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The shock of the new

“The article also referred imprecisely to offerings in the Lyric Opera of Chicago’s 2012-13 season. While A Streetcar Named Desire, by André Previn, is the only one that was composed in the last 100 years, the company will also present Richard Strauss’s Elektra, which was first performed in 1909. Thus it is not the case that A Streetcar Named Desire is the only opera in the company’s season ‘from the last century’ if ‘the last century’ is taken as a reference to the 20th century.” [New York Times]

33 comments

  • Orlando Furioso says:

    I suppose someone objected, but I don’t see that a correction was necessary. As they imply, there’s more than one correct way to apply the term, and they were right originally if “century” is taken to mean “any 100-year span,” counting back from the present year.

    • whatever says:

      The Grey Lady has been hypersensitive about accuracy in corrections lately …

      In this case, the sensitivity may be amplified by the fact that the article had one other (minor) error.

      It’s an interesting piece, though … one misses the occasional reference to a “strapping baritone” but other than that Woolfe can write.

      • Cocky Kurwenal says:

        You think? He strikes me as a kind of precocious under-grad. A lot of good ideas, but also a lot of half-baked ones that expose too much enthusiasm and not enough dispassionate analysis.

        I do find the Washington/Welsh howler telling, but I guess we don’t know if it was Woolfe or a subeditor.

        • La Cieca says:

          As for me, I know that when I’m reading arts criticism, at the first whiff of passion, I turn the page. Just the cold dull facts, please!

  • redbear says:

    Too bad he didn’t talk about risk-taking smaller companies which have found new audiences for baroque and modern operas. Many seem to be thriving and this gives me some hope for the future.

  • kashania says:

    I think it’s still pretty safe to refer to the 20th century as the last century.

  • SilvestriWoman says:

    I’ve a solution for Speight! For a significant donation, Seattle Opera angels will get to appear in a Wenarto YouTube. Lesser donors merely get the opportunity to party with Seattle’s happiest resident.

  • irontongue says:

    See, while telling us all about how conservative audiences are, Woolfe managed to avoid mention the three 21st century operas, all SFO commissions or co-commissions, that are on the San Francisco schedule for 2012-13.

    I have to say, also, that a $1 million deficit on a $20 million budget sounds like the kind of thing that one big Seattle Opera donor could fix by pulling out a checkbook.

    • m. croche says:

      ZW’s phrase “astounding conservatism” (supplemented with “pulse-slackening” and/or “stalactitic”) is also one I’d apply to next season’s offerings at the MET.

      Perhaps a paragraph on that subject was discreetly cut by a cautious editor. Or perhaps astounding conservatism at the MET wasn’t considered news.

      • La Cieca says:

        Here and elsewhere I think the issue is one of scope: the piece is focused on companies outside New York that are attempting to solve the problem of financial instability by cutting back on performances or offering staid repertoire. True, the Met’s programming for next season is certainly less interesting than one might hope, but I don’t think anyone at the Met is going to say on the record that the reason for this conservatism is worry about poor ticket sales or alienating donors. The company has been very quiet lately about its finances, so any commentary on the subject would come off as being highly speculative or even axe-grinding.

        This is going to sound like special pleading, but 1000 words is not exactly a luxurious length to try to analyze a difficult problem in the relationship between finance and the arts — particularly when the piece is expected to include a timely news angle (the meeting of the Seattle board on Tuesday) and quotations from experts.

        Surely the Times will devote more coverage to the Met season once the Met season opens and as news about the company’s finances is made available. And I hope there is also room for a followup to this piece detailing the successes other companies have had in the current financial climate.

        • louannd says:

          I read that ZW captures (very succinctly) the problem, in light of the respect and success that Seattle Opera, as an American company, has garnered over the years, and, now, in the midst of the second greatest depression in American history, now faces.

          • RosinaLeckermaul says:

            Last night, subscribers and donors to the Atlanta Symphony received an email that that fine orchestra is heavily in debt and the board and the musicians are far from an agreement as to how to solve the orchestra’s fiscal crisis. All this, even though ticket sales have been improving over the past few seasons. Things are tough for many orchestras and opera companies. Woolfe’s article only presents the tip of the iceberg.

        • Virgilio Guardepassa says:

          Could one read this article, and characterize the organization as “very quiet lately about its finances”?

          http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2012-06-19/met-opera-boosts-pay-for-conductor-levine-to-2-1-million.html

    • kashania says:

      I don’t think that Woolfe’s article was meant to be a comprehensive survey of all American opera companies. He was merely observing a trend of U.S. opera companies experiencing financial difficulty and responding by scaling back the number of productions and sticking to “safe” programming.

      • CwbyLA says:

        Yes, although ZW’s article was not meant to be comprehensive, he only chose to focus on examples that support his claim and that is biased sampling. He didn’t mention SF, Santa Fe, Houston, Philadelphia opera companies that are doing interesting things and are surviving, This article was written with the same Fox News mentality that distorts the reality to their liking. He is certainly passionate about opera and hopefully he will mature into being an excellent writer.

        • kashania says:

          I disagree that it was “biased sampling”. His focus was opera companies that are suffering and having to present conservative programming. And that’s what he delivered in his article. I think the problem is that people are upset with Woolfe for not writing the article that they wanted him to write.

          And let’s not kid ourselves, performing arts organisations across North America have been suffering (with some closing their doors) since the recession. There’s no fear-mongering here. It’s a reality.

          • Bosah says:

            Kashania -

            But you are not suggesting that everything is bad, correct? Because that’s the impression left by Woolfe. That is why is does, indeed, suggest biased sampling.

            I’ve seen people here explain the “scope” of his article, but nowhere does Woolfe say it’s not a comprehensive survey and nowhere does he suggest there is anything worthwhile happening in US companies.

          • Bosah says:

            Typo -- That is why “it”, meaning the article, suggests biased sampling.

  • L. Strether says:

    Seems to me Woolf tries to stir stuff up rather than provide any real thoughtful analysis. He completely neglects the fact that San Francisco Opera’s run of Nixon in China sold-out its last couple of nights based on tremendous reviews and word-of-mouth, and that the company is offering one world premiere and two company premieres next season amid the traditional standards. And though a million bucks is a million bucks, a 5% shortfall hardly calls for Chicken Little to start screaming.

    Also, to follow up on redbear’s comment, no mention of what Santa Fe is doing, or for that matter how smaller companies like Long Beach Opera and Ensemble Parallele are rapidly growing their audiences by programming unusual material.

    • Bosah says:

      Yes, exactly. I suppose I’m more of a glass half full person, but I do not see all gloom and doom like so many critics seem to see. Although things are difficult, there are quite a few interesting and very hopeful things happening in American opera companies -- in fact, much more interesting, I think, than 20 years ago.

      I understand why Freud asked for a seemingly unnecessary correction; he doesn’t seem the gloom and doom type, either.

      And I do understand, La Cieca, that 1000 words isn’t a lot, and scope is important to understand, but it’s also important to disclose scope. Woolfe represented his article as telling the whole story, when it actually seemed to tell very little.

    • Bosah says:

      Also, the more those in the opera world proclaim opera is failing, and that opera productions aren’t worthwhile, the more the general public will believe it.

  • L. Strether says:

    Ah, Lisa and I must have had a mind-meld!

  • Quanto Painy Fakor says:

    Opera is not dying -- the people making it are killing it.

  • Pisa Hearn says:

    Woolfe is pretty unfair here: “From his past work elsewhere there is reason to hope that Mr. Freud can pull Chicago into the 20th century, to say nothing of the 21st.”

    In the past couple of decades, Chicago has presented standard Berg, Janacek, Stravinsky and Britten, plus Antony & Cleopatra, McTeague, The Voyage of Edgar Allen Poe, The Gambler, A View from the Bridge, Amistad, The Midsummer Marriage, Rise and Fall of the City of Mahagonny, and others. For a company that does eight operas a year, that’s a pretty strong record.

    • Bosah says:

      Pisa Hearn -- Perhaps you will know the answer to this also. The subscriber appreciation concerts Woolfe mentions aren’t new, are they? They may be but I thought they had been going on for some time. Do you know when they began? I may just be assuming they’ve gone on for a while.

  • WindyCityOperaman says:

    It was shitty of the Lyric to exclude both Streetcar and (to a much lesser extent) Treb’s performances of Boheme from single ticket buyers and making them “for subscribers only” -- yes, there are a few of us who don’t need to see the warhorses for the umpteenth time with a lot of singers we’ve never heard of and only want to attend(a) operas we’ve not heard live before or (b) singers of note that we’d like to hear.

    • Clita del Toro says:

      Windy, I totally agree. LOC did the same with Rennaay’s Traviata. I wrote them and basically told them to “shove” their tickets!

      I will NEVER subscribe to that dump again.

      As if I would ever want to see Rennaay in Streetcar! LOL

    • kashania says:

      It may seem unfair and I sympathise with your position. But, I bet it helped create significant subscription revenue. If there are still tickets available after subscribers have had their chance to buy, then I’m sure they’ll go on sale to the general public. And if there aren’t any tickets available, that’ll mean that those people who made the bigger commitment to the LOC got rewarded. And why shouldn’t they?

      • Clita del Toro says:

        I totally see why LOC does that, and good for them.

        • kashania says:

          And Clita, I know you were desperate to see Renee’s Violetta! LOL

          • Clita del Toro says:

            Right, Kashie. I spent two days outside of LOC on the sidewalk, crying and pleading for tickets for Rennaay’s Traviata. I was even contemplating suicide when I didn’t get the tickets. LOL