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||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|
|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||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|
|1991||The Death of Klinghoffer*||John Adams|
|1991||The ghosts of Versailles*||John Corigliano|
|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||Der Koenig Kandaules||Alexander von Zemlinsky|
|1996||The Picture of Dorian Gray||Lowell Liebermann|
|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||An American Tragedy||Tobias Picker|
|2005||Perfect Lives||Robert Ashley|
|2006||The First Emperor*||Tan Dun|
|2006||Adriana Mater||Kaija Saariaho|
|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|
|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|
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.