I don’t know how you all feel about the “Response to Comments as Blog Posts” format I’m following here, but it’s really working for me.
In the past week I’ve gotten a couple of interesting comments that I think are worth sharing and responding to – one about the Met’s new concert initiatives at Le Poisson Rouge and one about Zurich’s recent Mathis der Maler and the lack of coverage.
The first comes from “Ulyana” and is quite long – you may read her post here.
I think it’s a really cool project and great exposure for Adès and Muhly (not to mention Purcell, Tippett, Ives, and Stravinsky…), but if indeed their goal is to get more of the coveted 20-somethings paying for tickets to the Met, I agree with Ulyana that they will be sorely disappointed. They might get a few more people in the rush ticket line or family circle, but I can’t imagine it’s going to help them in the full-price ticket department any time soon.
However, if the Met is suddenly trying to make long-term investments in their audience and trying to contribute to the presence of classical music in contemporary culture, I think this is a noble and wise initiative. I can totally see the the 25-35 year olds targeted here eventually buying full-price tickets to the Met (maybe even subscriptions) when they do find themselves with disposable income in their 40s and 50s. Perhaps their exposure to composers like Ives and Tippett will even give them a taste for more challenging repertoire. But somehow I don’t think that’s what Gelb is going for. I think he probably does have some wild ideas that the “kids” will see these events and decide to drop $200 on a ticket to The Tempest.
While I agree that targeting the youths isn’t a short term solution, I would love to see more companies angling for a long term solution. The Met can certainly afford investing in its long-term future. I think one of the biggest problems with opera today (and in the past 30 years or so) is that there hasn’t been any audience cultivation for the Baby Boomers, Gen X, and Gen Y. Of course, earlier generations than those mentioned didn’t require (or didn’t require as much) deliberate audience cultivation – there wasn’t such a significant rift between popular and classical forms of music before the 20th century. I think a lot of companies and fans are trying look back at how things worked before for a model, but things are just different. This is a new frontier, and, in that vein, I am all for experiments like Le Poisson Rouge.
The big question is: who do these events actually attract? I don’t know what the audiences at Le Poisson Rouge are like, but I’ve been doing some work with an opera company that does all shorter, contemporary works with very contemporary themes, and the audience makeup isn’t actually that different from who you’d see at a larger company’s Don Giovanni (or whatever). It’s still mostly people in their 40s, 50s, and 60s. The number of people in their mid 20s to mid 30s did make up a larger percentage of the audience, but it was still only 8-10 people in that demographic (out of an audience of 80). That said, I have no idea how many of these people were new to opera. It may be that while these efforts don’t necessarily attract a lot of younger people, they do attract people who aren’t regular opera attendees.
I also agree that this is really the type of thing the City Opera should be doing (perhaps even partnering with the Met to do – what a concept).
I’ll be interested to see how long this Poisson Rouge initiative lasts.
The second comment comes from Keleven (on my About page), and it’s not very long:
This past June the Zurich Opera House staged Hindemith’s great work “Mathis der Maler”. There were 7 performances. The title role was sung by Thomas Hampson (his debut) and Daniele Gatti conducted. A real highlight on the opera calendar for sure and yet it received depressingly little coverage.
There was nothing in any of the main broadsheets (Guardian, Times, Telegraph, Herald Tribune). Not even the opera forums (i.e. Parterre Box) made note of the omission. But what is truly inexplicable to me is the fact that the 4 leading magazines — Opera News, Opera Now, Opera Brittania and the venerable Opera (UK) also chose to ignore it. There is not A SINGLE WORD on this major and rarely performed masterpiece or its star cast.
The website OperaCritic.com which usually provides about 10 reviews on average for each opera posted only 4 (yes 4!) entries. And these were mostly by freelance critics.
This entire situation is very weird.
Why does it seem like editors and critics wish to keep Hindemith’s great opera from receiving the exposure it so clearly deserves?
Oh man! Hindemith! You’re speaking my language, Keleven! I’m so excited about a Hindemith-related comment that there’s part of me that’s very suspicious that I’m being trolled right now.
My short answer is: I DON’T KNOW! AND I’M SO UPSET!
Hindemith wrote some fascinating operas. I’m a big fan of neoclassicism and Mathis der Maler is really interesting, thematically. I’m also a big fan of Hindemith’s Cardillac which is also tragically short on performances. And Carlisle Floyd’s Susannah! Why isn’t that opera performed all the time?! The music is beautiful and very accessible, it’s a powerful story, there are great roles and great arias – I really don’t get it. Or Menotti’s Saint of Bleecker Street, Marc Blitzstein’s Regina, or John Corigliano’s Ghosts of Versailles (which was slated for the Met a few years ago and got cancelled)?
I don’t think it’s that people are actively trying keep these works down, I think they’re just caught in a vicious cycle. These aren’t popular works, so they don’t get much coverage, and thus they continue to be unpopular and continue to not receive coverage. Between opera companies trying to present low-risk pieces of rep and newspapers having less time, money, space, and journalists to cover everything that’s going on, it’s just a bad time for more recent works that aren’t some kind of premiere or somehow controversial. As my music history professor once said: getting a first performance for a new work isn’t hard; it’s getting the second performance, and the third, etc.