In your opinion, what is the difference between opera and musical theater? Philip Glass, Composer

Philip Glass
Philip Glass
Photo courtesy Annie Ohayon Media Relations

I tend to call things “operas” that are done in opera houses. I sometimes will call a piece “music theater” instead of opera, because the producer of the work will request that I change the name because people are afraid of the word “opera,” and I always acquiesce. Basically, I don’t care what you call it…

I sometimes do pieces in small theaters, like In The Penal Colony, which is clearly an opera but is being billed as “music theater” in a new production at CSC. They prefer to call it “music theater” because it fits in with their programming philosophy. However in my catalog it’s listed as an opera, and will be billed as an “opera” when it is presented at the Staatstheater Darmstadt. It’s totally a practical distinction. It’s what the producers and audience feel most comfortable with.

Sweeney Todd was done at City Opera and I think of it as an opera, whereas other works by Sondheim are more clearly musical theater. But it’s quite subjective, isn’t it?