying to make it more relevant to our hearts, not our politics.