VNPAC: Different Voices, Different Rooms

My experience today was about two very different rooms. The big room held big questions, big problems, big ideas, and big hopes. The small room was filled with tables and objects and entire ideals shrunk into miniature chachkas. Here everything felt tangible and tactile—the handshakes, the scores, the movement of people and music coming from small speakers. The big room was a place of listening. The small room was a place to interact.

I started the day in the big room, where the conference officially opened with speeches by Stephen Roundtree from the LA Opera, Zev Yaroslovsky, from LA County, Anthony Freud from Houston Grand Opera, Marc Scorca from OPERA America, and the keynote speaker, composer Daniel Catán. There was much talk of “this new economic reality.” With multiple repetitions, discussion of the need for opera companies and organizations to collaborate as the solution to long-term survival wafted through the space. Operas even fell into the category of “cultural tourism,” in this seemingly drowning quest for a fiscal gulp of air.

I was quite impressed with Daniel Catán’s message. He spoke of the need to have multiple performances of new American works. He challenged the philosophy that audiences are waiting for the “next great American opera” with a comprehensive empirical outline of the number of performances the warhorses had after their premieres. The lists were quite staggering.

Catán compared our expectation for a single opera premiere to gain mass popularity with an imagined cultural hyperbole, wherein this new movie, Avatar, gets released in only one city for only a few nights. Then, perhaps four years later, the film is shown in another city for another few nights, and so on. Catán says there’s no chance that Avatar can make it. So how can we expect new American operas to have any life without mass collaboration with multiple performances across the country?

It was a very interesting conversation, with an idyllic look at what could be. There were many pockets of questions left unanswered in this query, but it was compelling nonetheless. I don’t think there was room in that conversation for a range of different sizes of careers, works, or visions. I think this model that Catán proposed would fit into the grand opera approach held by so many of the Opera Conference-goers.

Could the future possible be in the small….?

The small room was jammed with people. I spoke to lots of them about a number of different subjects. Here are a few observations:

  1. Roll Call
    Music publishers are the face of new music at Opera America, at least so far. Besides Daniel Catán, Laura Karpman, Anne LeBaron, and myself, the breathing embodiment of new music appears absent. There may be other composers, but I haven’t found them yet. What I did find in the small room, scattered on tables and booths, were photographs of composers, scores, cds and videos of new and newish works, all presented by music publishers. I wonder, as more and more music is generated without the oversight of the music publisher, how will contemporary composers be represented in conferences like these in the future?
  2. Cool Set
    I had an interesting conversation with Chris Yates from Opera Australia about their new production of Bliss by Australian composer Brett Dean. Check out our conversation:
  3. Swag, Opera and Libiamo ne’lieti calici
    In LA, there are people who just go to the award shows for the swag. This year at the Game Developers Conference, they were giving out Droid phones. I had absolutely no expectation for swag from Opera America. Well, shockingly I was wrong, but it was mostly in the odd and funny category. Take a look. Here are four conversations (some not just about the swag)…
    • Norman Ryan from Schott
    • Kelly Mee from Arts Insurance Program
    • David Schwarts from StreamingCulture
    • Carla Fisk from Opera on Tap

  4. My Network Lunch
    So, as a former New Yorker, I’ve decided that I need to demonstrate the kind of good cooking that exists here in LA. My new music network headed to The Pantry, another landmark of downtown Los Angeles. Meanwhile, I’ve decided that I’m not yet going to pass judgment on the degree to which composers and new music are deeply a part of the conversation here until I experience the upcoming panels most closely related to new music. Stay tuned!

One thought on “VNPAC: Different Voices, Different Rooms

  1. philmusic

    Its true there are not enough performances of new opera or new music theater in this country.

    Period.

    The proposed solution, more performances of even fewer new works, hardly seems convincing. I suppose if I were that lucky one I’d have my rationalizations ready.

    I do hope you get an answer to your the question about the place of composers in the grand opera world–if so please forward!

    Phil Fried, who has composed; 2 and 1/2 grand operas, 1 mono-drama, and one new music theater work for children.

    Phil’s page

    Reply

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