The Form Without a Name: American Music Theater

As an instrument, the voice is the most versatile and expressive. What is odd, though, is that while the modern orchestra and modern electronics have been exploring the outer reaches of sonic possibilities, many composers inexperienced in music theater have treated the voice as a white bread sonic entity, writing for a generic classically-trained opera voice identified with classical music. It is time for this kind of thinking to come to an end.

As the boundaries between the various forms of American Music Theater are blurring, expectations on singers are increasing. Many opera houses are producing revivals of classic American musicals, and American conservatories are graduating singers who can belt and bel canto as well as they can Bizet.

For me, the most exciting development in this regard is coming from a partnership between an American singer, David Moss, and a NewOp regular, Guy Coolen of Musiektheater Transparant in Belgium. They have formed the Institute of the Living Voice, which will be devoted to master classes to teach every singing technique except opera singing. The students, however, may primarily be professional opera singers. Not surprisingly, many of the teachers will be American performers and composer-performers already mentioned. Decidedly non-Western singing techniques will be taught, also.

The rise of composer-performer productions, chamber opera and small-scale multi-media experiments is leading to another realization: large opera houses are completely inappropriate for the presentation of this work. Other institutional practices relating to casting, rehearsal and scheduling are inappropriate as well. Lukas Pairon, the founder of NewOp, addresses this problem frequently. Laura Berman, an American recently appointed to head Den Anden Opera in Denmark, is attempting to tackle it directly.

The theater and opera worlds are starting to recognize these new works. A list of “North American Operas” maintained by OPERA America under the title, “Encore,” is rather broad in scope. Various theater magazines and critics are covering new music-theater. No one knows what to call it, but everyone is starting to be interested in it.

The Form Without a Name: American Music Theater
by Barry Drogin
© 2001 NewMusicBox

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