Now that obsessively dwelling over memories to usher in our tenth anniversary is itself becoming a memory, I’ve had a little bit of time to take stock of other important milestones. I learned that the website for Musical America also turned ten this year, as did the Vox showcase for new American opera presented by New York City Opera. I had no idea that these things started around the same time as NewMusicBox—guess I was a little preoccupied at the time!
Anyway, I spent this past weekend attending the ten new concert opera showcases at this year’s Vox—a combination of newly mounted work, as well as “second looks” at two operas presented in earlier years’ showcases. I was particularly smitten with The Rat Land, Gordon Beeferman and Charlotte Jackson’s extremely entertaining yet frequently morose rendering of the dysfunctional interactions of a suburban family. Anyone who claims that angular atonal melodies aren’t singable or are somehow not theatrically believable needs to hear this piece—I can’t imagine any other way to effectively depict these characters. Broadway legend Stephen Schwartz’s first attempt at an opera, Séance on a Wet Afternoon, is a perfect vehicle for Lauren Flanigan and made me really eager to track down the 1964 Hollywood film that inspired it. And the orchestral sea of bird calls that ends A Bird in Your Ear, David Bruce and Alastair Middleton’s recreation of a Russian fairytale about a boy who learns to communicate with birds, was a surreal and yet extraordinarily moving way to end this year’s offerings.
But the whole thing has me continuing to wonder why we and everyone else puts so much stock in the ten-year mark. No one ever does 8th or 11th anniversaries? Is our belief that a decade is somehow more significant than others a function of our base 10 numerical system, itself a by-product of having ten fingers? Might that be what ultimately makes such a passage of time seem extremely meaningful? Could that be why centenary celebrations are even more of a big deal, since it’s 10 times 10? I’m thrilled that Elliott Carter made it to his 100th birthday but I was just as thrilled that he made it to 99 and will be even more thrilled when he turns 101. It doesn’t seem like there’s a discernible biological transformation that manifests itself with the passing of ten years. The legal age of adulthood in this country has alternately been 18 and 21, never 20.
But all that said, any excuse to get attention for something is extremely useful and it was great to witness Vox’s celebration this past weekend. And of course it goes without saying that I continue to be thrilled that NewMusicBox has been around as long.