Monday, January 06, 2014

Which new operas will last

Please forgive my taste for lists.  I maintain a list of operas for all sorts of purposes, and this piece is everything since Einstein.  The operas included in my list come from a variety of sources, but do not cover everything.

The New York Times classical music reviewers have issued their own take on new operas of lasting significance here.  We did something similar at a party I attended last month.  Their starting point was Einstein on the Beach, generally considered the musical milestone that separates the present from the past.  They considered all the places where New York Times critics fly to.   Our starting point was 2000, and the operas to be considered were only those presented in the San Francisco Bay Area.  The Times operas are in bold, and ours have -SF.  * Identifies those I have seen.

1976 Einstein on the Beach* Philip Glass
1976 The Martyrdom of saint Magnus Peter Maxwell Davies
1977 The Women in the Garden* Vivian Fine
1978 Le Grand Macabre* György Ligeti
1978 Lear* Aribert Reimann
1978 The Red Line                  Aulis Sallinen
1979 The Village Singer* Stephen Paulus
1979 Sweeney Todd* Stephen Sondheim
1979 King Harald's Saga   Judith Weir
1980 The Lighthouse* Peter Maxwell Davies
1980 Donnerstag aus Licht * Karlheinz Stockhausen
1981 Satyagraha* Philip Glass
1982 The Postman Always Rings Twice Stephen Paulus
1983 Saint-François d'Assise* Olivier Messiaen
1984 Un re in ascolto  Luciano Berio
1984 The Mask Of Orpheus  Harrison Birtwistle
1984 Akhnaten Philip Glass
1984 Samstag aus Licht  Karlheinz Stockhausen
1986 The man who mistook his wife for a hat  Michael Laurence Nyman
1987 Nixon in China* John Adams
1987 The Fall of the House of Usher Philip Glass
1987 A Night at the Chinese Opera* Judith Weir
1987 The Aspern Papers Dominick Argento
1988 Montag aus Licht  Karlheinz Stockhausen
1988 Greek  Mark-Anthony Turnage
1991 The Death of Klinghoffer* John Adams
1991 Gawain  Harrison Birtwistle
1991 The ghosts of Versailles* John Corigliano
1991 Orphée* Philip Glass
1991 Dienstag aus Licht  Karlheinz Stockhausen
1991 Mary of Egypt  John Tavener
1992 McTeague  William Elden Bolcom
1992 Life with an idiot  Alfred Garyevich Schnittke
1994 La Belle et la Bête Philip Glass
1994 The Dangerous Liaisons* Conrad Susa
1994 Blond Eckbert  Judith Weir
1995 Harvey Milk* Stewart Wallace
1996 Rent* Jonathan Larson
1996 Der Koenig Kandaules  Alexander von Zemlinsky
1996 The Picture of Dorian Gray Lowell Liebermann
1997 Parodia* Pablo Ortiz
1998 Little Women* Mark Adamo
1998 A Streetcar Named Desire* Andre Previn
1999 A View from the Bridge   William Elden Bolcom
1999 The Great Gatsby* John Harbison
2000 El Niño* John Adams
2000 Dead Man Walking* Jake Heggie-SF
2000 L'Amour de Loin* Kaija Saariaho
2002 Tea: A Mirror of Soul* Tan Dun
2002 Galileo Galilei Philip Glass
2002 Sophie's Choice* Nicholas Maw
2003 L'Upupa Und Der Triumph Der Sohnesliebe  Hans Werner Henze
2003 The Little Prince  Rachel Portman
2005 Doctor Atomic* John Adams--SF
2005 The Tempest* Thomas Ades
2005 Margaret Garner Richard Danielpour
2005 Grendel  Elliot Goldenthal
2005 Ainadamar* Oswaldo Golijov-SF
2005 An American Tragedy  Tobias Picker
2005 Perfect Lives Robert Ashley
2006 The First Emperor* Tan Dun
2006 Adriana Mater Kaija Saariaho
2007 Appomattox* Philip Glass-SF
2007 Phaedra Hans Werner Henze
2008 The Bonesetter’s Daughter* Stewart Wallace-SF
2008 The Minotaur* Harrison Birtwistle
2009 The Letter* Paul Moravec
2010 Il Postino* Daniel Catán
2010 Moby-Dick* Jake Heggie-SF
2011 Heart of a Soldier* Christopher Theofanidis-SF
2011 Anna Nicole* Mark-Anthony Turnage
2011 Kommilitonen Peter Maxwell Davies 
2012 Written on Skin* George Benjamin
2012 Dog Days David T. Little
2013 The Gospel of Mary Magdalene* Mark Adamo-SF
2013 Bonjour, M. Gaugin Fabrizio Carlone-SF
2013 The Secret Garden* Nolan Gasser-SF
2013 The Perfect American* Philip Glass
2013 Dolores Claiborne* Tobias Picker-SF
2013 Champion* Terence Blanchard-SF
2013 Brokeback Mountain* Charles Wuorinen-SF
2014 As One* Laura Kaminsky-SF
2014 La Ciociara* Marco Tutino-SF

The first thing you should notice is the absolute lack of any overlap between the two lists.  Apparently New York Times critics do not fly to the west cost of the United States, very much preferring London.

You should also notice right away something else interesting about the list from the New York Times:  George Benjamin, Peter Maxwell Davies, Thomas Ades, Mark-Anthony Turnage, Judith Weir, and Harrison Birtwistle are all British.  Hmmm.  Robert Ashley, David T. Little, Lowell Liebermann, John Adams and Philip Glass are Americans.  Kaija Saariaho is the only composer from a non-English speaking country.

I became curious about an opera about Anna Nicole Smith and have the DVD.  It's extremely entertaining if not exactly what you would call significant.  I no longer remember what led me to see L'Amour de Loin, but it is also on DVD.  I agree with them that this is a very important opera, but if you don't have Dawn Upshaw and Gerald Finley to sing it, then what?  

Satyagraha and The Death of Klinghoffer have played at the San Francisco Opera, and The Tempest was simulcast from the Met. I saw A Night at the Chinese Opera in a student production while I was in London. The rest are unknown to me.

I've seen all three of John Adams' major operas, Nixon, Klinghoffer, and Dr. Atomic, and I thought Klinghoffer was the least interesting.  Why would anyone want to see an opera about terrorists killing an old man in a wheelchair?  I found it disgusting.  I liked very much the idea of Nixon and Mao talking at each other and understanding not one thing the other said.  This was very entertaining, as was the nutso Madama Mao and the comic genius Kissinger.  I like politics as comedy, I guess.  There is definitely nothing funny about Klinghoffer.  Europeans like operas with political content whether or not the music is particularly interesting.  So are we to allow Europeans to decide for us?

So I would say that I agree with about half of their choices.  Satyagraha is wonderful.  I still like Orphee.

The things not considered by the New York Times critics were probably more interesting than those that were.  For instance, Saint-François d'Assise by Olivier Messiaen falls within their boundaries.  I don't know what I would predict for it, but it is a towering and spectacular work. 

Anything by Jake Heggie is not important for them, including his masterpieces Dead Man Walking and Moby-Dick.  I found both of these very moving.  Golijov's Ainadamar may or may not be classical music, but it's the most musically exciting of anything in the list.  My friends liked these three operas.

The problem with all of them is that you wouldn't go to any of them to hear the singing.


mamascarlatti said...

Very useful list. Of these, I very much like Written on Skin - very powerful and gorgeous; the haunting L'Amour de Loin; disturbing but fascinating The Minotaur,and the hypnotic Akhnaten. I recommend the film of Death of Klinghoffer, but it is extremely harrowing.

Dr.B said...

It did make me feel there were operas I should look into, mainly two you have mentioned.