So, I went to the opera last night. Double bill: Puccini’s Suor Angelica from Il Trittico and Kurt Weill’s The Seven Deadly Sins. As is the case every time I see an opera, I was seized anew with the desire to write and produce my own. As if a large orchestra piece weren’t enough of a pipe dream.
Now that NewMusicBox has the estimable Mark N. Grant on board, I have to be careful not to shoot off at the mouth about the opera establishment; however, I don’t think I’ll raise many eyebrows by noting that opera-goers are probably the most conservative classical audiences in America. I’m sure we all know self-identified opera diehards who listen only to Wagner—in other words, they will tolerate not a small handful of eras or of composers, but of pieces. I wish I could abduct these people and blast them with T. Rex and MC Frontalot in a small floodlit room.
Nevertheless, one or two very fine composers of my acquaintance have sallied forth into the opera world with success. It sounds macabre, but those graying faithful who can only be taken to opera heaven by certain historically precedented varieties of heldentenor will soon be too incontinent to sit through even an extensively cut Parsifal, and the scene will presumably loosen up. Somebody has to write new operas—so why not me? Maybe because my opera would be nothing like a normal opera. Don’t get me wrong, I absolutely love the medium (and, for that matter, The Medium); many of my earliest participatory musical experiences were in amateur opera productions. A good Tosca gets me as weepy as the next testosterone-deficient dweeb. As a composer, though, I don’t find the bel canto tradition especially authentic, and two hours of subtly inflected sprechstimme in quarter-tones strikes me as a tough sell.
The good news, of course, is that there are more alternative opera outlets than ever before. The key seems to be collaborating with theatre people, which in a city famous for its theatre seats per capita (i.e. Minneapolis) should be doable. Can anybody proffer advice on how to mount an indie opera in the 21st century—how, in short, to circumvent the Wagnerites?