Cher Public

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How can they see with sequins in their eyes?

Worried about the future of opera in America? Don’t be! Lyric Opera of Chicago’s most recent crowing press release outlines a simple method by which any opera company can stay in the black!

Step One: Choose a limited repertoire concentrating on chestnuts of the 19th century. Don’t program anything earlier than Mozart or newer than Madama Butterfly (one of the company’s two 20th century works last season; the other was Rusalka.)

Step Two: Do opera only 75% of the time. Expend the remainder of your company’s not-for-profit resources on reviving a done-to-death half-century old musical comedy, mostly without opera singers and completely with obtrusive electronic amplification.

Step Three: Fill in any gaps in the budget with monies from the ironically named “Breaking New Ground Fund.”

See how easy that is? Any idiot can do it.


  • 1
    mercadante says:

    Apparently not. San Diego folded briefly, the MET is financially “challenged”, and other companies have had to close down or scale back. I applaud Chicago’s ability to go into the black, increase ticket sales and audiences for their venue and productions. Approximately 26,000 of them were not for Sound of Music.

    • 1.1
      La Cieca says:

      Reducing the repertoire to a handful of overdone chestnuts and a musical about nuns counts as “scaling back.”

      • 1.1.1
        m. croche says:

        Of course, next season’s offerings at Chicago look like quite different, don’t they?

          kashania says:

          You’re right, the 2014-2015 line up is much more interesting (with great casting). The 2013-2014 programming was conservative even by the LOC’s standard and especially considering that the safety net provided by Sound of Music should’ve allowed for some risk-taking.

          • pirelli says:

            As long as we’re talking about the R&H productions, that casting is curious. Is Denyce Graves going to play ALL the roles? ;-) (I’ve never seen a Carousel marketed and advertised solely on the strength of its Cousin Nettie, lol. Though I’m sure Graves will knock “You’ll Never Walk Alone” out of the park. It’s just odd that right now, she really is walking that production alone…)

            I heard most of the radio broadcast of their Sound of Music and thought they did pretty well by it. Musically speaking, leagues better than that disappointing TV stunt last December. Which is encouraging, because my impression of the Oklahoma! broadcast last summer was the opposite -- very uneven casting (and the shrillest Ado Annie I’ve ever heard) and a metronome instead of a conductor (no feel for the music, no nuance, no nothing. Just 4-square time). Getting Encores’ conductor Rob Fisher in there for Sound of Music (and Carousel was a wise choice. Ah, but I wish they would have the balls to do Allegro or any of the other lesser-done R&H shows. (Allegro would have been a real gift to the chorus as well.) No such luck.

          • kennedet says:

            If Sound Of Music was LOC’s last year’s biggest ticket seller, one can readily understand why Chicago is on the 2014-2015 schedule. As an opera lover, I am disappointed but when you have funders who are more interested in “bean counting” than the art form- this becomes top priority. Give them what they want under any circumstances, if it puts “butts in the seats”.

  • 2
    Mona Plash says:

    As a Chicago opera-goer, I thank you for articulating something that has been bugging me for several years now.

  • 3
    phoenix says:

    On matters of Chicago amplification, obtrusive or otherwise: I haven’t been to Chicago in a long time because last time I was there I sat in the orchestra front row side section close to the aisle -- it was the worst acoustic quality I ever was subjected to -- I could barely hear Domingo & Zscahu. At one point I got up and walked to the center section of the front row for only a few seconds and found the sound was glorious -- but I offended the yentas & yentos (both male and female) by blocking their view -- also found out they don’t mind yelling at you during the opera in Chicago. This was many years ago, but I had previously sat in other locations in that had acoustical difficulties. I hope matters have improved for ALL seating at that venue. On the plus side, the awkward shaped auditorium is beautiful to look at.
    -- Actually I like electronic amplification if it is done very professionally & evenly throughout the auditorium -- it’s a skilled art in itself. But, as we all know, some places (Bayreuth, the old Russian Opera House in Helsinki, Pittsburgh, etc.) don’t need any sort of amplification.

  • 4
    decotodd says:

    Phoenix, I had similar experience this last spring at the Met. Was sitting side orchestra near the front (row G I think) and could barely hear Fleming, Relyea or Beczala. I wound up moving after intermission it was so frustrating.

    • 4.1
      phoenix says:

      The sound in the Met orchestra seats always puzzled me. Even though the voices came through clearer with more immediacy in the front middle section than the side seats you were in, the sound did not seem to emanate from the stage itself but from various angles.

  • 5
    aulus agerius says:

    Single tickets for the fall LOC season went on sale today. I checked for Il Trovatore (plenty of seats available) not because I want to see Il Trovatore but because I plan to be in Chicago that day and have never seen an opera in the Lyric. The interesting thing was that it appears that most, if not all, seats have an ‘adult’ and a ‘child’ price that is a flat $20 regardless of the ‘adult’ price of the ticket. Cheapest balcony seat is $35 plus the hated convenience fee of $8 which is almost 25%. I demurred. I will take my chances on buying at the box office that night.

  • 6
    Clita del Toro says:

    Anyone listening to Manon Lescaut, ROH. Act I is almost over. I like Kaufmann a lot but Olpolais, so far, is no match for him. She seems like a nice, ordinary singer. Seeing her in the clips helps a lot. Act II begins shortly. We will see if she makes an impression in the next act?

    • 6.1
      Cicciabella says:

      I’m listening, Clita. I agree that seeing and hearing Ms Opolais is a much more satisfactory experience than just hearing her. For me her voice lacks the lushness required by Puccini. Same applies to her Rondine. Kaufmann’s voice is, of course, very beautiful, but everything above G sounds a little strained: maybe he’s tired. So far, only Christopher Maltman is holding up completely without the visual element.

    • 6.2
      Cicciabella says:

      OK. Kaufmann completely warmed up in Act II and all hint of strain is now gone. Maybe the candy-pink basque is responsible. Incidentally, they’ve just explained in the intermission that Manon wears her lingerie from Act II to the end of the opera to provide “continuity” and compensate for the narrative jumps in the libretto. (I think manou’s explanation is better.)

      • 6.2.1
        MontyNostry says:

        Cicciabella, what was manou’s (no doubt witty) explanation?

          Cicciabella says:

          That they put her in underwear for three acts because she has great legs. Elementary, really.

          • MontyNostry says:

            Unless it was just the way the basque was wired, it looks like she has great boobs too. A very striking woman altogether. Maybe not quite such a classic Latvian beauty as Garan?a, but probably sexier.

    • 6.3
      Cicciabella says:

      Clita, are you still there?

      Conclusion after watching video, then listening to audio only: Pappano tremendous on both occasions. Maltman: wonderful in every way, sound and vision. Opolais I really need to watch to fully enjoy. She is a great actress, totally convincing, but her voice is really not Puccinian and she frequently sacrifices quality for dramatic impact. Kaufmann: I’d rather listen to him than watch him close up. He always holds something back a little theatrically, and that shows up in the close-ups in Manon Lescaut, in spite of the heavy petting sessions. No such reservations vocally. He was truly great in Acts III and IV. London has done itself proud.

      • 6.3.1
        Fidelia says:

        My two cents, Cicciabella : I agree about Pappano and Maltman and finally I mostly agree with you about Opolais as well. She brings a lot to her portrayal when you watch her. I’m not sure what a real Puccinian voice is, being pretty much a newcomer to opera and to date I’ve tended to go for dramatic impact over impeccable musical style.
        Your remarks on JK interested me, because to me it sounded as though he was holding a little something back vocally -- being careful not to pull all the stops out, maybe just a case of self-preservation? (But maybe this impression is due to my having recently listened to a Bergonzi Des Grieux who sobbed (convincingly) as he fell apart from the 2nd act on…).

          Cicciabella says:

          Well, it’s a bitch of a tenor part, so self-preservation is wise. I think Kaufmann might have been careful vocally in the first two acts. That’s smart, because being great in the last two acts leaves a much better impression than starting out with a bang and sounding tired at the end. One of the reasons I love listening to Di Stefano is that he gives his all, vocally and dramatically, but he did that at a price.

          Opolais is such a fine actress, I really want to love her voice, but it’s weak at the botton, the high notes sometimes sound difficult (she did well in Act IV), and it is just not gleaming enough for Puccini. I’ve now heard her (recorded) as Magda, Mimi and Manon Lescaut, and the conclusion is always the same. But she must be wonderful to watch live in the theatre, and hear, because she is a good singer.

          • Porgy Amor says:

            Cicciabella, I thought that same about Kaufmann in the Salzburg Don Carlo. Of course, that was an especially long DC even by five-act standards, so it made sense for him to pace himself. He sounded cautious in the early going, and then I had the sense of a dam bursting in Act III, especially from III/2 to the end of the opera. When he was publicly taking on Daddy in the auto-da-fé, I was thinking, “Yeah, there’s the stuff.”

    • 6.4
      Sempre liberal says:

      I miss the days when Betsy Bobolink (I think it was her) would post the can’t miss international audio and livestream operas each week.

      Dearest Cieca, can you woo her back with some smack?
      Or crack? Or a nice Big Mac?

      In all seriousness, is there a site which posts the good internet concerts/operas each week?

  • 7
    Fidelia says:

    I’m listening too, Clita, and enjoying discovering many details in the orchestra that I missed while watching. I actually find all the voices quite well suited to the roles. There’s a delicacy in Opolais’ voice that seem to me to reflect one of the elements that might attract Des Grieux -- and all her other admirers. JK’s voice seemed to have opened up and sound less strained in the top notes during the 2nd act, don’t you all think?

    • 7.1
      Cicciabella says:

      Glad your ears confirmed mine, Fidelia, about the strain disappearing. He will probably be tested a little again in Act IV, but there is no shame in that. Not many tenors around today who can sing Des Grieux without bursting an appendix, and with such beautiful colours too.

      Fasten your seat belts for Pappano’s Intermezzo. Those ROH cello and violin leaders are great!

  • 8
    degan says:

    I agree. Kaufmann is sounding strained when it goes up but he sounds good. Unfortunately he is not the ideal Puccini singer. As much as I liked his Cavaradossi but f.e. I like Alvarez a lot more in Puccini. Same goes for Opolais. She is maybe the best Butterfly at the moment but she is no ideal Puccini singer as much as she admires him. The voice lacks the beauty for the typical Puccini heroine. She sings everything correctly but nothing special (Mimi, Tosca, Rondine). Here I prefer Angela G.
    Alvarez told me in Vienna that he is planning a Manon Lescaut with Angela there… This could be the best possible combination after I jerked them together in Tosca.

  • 9
    Fidelia says:

    Thanks Phoenix.

  • 10
    Fidelia says:

    Oh, Phoenix! Late but warm wishes for a very happy birthday and year to come!

    • 10.1
      phoenix says:

      Late but great thanks to you Fidelia, too, for your good wishes.
      -- Everyone seems to have been listening to the Manon Lescaut this afternoon. Someone heard a quality that reminded them of Tebaldi -- Tebaldi? If I remember correctly she had a full, refulgent and always reliable lower registers. Did Opolais acquire one in the last few weeks? I recorded this miracle performance today in absentia and I’ll try to get to it tonight.

  • 11
    Countervail says:

    I have been saying this to anyone who will listen for at least 15 years… the only way to save opera in the modern world is destroy the current institutionalization. The art form has been lucky to survive as long as it has. There is literally no reasonable catalog of modern works nor will there ever be as long as the primary interest of opera companies’ survival is dependent on centuries’ old warhorses. And without a viable, interesting, COMPELLING contemporary catalog what we see happening in modern companies is only prolonging inevitable death.

    Three things that I think will make a purposeful impact:

    1. Develop interesting, entertaining forward thinking pieces and only present old works less than 25% of the time. And what I mean by new is not this horrible god-forsaken mess of modern analytically driven composition. It’s the whole reason we listen to old pieces, because they were beautiful, had heart, and moved us. When Ades, Adams and Glass are your go-to guys, I think most people would rather prefer a nice, well, ANYTHING than have to sit through those. What happened to tonality and regular time signatures?

    2. Quit relying on endowments. if you’re forced to try to pay for your production from ticket sales you’re forced to hone a production that is as much enjoyed in the partaking as it was in the preparation. Everyone wins. A company suddenly has some immense freedoms when it’s not beholden to wealthy old dowagers just to survive. Likewise, take OperaAmerica and burn them at the stake in the town square. They are the main proponents for the very system that’s collapsing under it’s own weight and they rely on member companies to believe their horrible religion just to survive themselves.

    3. Finally, make the entire process sustainable, simple and charming It’s f*cking entertainment already. People shouldn’t need education just to enjoy a work. Companies shouldn’t have to collaborate with additional companies just to pool enough dough together for a set and costumes. Use the best parts of new technology, even -GASP- amplification if it helps, where it makes sense. Make the entire process, from tickets, seating, the piece itself, easy and accessible.

    I’m sure most here will disagree with me. I think all you have to do is look at Broadway though to see how the process is starting again, a standard repertoire that is becoming institutionalized, supported by organizations that want to present and preserve past work, reliance on jukebox musicals or movie adaptations that have a built in following. But by all means feel free to attack while Rome burns to the ground.

    • 11.1
      m. croche says:

      Ah yes, whenever I listen to Philip Glass’ music, I think “How analytically-driven! How atonal! The time signatures, they confound me!”

      There is a composer for you. His name is Jake Heggie, and his music is done quite a lot in the U.S. See also: Daniel Catán and half a dozen other totally inoffensive composers Parterrians could name without dropping a beat. If you want to hear more of such composers, actively support their work.

      • 11.1.1
        m. croche says:

        In d minor -- and really, isn’t d minor the saddest of all the keys. A combination of Mozart and Bach -- Mach if you will. It’s called Lick My Love Pump Batter My Heart.

          pirelli says:

          I agree this is a wonderful, powerful aria. I have to say I felt very let down by Doctor Atomic when I saw the Met HD -- but the issue wasn’t generally Adams’ music, which I thought was very evocative, colorful, and inventive (and quite listenable) -- it was Sellars’ awful, awful libretto that sank the piece. But at least for this aria, Sellars thankfully deferred to the great John Donne.

          • ianw2 says:

            Yeah, I felt much the same way. Loved the music, but, ack, that libretto. And, coincidentally, only opera would get away with a non-Native American woman playing a Native American maid who was randomly trotted out to chant about the cloud goddess being ripe with rain babies or whatever it was.

          • kashania says:

            The libretto had its moments but I agree that it was weak overall. It was rather amazing seeing the opera rise and fall with the libretto. Whenever the libretto sank, so did the music.

          • m. croche says:

            In fairness, I believe Adams deserves equal blame credit for the libretto.

            • Straussmonster says:

              And he’s really, really defensive of the libretto and the choice of poetic texts.

            • pirelli says:

              Straussmonster says (because there doesn’t seem to be a reply prompt after his post):
              “And he’s really, really defensive of the libretto and the choice of poetic texts.”

              “Defensive” is an interesting choice of words -- to me that could have the connotation that he’s all too aware of the shortcomings, and feels the proactive need to be on the defensive about it. “Supportive” would be a more positive attribute. (But of course he *should* be supportive of the libretto -- it’s what he chose to musicalize -- though it would also be his right to reassess the work later on.)

              The choice of poetic texts I really had no issue with. What really didn’t work for me was the “filler” -- like that awkward scene where Eric Owens’ character went on and on about his struggles with dieting. Really? (In the right hands, that might have been a fun comic relief “character” moment -- instead it was more like a lead balloon.)

            • Straussmonster says:

              I used ‘defensive’ because that is how he came across to me the time I saw him talk about the piece, and asked him about some of the poetic choices (specifically the Rukeyser he chose for Kitty). He did not quibble with my description of it as ‘extremely dense’.

            • pirelli says:

              Oh, I didn’t mean to say YOU used the wrong word, just that I find it unfortunate that a composer feels he has to take a “defensive” stance with his work. To defend it, yes -- to be defensive about it, not so much.

              As for Kitty’s “Am I in your light” -- I have to admit the scene didn’t grab me on first watching. And I agree -- the poetry is ornate (sounds better than “dense” to me lol). But I began to think that perhaps Kitty is really trying to seduce him with words -- literally -- using the power of language to try to get him out of his book and, well, onto her. ;-)

            • mwigg says:

              I’ve written a bit about this before: to me, Eric Owens’ character singing about dieting referred to CALORIES, which are units of energy. I haven’t read the libretto recently, but the aria makes me think about we’re humans, we need energy, we expend energy, bombs explode energy, etc.

            • kashania says:

              mwigg: That’s interesting about the “Do I look fat?” section but I have to say that, to me, that whole section came off as incredibly tedious. The idea may have worked in Adams/Sellars’ minds but it definitely didn’t work in the execution.

            • redbear says:

              For me that fat guy was extraordinary. Adams and Sellars are talking about a particular point of time in world history. It is the day when the world turns in another, incredibly dangerous direction. There is no date in human history more earth-shaking and some guy, who has rank so you have to listen, is taking time with something important to him but so banal. And he goes on and on, not sensing the occasion. He is the “everyman” in all of us.

      • 11.1.2
        Countervail says:

        Well yes, I can’t think of anything more modern than Moby Dick and Florencia en el Amazonawhatty. There’s nothing more exciting to modern audiences than old-timey life in off-beat circumstances. And please program more Glass ugly-step children pieces like Nico Muhly. Maybe John Adams will make an opera about Alexander Graham Bell for next season with a 20 minute duet for baritone and telephone ringer. That ought to pack them in.

        If you think it’s about “inoffensive” compositions than you truly don’t get it. The whole of every modern opera company is as about inoffensive as you can get without putting people to sleep before they even get in a theater. Like I said, interesting, entertaining, forward-thinking pieces.

          ianw2 says:

          Then who are the interesting, entertaining, forward-thinking composers you know who are using a harmonic language that you don’t find ludicrous?

          m. croche says:

          For the moment, all you’ve given us is adolescent anarchism. You seem to have a quite idiosyncratic notion of what counts as “entertaining” and “forward-thinking” without offering any evidence that your personal aesthetic preferences would lead to solid, money-making art.

          So far as I can tell, your whole program consists of:

          1. Blow up the opera houses.
          2. ??????
          3. Profit!

          • Countervail says:

            I wish I had a more sophisticated reasoning to offer. It’s hard to offer examples of modern operas and opera composers I think fit what I mean because they haven’t had opportunity to flourish. Is anyone on here a modern opera advocate really? And frankly it looks like the opera houses are blowing themselves up pretty well without anyone’s help. I never suggested profit per se. If you’re in the arts in the first place, it’s a bad career move to make money. ;-) But I’ve not seen any examples of what I suggest to show how that’s wrong. I am saying something has to change or the trend of failing companies will continue. Unfortunately I can’t travel into the future to tell you exactly how that will happen and how to make it not happen. It just seems evident for now that is what is occurring. Blow up the current model or not doesn’t matter, but opera is failing hard and fast.

            • oedipe says:


              The subject of opera’s future fate has been discussed ad nauseam on this site.
              One way to partially “blow up the model” that has been talked about and makes some sense would be, in the case of NY, to “blow up” the Met and replace it with several small venues with different profiles and addressing different audiences. For instance, one such venue could specialize in new compositions.

            • Camille says:


              EVERYTHING is discussed ad nauseam on this site!

              Thought of you today as I ran across the 1995 Toulouse recording with Alagna/Gheorghiu in Roméo et Juliette. It should capture them at their youthful blooming best.

            • SilvestriWoman says:

              Oedipe is right. To see newer work, you need to head to smaller houses. In the San Francisco Bay Area, Opera Parallele is having -- dare I say? -- unparalleled success presenting modern productions of 20th and 21st century operas.

              In late 90s, I saw a tremendous production of Daron Hagen’s Shining Brow at Chicago Opera Theater. Not only was the music glorious, but the libretto was very strong.

            • m. croche says:

              I wish I had a more sophisticated reasoning to offer.

              I wish you did as well. You say that you’ve been proclaiming the Gospel of Countervail for 15 years, and even yet with all that time you seem woefully unprepared to demonstrate how and why your course of action would work.

    • 11.2
      ianw2 says:

      I hope you realise your own dissonance in your first point, in that why should we bother developing new and interesting work if we’re going to be married to the language of the 19th century? Why not just stick to the 19th century works which do it much better and let opera slip into its glorious twilight museum years, which I’m pretty sure it’s audiences actually wants to do anyway?

      I also disagree completely with #3- co-productions are one of the smartest things the opera world has done in the last thirty or so years, and when done right are a completely sensible way to operate.

      As usual, the most galling thing about any LOC press release is their celebration of their bottom line, which is clearly the most important thing about an opera company.

      • 11.2.1
        Countervail says:

        Well you know of course I disagree first that you think I implied by asking where tonality and regular time has gone, that I meant to revive 19th century idioms. No, no, no my dear. I wonder and wish to see the evolution of the 20th century tonalists. This modernist, post-modernist, expressionist schlock that leaves us with Glass and Adams etc. is about as endearing as hearing a modem dial-up played over and over. And Heggie and Catan are nice, but they’re more like you say, neo-romanticists.

        And with #3, the fact you say it’s sensible just defeats the whole purpose of art. I’ve been on the business end of co-productions and it’s a lot of compromise, in the worst way, to bring these things to fruition. Opera is expensive, no doubt, and I’m not sure I can say the exact thing that keeps artistic integrity while covering the expense of an expensive endeavor. But maybe it would be fixed by jettisoning the “season” concept as well. But if we did that, then we’d have to jettison contracting singers 6 years ahead of time. And if we did that then we’d have to jettison advertising and interest based on “stars” and if we did that then we’d have to jettison funding by wealthy patrons and… we’re back to my original suggestion. Deinstitutionalization. Start from scratch with a new model.

          ianw2 says:

          So, hang on, you want compromise from your composers but not from your designers?

          I’m all for blowing up the whole thing and starting again, but I am really, genuinely intrigued to find out which living composers you have in mind for these new works you claim will be the answer- considering the only composers you can name appear to be Glass and Adams.

          (not that it counts for much being personal opinion, but I find many moments of Glass and Adams operas to be beautiful, moving, with heart and even charming; and as croche as pointed out, they’re both pretty fond of regular time signatures and tonality).

          ianw2 says:

          And, while we’re at it, I love that a sensible co-production defeats the whole purpose of art; yet music that commits to standard tonality and time signatures is the saviour of art.

          • Countervail says:

            I don’t see anyone here cheering new music and composers. Frankly I have a tough time finding anything to cheer from modern composers myself. And let’s face it, it’s a rare acolyte these days called to become a patron purely through the musical experience of opera. I don’t blame them. In modern conventions, opera is a pretty sedate and odd affair. But I do think things like a co-production defeats the purpose I was talking about. It’s basically buying back into the model that’s in use right now.

            And another comment below mentioned I was basically suggesting something like Broadway, which isn’t right either. If I had to pinpoint what I think I’m suggesting, it is something more like a Cirque du Soleil production or the Sleep No More show in NY right now or maybe even a summer festival setting. The opera would be written and tailored to a specific venue and cast with an unlimited time frame, a “pop-up” opera? It would be an experience, not just a show in a box that could be packaged up and regurgitated in repertory over and over. And when it was over, it would be done.

            • ianw2 says:

              I would love to see Punchdrunk do an opera (in fact I believe I once won some kind of Parterre award eons ago for a season with the very thing!). I’m all for opera presentation in unusual places- hello Birmingham Opera Company! If NYCO’s roaming plan had been the result of strong artistic vision to get in and among the city and not panicky finances and Board, it could have been great. That said, since your only financial model so far is to demolish endowments, I’m not sure how you’d pay for something as phenomenally expensive as a situational, durational opera like a Punchdrunk presentation.

              Philadelphia, Washington and Minnesota are all undertaking long-term projects with new opera composers, anyone on their rosters you think could write the new opera that will be sufficiently entertaining enough to save the artform?

              Which modern composers do you listen to? Because the idea that there is only one sound or school of composition in 2014 is a bit silly.

            • m. croche says:

              In other words, you’ve got some hazy notion of what you’d like, no composers or librettists around that you’d use -- much less any piece that’s already been written. You have no clear idea what you want and no idea how to get there.

              Sign me up!

              P.S. Some of us do talk about contemporary opera here, by the way. Not enough, for my taste, but that’s the way of the world…

            • Batty Masetto says:

              I don’t see anyone here cheering new music and composers.

              I guess Countervail missed the discussions here of “Nixon in China,” “Satyagraha,” “Le grand macabre,” “Die Soldaten,” “The Death of Klinghoffer,” etc. etc.

              But then again … why am I not surprised?

            • Robby says:

              Punchdrunk have staged opera before, they premiered Torsten Rasch’s The Duchess of Malfi in partnership with the ENO. It wasn’t the greatest of successes unfortunately and they haven’t tried again since, though it was certainly an experience!

            • redbear says:


            • Countervail says:

              See!?! The idea that Punchdrunch is collaborating just proves the point that if you make something new and interesting not only will people come, they’ll BEG to come.

            • m. croche says:

              Wait, what? This kind of music is the kind of music you approve of?

            • Countervail says:

              Well, not really. I mean it’s nice that it’s something created in my lifetime, but dear god who would want to sit through that musically? Punchdrunk I assume will do something very unique with the aesthetics of the presentation, which is what I was praising. Crotchety, I appreciate your challenging me on these things, and again I wish I had a better answer and grounding for my assertions, but I’m not sure what I could give to satisfy you. What is your answer to the conundrum of opera’s future? If it’s to do it as it’s currently being done, the ashes of that model are all around while it seems the lack of pleasure of artistic merit of less challenging composers burns your soul like a cancer. Why do I think you would have thought Puccini was cheap and banal if you lived in the 19th century?

            • m. croche says:

              To answer your last question first, it is because you seem to leap to wild conclusions based on precious little information. Webern greatly admired La Fanciulla, you know. As do I.

              Your response to the music indicates that you don’t trust audience judgements when it comes to music. You know better what people want.

              Judging by your answers, it appears you have a narrow, yet spectacularly Ill-defined set of aesthetic positions that you favor. You assume, on no particular evidence, that the greater public shares your precise aesthetic, enough so that opera groups could completely rely on ticket sales if only, if only they would listen to you. This self-confidence in your judgements is matched (not coincidentally, in my opinion) with a general ignorance about the actual state of contemporary opera, the state of contemporary opera production (writ large), as well as the state of opinion on this site.

            • Countervail says:

              Re: Fanciulla, let me get M. Puccini on the phone to let him know that more than 100 years on a random opera queen thinks Fanciulla is cool. Not that Hegge shit and stuff that sounds like your stuff, but Webern liked yours too so…

              Again, you’re wasting a lot of breath on hating the messenger instead of providing better solutions. I can only assume you actually like things the way they are, and if that’s the case there’s nothing more for us to discuss.

            • manou says:


            • Countervail says:

              Wow Manou, you sure told me. Oh the stinging! Get me some Bactine and an ice tea. I can’t take it.

            • m. croche says:

              Your so-called message is ill-conceived where it is not laughably vague.

              Your best bet is to better inform yourself of actual, existing opera composition. Then you’ll be in a better position to find projects that you wholeheartedly endorse and then you’ll be able to better persuade people of their validity. Talk to us about things that you’ve seen which you’ve enjoyed. Talk to us about promising artists able to execute the vision you pursue.

              In this thread, you signed on the ENO Malfi without knowing anything about the music and, it would seem, without knowing anything about how well the production actually worked (hint: one critic noted that the experience would have been quite difficult to follow if you hadn’t already known the play. That would hardly seem to accord with your desire for maximum intelligibility “People shouldn’t need an education just to enjoy the work”)

              In short, do your homework.

            • manou says:

              Only if you drink the Bactine and rub the tea on the injured area.

            • Countervail says:

              Croche, you’re swinging in the weeds. I appreciate your fanatacism for doing things as they’ve always been done. I’m not as informed about new productions as I might, because frankly they mostly are horrible and I have better things to do. I don’t pay much attention to current productions of old works because, suprise, I’ve heard them before and don’t need to hear them again so that I can breathlessly debate, like in this thread, if Opolais sounds like this or that long dead singer from the past. I’m actually pretty informed about opera companies and music generally though, have worked for a top company and multiple degrees in music.

              Something has to change in modern opera production, drastically since so many years of resisting it. It’s inevitable. I think my ideas are at least worthy of trial since nobody else has any, including you.

            • m. croche says:

              So you can’t be bothered to find out what is going on in today’s operatic cultural life. Why should anyone care what you think?

              So far as I can tell, your only concrete proposals are these: 1) don’t perform in opera houses 2) don’t accept donations. Thanks for the brilliant advice. Very helpful.

            • Countervail says:

              You know as well as I that you’re deliberately mischaracterizing what I said. Simply go back to my initial proposal and reread it if you have to.

              And I’m still waiting to hear what you think is the right path to save the modern opera company. Because you haven’t proposed anything, I have to assume you like things as they are and prefer that opera companies fail rather than change any convention of how things are done.

            • ianw2 says:

              Please, I beg of you, name a composer, just the one!, who is currently writing the music you think will fill the house. There are literally thousands of composers currently writing for the stage in various genres, and thousands who’d like to. Who would’ve thought that Damon Albarn would write such a hit opera? Any genre, any country, just one!

              Don’t go on blaming others for not having solutions when you can’t even name a composer who’ll form a key part of your manifesto.

            • Countervail says:

              I would like to, but even when researching new works in recent years, I see the same formats and presentation types of opera through the ages. And the music is either sweetly and boorishly sentimental or it’s unapproachable and ugly. I’ve not seen Dr. Dee but it seems like a unique and interesting concept. What I know about it, maybe Dog Days? The Theo Bleckmann “Out Cold” cycle? Silent Night? I dunno. I’m not saying these are perfect examples but each represents some component of what I’m suggesting. Does that make you all happier? Or are you now going to deconstruct some examples that I had to suggest on the fly because you can’t actually address my main tenets?

            • ianw2 says:

              One of your main tenets was the quality of music being written for contemporary opera, yet you singularly fail to demonstrate you actually have much of a grasp on what is being written in contemporary opera nowadays and dismiss all of it as ‘not worth the time’. All of it?

              I don’t disagree that opera is in a whole world of trouble, but you’re very occupied with lamenting that nobody else has any solutions whilst failing to offer any more substance than ‘new work! new funding model! success!’.

              If you’re interested in some thoughts of my own, I find one of the biggest challenges for new opera is the lack of time of learning for a composer in doing something as complicated as an opera- each new commission, as they’re so rare and the marketing team are panicking about an audience, is treated with such fanfare as to place the expectation on a composer that they’ll produce a Rigoletto when they’re still on Un giorno di regno. This, in my opinion, is also coupled with similar lack of opportunity for librettists leading to Cliff’s Notes versions of great books or movies- which are also attractive to companies for being a known story to sell.

              But I’d be much more interested in your opinions on the state of contemporary opera if there was more behind them than some kind of dichotomy of ‘they’re all rubbish’. If you’re proposing new work as the saviour of opera- something I’m very sympathetic to!- you probably need to spend the time finding out what composers are up to in 2014 rather than being so dismissive of it all.

            • Countervail says:

              I did offer some examples, but it’s more about the type and experience of opera I see that might be models rather than a specific composer. But, as expected, that’s not good enough. I need to be intimately familiar with the entire state of modern opera composition and probably even then wouldn’t qualify for serious contemplation by your standards.

              Where Broadway (insert looks down noses and sneers here) gets it right is in the workshopping and out-of-town trials which is a similar vein to what you mention. I don’t know why opera companies spend millions on unknown quantities. Yes, please let’s have another Andre Previn opera for a billiondy dollars.

              But mostly, be interested or not, I really don’t care. I like opera, I went to school for it, I would like it to find a true renaissance and continue as an art form, but one of the main reasons it’s such a turn-off is the pretentious attitude of either the voice snobs or, like you, the “unwashed masses don’t count” snobs. If opera dying means that people like you go down with the ship please let me punch a few more holes to let the water in quicker.

            • m. croche says:

              I’m not going to say anything against Puts or David T. Little, but the notion that their music is going to sustain a widespread, donation-free, self-funding opera revival strikes me as a bit … speculative. I’m glad you like their music, though.

            • ianw2 says:

              Nowhere did I say you had to know every single thing about what is happening composition right now- but I did repeatedly challenge you to provide something- anything!- to back up your assertion that if only we had the right sort of composers writing new works, we could save the entire artform.

              And since you’ve claimed a few times that I’ve misinterpreted your words, I refer you back to your first tenet. So far you’ve given us a list of well-known composers who you think are rubbish (often peppered with factually incorrect statements about their work), but are unable to give us someone whose work you find acceptable.

              Let’s talk about types and experiences of opera! I’m as sick of Le Poisson Rouge being namedropped by every classical org as everyone else, but is that a possibility? What about, across the pond, ‘pub opera’? Is the festival model more sustainable and supportive of new work, as discovered by St Louis and Fort Worth? Do we need to look at the smaller, flexible models such as Gotham for the future, and see major houses as being the eventual dinosaur? But at some point, we’re going to have to talk about who is writing these works, particularly if we’re heading towards the entirely admirable goal of only a 25% repertory (which I would love). You don’t have to like Adams or Muhly or Previn (neither do I much) or Puts, but at some point you will have to commit to naming someone you do like if you want your first argument to, at the risk of exhausting the metaphor, hold any water at all.

              If you think actually asking for some kind of evidence that you’ve got something beyond ‘everyone is writing the wrong thing!’ is snobbery, well… perhaps it’s time to find another hobby.

            • ianw2 says:

              For a start, you may wish to cast your eyes ever so slightly upwards and read the superb analytical series ‘Dawn Fatale on the Met’ if you’d like a chat about new presentation models. This exchange has just inspired a re-read, and it is well worth your time, if you are genuinely interested in the future of the form and not just hectoring people who can’t mind-read your aesthetic as snobbery.

            • Countervail says:

              Again, you seem to miss the point. I appreciate you pointing Mme. Fatale’s posts, however it just seems focused on the Met’s struggles only. While it’s interesting to consider what might improve its situation, the Met is a pretty unique creature among United States opera companies. Its downfall, like the death of the largest tree in the forest might finally allow for a host of more modest companies throughout the city. I wouldn’t wish it that way, but it’s hard to ignore that possibility. Things come and things go.

              But to this point of having to prove my pedigree and knowledge, I find it interesting that the same thing isn’t asked of the leaders of the industry. Like Marc Scorca, he’s only and always been steeped in the industry as it always was. He’s a main reason opera companies find themselves where they are from following the models and business advice of Opera America. He never studied business, economics, administration, just music and history, and then straight into administration. He left COT with a $200,000 (10%) deficit in 1990. He sailed smoothly through the boom time of the 1990s but now that financial realities have changed, it seems his organizations posture hasn’t. Somehow after all this he’s the svengali we listen to about the sustainability and economics of opera and you grill me about knowing modern composers? You’re more than welcome to question who am I, really I’m no one in the larger scheme of things. But I just wished for god’s sake someone would stand up and question these people like that too.

              Again, I shouldn’t have to point out that modern opera companies are failing left and right. I think even if the economics of the nation improved, it would continue to do so. A critical corner has been turned, a mixture of economics, culture, and new technology conspire against a sedate evening in the theater with the betters of the world. And I know you all like things just fine, to do as you do and steep yourself in the comfortable way things have been done… well forever. But expect what you love to implode if you choose not to do anything but marginalize and shame those who suggest, I think wisely, what might make a important, if radical, difference.

          • pirelli says:

            Countervail wrote:

            “Where Broadway…gets it right is in the workshopping and out-of-town trials”

            Tryouts, my dear. Out of town tryouts. Though indeed, some of those initial tryouts can really be trials…;-)

    • 11.3
      oedipe says:


      The theoretical framework you’ve described in your main post doesn’t need to be realized, it exists already: it’s called “Broadway”.

      (But then you go on to say that Broadway is becoming sclerotic as well.)

    • 11.4
      kashania says:

      I don’t have time right now to address this entire post right now but I will finish this thought: if you’re forced to try to pay for your production from ticket sales, then you will have to increase ticket prices three-fold (and hope that people still buy tickets). Opera companies don’t rely on fundraising (of which endowments are just one part) for the heck of it. They rely on fundraising because it’s the only way to fund the outrageously expensive costs of running an opera company.

      • 11.4.1
        Countervail says:

        Well that’s another reason I think you need to dismantle current conventions. No opera company is in a financial position to try anything that doesn’t have some guarantee to generally “succeed.” But if you look around, it’s pretty obvious the art form is hitting bust times in the U.S. anyway. I’d never imagine City Opera would just disappear and especially would never think the untouchable Metropolitan would have financial difficulties (which is simply another way of trying to stem full implosion). We want the arts to be a guaranteed salary for the musicians and technicians, and that would be nice, but how can you quantify the benefits of a musical experience to a dollar amount anyway? And the pay structure has always been outrageously favorable to the directors and leaders. You pay these people A LOT to give you the shitty experience of opera production. Let’s cap director’s salaries at no more than say three times the top salary of a chorister for example. That’s one easy way to bring costs down.

          oedipe says:

          Well, if you want to adopt a profitability-based model, you sure as hell can’t start out by capping directors’ salaries. That’s not what business models are like in the real world; you have to pay big bucks to attract top talent who will sell a lot of tickets.

          • Countervail says:

            “Top talent?” You’re suggesting that someone like Peter Gelb is the best the world has to offer right now? George Steel? Or someone like Marc Scorca at Opera America? These are people that are entrusted to maintain the status quo, to captain a big ship they have little knowledge of the workings of. Their job is to get that Titanic across the Atlantic without regard to the ice field in front of them. Some companies employ the “business guy/opera guy” model with two directors to balance. But the bigger picture is that if you are an institutionalized company, you’re goal is not to create the best work with the best cast in the best set and environment though it might be a monumental flop, your goal is to get through to next season and accept whatever compromise necessary to get there.

            • oedipe says:

              No, the Met does not function like a regular business with profitability-based criteria. You mentioned Cirque du Soleil, that’s more like it.

            • Indiana Loiterer III says:

              Though doesn’t even Cirque du Soleil have producers? Investors? Broadway certainly does. (Have we all forgotten what The Producers is about?) Or do they rely on corporate sponsorship like so many sporting events?

          Indiana Loiterer III says:

          We want the arts to be a guaranteed salary for the musicians and technicians, and that would be nice, but how can you quantify the benefits of a musical experience to a dollar amount anyway?

          The same way you have to “quantify the benefits” of a good meal for the cooks and waitrons. It’s the spectators who get the full benefits of a musical experience; the musicians and technicians are generally too busy working to be able to stand back and get it.

          • redbear says:

            Has everyone here gone mad. An American opera house is like a symphony orchestra or a museum, etc. It depends on donations for its existence. There is no way that a few performances is ever going to pay the cost of production. Ever. It is a not-for-profit organization which, like every other, depends on the kindness of strangers.
            What you can do is hire people who are artists. Artists know artists. They know the scene is thriving with creative people. The intendants in Europe know this and are constantly looking for innovation to challenge and grow their audience. I go to world premieres and the audiences often cheer like they did for Claude by Escaich. They loved the Lyon double bill of Il Prigioniero and Erwartung. The performance of “A Dog’s Heart” got noticed all over Europe.
            If you actually knew the work of Marc Scorca you would not lump him in with the others. He talks about renewal all the time. There is a wonderful world out there. Look at the seasons in Berlin, Brussels or Lyon and see audiences that have grown used to, and now expect, to be challenged. It didn’t happen over night and usually takes decades.
            The particular opera scene in America got stuck in neutral for the last two or three decades. Remember before? Beverly Sills got famous doing Baby Doe, not Tosca. San Diego Opera used to do Henry VIII ( Saint-Saens) and A Village Romeo and Juliet. Starting with the 80s, conservatives trained a generation to expect the standard rep. Now they have a dull generation, maybe two, of audiences that they created. As the US middle class declines and arts become increasingly marginalized, it is almost impossible to imagine daring stagings and rep choices challenging audiences but it is possible to start the change. San Francisco is programming new work and so are others. Innovation is the only hope and cheapening the art is absolutely the wrong road (and Heggie and Rodgers and Hammerstein is that road.)
            (BTW, you could count on the fingers of one hand the intendants in Europe that make more than three times the salary of Met chorus members.)

            • La Cieca says:

              Beverly Sills got famous doing Baby Doe, not Tosca.

              Beverly Sills got famous doing Giulio Cesare, Roberto Devereux and Manon at NYCO. But Beverly Sills mostly got “famous” because she invested a lot of money in having Edgar Vincent do PR for her.

            • Harold says:

              While I agree that Beverly Sills used an excellent press agent to get famous, there are many people who have had excellent PR representation but who have not achieved anywhere near her level of fame because they don’t connect with the audience. As I understand it, Sills has an enormous capacity for hard work, didn’t let rejection stand in her way and had a strong say in how she wanted to be presented. She also loved to sing and she transmitted her joy of singing to the public, which responded to her. She had one agent for her entire career, a man named Ludwig Lustig who, while being very well thought-of, wasn’t a major player among agents.

            • Clita del Toro says:

              I am not the biggest Sills fan, but she was an exceptional singer. No one can take that away from her.

          kashania says:

          Sorry, but cutting the salary of a handful of people is going to make a very minimal impact on a company’s budget, eventhough the idea has a certain populist appeal. The biggest cost for any opera company is labour — orchestra, stage hands, choristers, etc. And if their compensation were adjusted so that ticket sales alone would cover the costs, they’d be working for slave wages.

          Paradoxically (in context of your original endowment remark), the only way I could see a company being able to rely solely on ticket revenue is to have such an astronomically huge endowment that the annual income from it would be enough to cover the 30-50% of the budget that most companies rely on. Of course, no company would stop annual fundraising even if they raised such massive endowment funds.

          Oddly enough, Peter Gelb, whose head is being called for by so many, is trying to shift the Met’s fundraising priorities towards endowment to ensure a more sustainable future for the Met. To do that, he needs to cut expenses drastically.

          • kennedet says:

            The over riding fact which seems to prevail in my opinion is that there are less people attending performances and I don’t think it’s because of lack of interest or love of the art form. I think, to put it bluntly, that older opera lovers are dying and the younger generation is not interested in opera. No, I don’t have the answer but to debate this issue without taking these facts into consideration is non productive.

            This past experience with Camarena does not happen on a regular basis and to use the excuse that if we had more singers of this caliber we would not have a problem….well, it ain’t gonna happen. I am not quoting or agreeing with Gelb but relaying my own experience over the years of attending and being involved in performances.

            • Clita del Toro says:

              I was watching one of those “Judge Judy” type programs, where one of the litigants was an opera singer who was suing a recording studio. On this program, the announcer talks to a few people on the street to get their opinions about the case at hand. When asked his opinion of opera one guy said something to the effect that opera was not up-to-date and old fashioned and it didn’t interest him. I bet that is the view of many or most young people today as it always has been.
              So it must be true that as older people like myself die, new ones are not taking their places as quickly as in the past. Who knows?

            • armerjacquino says:

              I wonder about the idea that the audiences are dying off. The median age of operagoers in the US in 2008 was 48. I kind of hope I’ve got more than seven years left on the planet.

            • manou says:

              …but who could take your place, Clita?

            • kennedet says:

              Well, I also hope you have more than seven years left Armer, but I read years ago in Joe Volpe’s bio that the average age was 62. Maybe it’s geograophic. However, there has been enough articles and comments on this blog and many others to verify that opera attendance is not what is used to be, based on the above comments and if we can’t agree on that….then I think we will never come to a consensus of dealing with the problem.

            • armerjacquino says:

              kennedet, whatever Volpe may have said years ago, the 48 figure comes from a pretty reliable source: I didn’t just pull it out of my ear.


            • kennedet says:

              I would not dispute your information, I’m just quoting what I read, but I know for a fact that the opera lovers that are in my locale are well over 48 years old and that is why I mentioned it might be geographical. However, the initial concern still remains unless you feel that its been blown out of proportion.

            • kennedet says:

              Not to belabor the point BUT I should also add the almost total evacuation of classical music on PBS. We always looked forward to some kind of vocal classical presentation during the season but we have noticed hits from the 30s-70s or something relative to that. PBS has turned itself into basically a popular music station. We don’t have cable but, yes, we do have a color-flat screen TV. I think this sends a very strong message. Does anyone else notice this? Am I exaggerating?

  • 12
    Fidelia says:

    Bravo Sir Tony, Jonas and Christine. Very moving last act.

    • 12.1
      peter says:

      It’s the first time I’ve really heard Opolais, other than snipets of the Met Butterfly, Boheme and Rondine broadcasts. It is a gorgeous voice and I do hear some similarities, distant though they may be with Tebaldi’s voice. It is a little cool though, for my tastes, at least in this opera. Still an impressive voice. I imagine it would be more impressive in the theater.

      • 12.1.1
        Fidelia says:

        Tiens, tiens. I heard some similarities with Gheorghiu…

          Lady Abbado says:

          A preview -- let’s hope -- of Gheorghiu’s Manon Lescaut (Vienna 2015-2016?):

      • 12.1.2
        Krunoslav says:

        ” I imagine it would be more impressive in the theater.”

        That would indeed be an act of imagination. She doesn’t. Like Tebaldi, she is a soprano; like Tebaldi, she sings Puccini. End of story.

        Without the looks and acting ( and connections), no way she’d have so promising a career, though in the right role she certainly has something positive to offer.

          peter says:

          Well I’ve been listening to opera for 40 years or more and I studied singing for 20 years so I know voices pretty well and she does sound like Tebaldi to me, so back off!

          Yes, I know about all the hype but I’m certainly capable of having an opinion on what I just heard.

          • Krunoslav says:

            “The man hath seen some majesty, and should know.”

            Again; not, to me, in the theatre, not remotely. But Im all for imagination.

            • peter says:

              Sometimes you really are a jerk.

            • Krunoslav says:

              *Hello*, you have stressed that you have never heard her live.

              When you do, note the resemblance to Lorengar, Bjoner , dalla Rizza and Maria Bieshu.

          • Clita del Toro says:

            I saw almost everything Tebaldi sang at the Met from 1955 on (except her Alice and Minnie). Opolais does NOT sound anything like Tebaldi. Puleeze (not that I am any longer a big Tebaldi fan)
            KO is a good singer, but I was not that impressed with her Acts I and II. I had to leave after that. Her voice is kinda uninteresting in the lower middle and middle and she lunges onto the high notes too often.
            I was not that impressed with her Met mimi either. But she is okay and pretty.

            • Clita del Toro says:

              PS Tebaldi’s voice was huge. I don’t think that Opolais’ is.

          Cocky Kurwenal says:

          I think there is a resemblance to Tebaldi, particularly in the middle voice.

          • No Expert says:

            Let’s not get carried away, now.

          • armerjacquino says:

            Me too. And it’s daft to put her in the ‘looks and acting’ camp: she’s clearly a major singer.

            • Krunoslav says:

              What defines a “major singer” at this juncture? A high profile recording contract? Individuality of voice or approach?

              A useful , good singer of leading roles who looks great on HD is a good thing. To me a “major singer” is someone like Scotto or Horne or Vishnevskaya, a gamechanger with an unmistakable sound and artistic personality. I don’t hear this with Opolais, whatever her virtues.

          • la vociaccia says:

            I don’t personally hear the Tebaldi similarity, mainly because Opolais’ voice seems less fat in the middle and lower parts of her voice. The biggest tell is their respective interpretations of Vissi D’arte, where Opolais’ voice tends to lose its luster in the lower phrases, the same phrases where Tebaldi just luxuriates.

            I don’t think she’s all acting/looks, but I think the physical acting is the most distinctive aspect of her performances.

          • kashania says:

            Tebaldi had not come to mind in my previous hearing of Opolais but after reading the comments here, I listened for it, and I heard a bit of resemblance in the mid-register, specifically on “ee” sounds.

          La Cieca says:

          and connections

          Yes, it’s heartbreaking to imagine the young Tebaldi struggling to make a start with nobody on her side but Carmen Melis, Toscanini and Decca.

          • Clita del Toro says:

            Besides those three to help her, Tebaldi had the assets of a huge, gorgeous voice (a once in a lifetime voice), a very likable personality, lovely looks and manner of singing.

            All singers need help, no matter how great. Callas needed it too: Meneghini, Serafin, Visconti, a tapeworm (?) and others. ;)
            If Bubbles needed it as well, why not? Or am I missing something?

          La Cieca says:

          Listening to this performance of the “Donde lieta,” I hear an echo of Tebaldi in the placement of the voice on the “a” and open “o” vowels (a high “domed” sound with the palate very raised) as well as a certain similarity in soft attacks: Opolais seems consciously or unconsciously to be imitating Tebaldi’s style of initiating the note softly and with very little vibrato, then allowing it to swell and vibrate, moving into the more open placement with what sounds like a tiny scoop. Opolais does this on the very first word “Donde.”

          The timbres of the voices are very different and Opolais has a slight tendency to sing sharp, which of course would be completely out of character for Tebaldi. But I think there are some similarities in how the notes are attacked and placed.

          I heard this from time to time in the Butterfly as well, mostly in soft to mezzo-forte singing in the middle part of the voice, a certain way of “savoring” the sound in the mouth.

      • 12.1.3
        kashania says:

        I did not hear the Manon Lescaut broadcast but when I watched her Rusalka (taped in 2010), I heard a bit of similarity to Fleming. However, I do think the voice has lost some of its bloom in the last couple of years. Listening to her recent Mimi from the Met (the one she did hours after her Butterfly debut), I no longer heard any resemblance.

      • 12.1.4
        Camille says:

        Peter, you know I love you, so it rather pains to say that I do feel strongly that Krunoslav is on target here. As yet, I have not seen and heard her in the theatre, either, but frankly after that Butterfly I am not inclined to do so.

        Now, I think she is an absolutely beautiful lady and just as beautiful and lovely a person from the interview she did with Mags, but it was just the worst Butterfly entrance I have ever heard, and I listened twice. I won’t do the diagnostic.

        Maybe the Manon Lescaut was better but after Rondine and the Butterfly, well, I wonder how it could possibly be much different…?

        Again, I am sorry to say so as I admire her as a person, but Krunoslav has a real point in this one, so far as I am concerned.

          peter says:

          Camille, no worries. I heard parts of the earlier broadcasts of Butterfly, Rondine and Boheme and I actually found her voice to be quite unpleasant and didn’t understand the fuss about her. Today, I felt differently and I heard some similarities in timbre with Tebaldi’s voice. I also heard some similarities with Fleming’s voice as well. I was surprised that I found myself liking the sound, despite it’s nordic coolness. Funny, I’m actually not a big Tebaldi fan. Despite the beauty of tone, much of her recordings sound hard and ungainly to me and the top could be flat.

          It almost seems like a crime to some to hear a similarity with a revered singer of the past. I was simply stating what I heard, not proclaiming her to be the next Tebaldi.

          • Clita del Toro says:

            Millo reminded me a bit of Tebaldi; Suliotis reminded me a bit of Callas.
            Those are closer “matches” in my mind than Opolais/Tebaldi, whether it’s the singing or the timbre that causes some to hear similarities between the two. Anyway, I really don’t care who Opolais sounds like. Maybe Rosa Ponselle or Anna Moffo LOL ;)

            • Camille says:

              Clita, she sounds like Joan.

              By the way, I had the opportunity to buy Flamingo Road. Is that one any good at all? From the title I am inclined to be dubious.


            • Clita del Toro says:

              Cammiest, Flamingo Road is NOT one of my Joan favorites. But, it does have Sydney Greenstreet in the cast. He is one of my favorites.
              I think that Joan was a bit old for the part and the story is so old-fashioned--“get that whore out of town” then, I’ll show him, “rags to riches” kind of thing. I read that she had a cold while making the movie. Sniff, sniff.
              It’s with seeing once.

            • MontyNostry says:

              I tend to think of Opolais as slightly smoky-toned. I like her sound, but it’s not hugely distinctive. On the other hand, I wonder whether the timbres we perceive as distinctive are often the ones we ‘grew up’ with.

          • Camille says:

            Yes, well, peter my dear, these impressions are both very subjective and ephemeral and constantly turning on themselves.

            The important matter to me is always this: did I enjoy it? If I did, I did, and no one and no critic is going to tell me what I enjoy. If you liked what you heard yesterday then I say, good for you!

            My best to you out west!

            • Clita del Toro says:

              Monty: There have always been singers with not-so-distinctive timbres and vice versa. You know a distinctive voice when you hear one. But this depends on the listener’s history. After one has heard hundreds of voices over the years, does it become harder or easier to recognize a unique voice? Does one become blasé about this? I don’t know. When I first heard Windgassen on recording in the 50’s, I thought he sounded like Melchior. Now I don’t.

              Singers of today (more or less) that I think have have quite distinctive voices are: Mattila, Kaufmann, Dessay, Calleja, W. Meier, Bartoli, Fleming and Nada Michael (a stinktive voice).

  • 13
    CwbyLA says:

    I wholeheartedly agree with the criticism of the lack of adventurous programming in Chicago. On the other hand, operating in the black may be a good motivator for the board members to significantly contribute year after year. That might be their mindset (of course I don’t know anything about the LOC’s board members). Since those donations make up a significant portion of the operating budget, it makes sense to keep them happy. I am not saying it makes sense artistically.

    Also, while many people are rightfully dismissing LOC’s conservative programming and the press release’s focus on their profit, we should not overlook their, what appears to be, extensive outreach efforts to different communities, partnerships with schools, etc. That sort of thing is exactly what the opera companies should be doing to develop the future generation of opera lovers and diversifying their audiences. I applaud those efforts.

  • 14
    Sanford says:

    To address the question of contemporary operas vis a vis tonality and time signatures, if I had my choice between Doofus Wainwright mediocrity or a difficult and critically acclaimed new works such as George Benjamin’ Written On Skin, I’d have to go with George. Adams, Ages, and Glass aren’t the only people writing operas. And, I might add, Satyagraha at the Met was thrilling. IMHO.

    • 14.1
      oedipe says:

      Written on Skin is “difficult”? It has been a MAJOR box-office success, wherever it has been performed.
      How is “difficult” defined? What are the criteria?

      • 14.1.1
        Sanford says:

        Sorry, Oedipe, I didn’t make it clear what I was addressing. It was this comment from COuntervail -- “And what I mean by new is not this horrible god-forsaken mess of modern analytically driven composition. It’s the whole reason we listen to old pieces, because they were beautiful, had heart, and moved us. When Ades, Adams and Glass are your go-to guys, I think most people would rather prefer a nice, well, ANYTHING than have to sit through those. What happened to tonality and regular time signatures?”

      • 14.1.2
        MontyNostry says:

        It wasn’t difficult, just extraordinarily overrated.

          oedipe says:

          Sorry Monty, but I think you are in a minority on this one. (I remember we’ve discussed this opera before.) And the fact remains that it was shown to sold out houses in several cities.

          • oedipe says:

            BTW, for those who have an interest: on Arte Concert, you can still watch Philippe Boesmans’ new opera Au Monde, which was premiered earlier this year at La Monnaie and will be revived next season at the Opéra Comique in Paris. It is not as good as Written on Skin, but it is nonetheless worth seeing and hearing. It is quite accessible, actually (unless one is completely allergic to contemporary stuff).


          • MontyNostry says:

            I know I’m in the minority, but I hope I can voice my opinion -- which is shared by several people I know, as it happens. All the hyperbole contributed to the strong ticket sales, I presume.

            • MontyNostry says:

              I’d like to see Boesmans’ Wintermärchen, but for some reason he hasn’t made it across the Channel.

            • oedipe says:

              No, not many Continental European composers make it across the Channel. And even fewer of them make it across the Ocean. Not much interest, I suppose…

              I strongly recommend Boesmans’ Julie, recorded at Aix. The opera, which he composed with Malena Ernman in mind, is captivating and Ernman is stupendous in the title role.

            • ianw2 says:

              It’s fairly limited in both directions, oedipe. Glass, who has always had a significant European audience, and Adams, who has a strong English and Dutch audience, are the only two Americans who really pop up on European opera stages. In the other direction you’ve got Ades and that’s about it.

              New opera is very nationalistic, and it’s easier to sell and fundraise for ‘one of our own’- or at the very least a new work in the local language which unfortunately makes a new French or German work a very tough proposition in the US; just as it’s unlikely that any German or French house will be rushing into the schedule the latest Jonathan Dove or Kevin Putz.

            • oedipe says:

              Adès is not Continental European, he is a British “cousin”.

              Glass, Adams, Wuorinen, as well as Adès, Benjamin, can be seen on Continental European stages and opera audiences are aware of their names.

              The only Continental European names one comes across in America are Henze (though not often) and recently Saariaho, who is doing some kind of residency in the US.

              There is no symmetry here; it’s very much a “we are superior, we don’t need you” thing.

            • ianw2 says:

              Well, Henze is dead so I didn’t count him but I did forget about Saariaho who doesn’t seem to be doing as much opera since the inert Emilie. Benjamin is English, but I also forgot that the French don’t really consider Britain to be Europe (and vice versa!) so my apologies. Wourinen did have a gig in Madrid, so I suppose that is a clear example of Anglo dominance on European stages.

              Ah yes, it is totally the Great Anglo Superiority Complex (good to see you haven’t changed!) and not that with the limited resources new opera gets in most English speaking countries that there is a nationalist flavour to support a local; or that a company in an English speaking country is more likely to find an English language new opera an easier sell than one in French or German as Anglophones- poor, stupid, needlessly superior Anglophones- are significantly less likely to be comfortable around other languages than those Continental Europeans. How quickly I forget my own role in this cabal!

              America takes the European conductors in exchange for Europe (Continental, mind you) taking their opera composers! My god, it goes all the way to the top!

            • m. croche says:

              Dear Oedipe:

              Does Hosokawa count, or he is a non-European foreigner?

            • oedipe says:


              I gave you names of Americans and Brits on European stages. I can cite productions, if you want. These are facts. In response, all you could come up with is preaching.

            • ianw2 says:

              I know, it’s truly awful how Commodore Perry has turned up with his gunboats in the Channel. Or is it more akin to the Invasion of the Body Snatchers among European opera programmers forcing all this Anglo work on to European stages?

              You did name check a few Americans and Brits who get performed on European stages (the Wourinen, probably worth noting, was originally commissioned by Mortier as an American opera on an American story for an American company) but I fail to see how a few isolated examples- three of which are internationally recognised composers- is in any way indicative of some kind of inherent Anglo superiority complex about their work.

            • m. croche says:

              I mean, I’m curious how your mind parses these things, Oedipe.

              Would you call Lera Auerbach a continental composer or an American one?

              Mohammed Fairouz is an American composer -- would you say that he is “American” in the same way as John Adams?

              Hosokawa did his music study in Germany, with Isang Yun and Klaus Huber -- he’s of Japanese descent but would you say he is a purely “Japanese” composer?

              Marco Tutino is having an opera done at SFO -- does he not count as continental?

              Houston commissioned an opera from Franghiz Ali-Zadeh a few years back -- I think she mostly lives in Baku now, but for a time she was resident in Berlin. Is Baku continental Europe by the way?

              What kind of composer is Zhou Long? Tan Dun?

              In short -- why do you get so hung up on nationalistic labels?

            • oedipe says:

              In addition to Saariaho (whom I am not crazy about), here is an incomplete list of important (in my inferior judgement) European opera composers in activity today: Glanert, Rihm, Boesmans, Eötvös, Manoury, Aperghis, Dalbavie. (I will leave out Dusapin, whose music I don’t like.) How many of the operas composed by these prominent artists have been staged in America?
              This is a straightforward question that is not open to interpretation and distortion, I don’t think.

            • m. croche says:

              So oedipe -- you’ve got your short list of pet composers, the whole civilized world should drop everything and perform them immediately. Great. Congratulations. I’m sure we could all compile such a list.

              By the way, about Peter Eotvos

            • ianw2 says:

              If I may flip your question, when was the last time prominent Anglo composers, at least comparable to your list, such as Higdon, Muhly, Dean, Talbot, Knussen, Puts or Dove appeared on a Franco-German opera stage?

              Ades, Adams and Glass are in a rarefied world which I agree is entirely, currently, Anglo (just as there are very few Anglos in the rarefied equivalent world of conductors). But using their success as some kind of cudgel for the lack of French or German new operas in the US or London is apples and oranges.

            • m. croche says:

              Oedipe: Dalbavie’s first opera was premiered in 2010. His second opera, Charlotte Salomon, hasn’t even had it’s premiere yet. So what is his name supposed to be evidence of?

            • m. croche says:

              er, “its”

            • oedipe says:

              Meanwhile, the Châtelet has produced a large number of Adams’ and Glass’ operas. The Cité de la Musique presented Rufus’ Prima Donna. The Châtelet staged Catàn’s Il Postino and Cronenberg’s The Fly. These just off the top of my head…

              In addition to American titles, one can see on European stages some of the “crap” composed by my “pet composers” (and by others I haven’t mentioned) that America can’t be bothered with.

            • ianw2 says:

              The work of the Mexican Daniel Catan isn’t exactly a bolster for your case.

              The Fly was execrable, I agree, and should’ve been stopped at the border. Ditto Prima Donna. As I’ve already said, I agree that the current superstars of new opera all happen to be Anglo. The only person who comes close in my books would be Saariaho, who seems to have lost interest in opera (or is not being asked anymore).

              And besides, if you wanted to take the repertoire as a whole, you’d be looking at a pretty comfortable dominance of European works. Perhaps more recent English language work is a mere balance.

            • oedipe says:

              So? Strasnoy’s Le Bal and Cachafaz were also premiered in 2010 and have already been produced in several countries on two continents. BTW, add Strasnoy to my “pet composer” list.

            • oedipe says:

              Sure ianw2, you’ve got it: the reason why these well-known European composers are not performed in America can only be that they are a piece of crap (with the exception of Saariaho, who must be good because you say so). There is no other possible explanation!

            • m. croche says:

              Just to clarify, Oedipe, because you may know better than I: which of UC San Diego professor Philippe Manoury’s operas have seen second productions anywhere -- Europe, the Americas, the moon? If “continental Europe” drops a work after one production, why would your Americans friends have a duty to take it up?

            • ianw2 says:

              Where on earth did I say that?

              Perhaps I wasn’t clear enough with my use of the word ‘superstar’. Regardless of what you or I may think of their music, Glass, Adams and Ades are considered superstars for new opera. They command the highest fee, get more of a say in casting and production than Eotvos or Dove could dream of, and get the most coverage of their work.

              At the moment- and perhaps there is some kind of broader geopolitical theme here- the ‘superstar’ pool of opera composers is limited to three Anglo men (just as it used to be limited to one German and one Italian).

              I would love to see some contemporary European operas on my local stage, but considering that Opera Australia doesn’t even acknowledge the existence of Australian Opera, I’m not holding my breath. That said, Sydney Chamber Opera in their short existence have already produced Kurtag and Kancheli, and Pinchgut trot out Rameau fairly regularly. So tell me, when was the last time you heard Sculthorpe, Edwards or Dean in Paris?

              For the absolute last time- because you insist on seeing Anglo conspiracies everywhere you look- I don’t disagree that living (certainly not the dead ones!)European composers are rarely seen on Anglo opera stages; but I absolutely contest this idea that European stages are rushing to produce the Anglo equivalents of these European composers you consider unfairly neglected by those nasty Anglos.

            • oedipe says:


              Conductors? (Talk about apples and oranges!) OK, then, conductors: Slatkin is apparently making over 500000€ as the head of the Orchestre national de Lyon. This is WAY above what a French conductor of a French orchestra in a provincial French town would ever make. Is Slatkin worth all that money?

            • m. croche says:

              Perhaps they’ve heard that Slatkin’s good with the ladies…

            • oedipe says:

              If “continental Europe” drops a work after one production, why would your Americans friends have a duty to take it up?

              But that’s a catch 22: works are dropped because they are not being taken up! And, lo and behold, the ones that ARE taken up, happen to be Anglo-Saxon.

              Actually, I happen to believe that this very issue is the biggest problem of the contemporary opera scene, i.e. the fact that new works, even the most successful ones (with a few Anglo-Saxon exceptions), are dropped after the first run, never to be seen again. THAT is, in my opinion, where the system is distorted, unhealthy, rotten. In this respect, the world has become much more parochial and fragmented than it was in the 19th century, or even before WW2. (BTW, I once talked about exactly this subject with Philippe Manoury, whose operas, especially K… I appreciate very much.)
              There is absolutely no question in my mind that, for instance, if some European and American opera houses decided to revive Boesmans’ Julie it would be a great success. But the “system” goes against it.

            • Krunoslav says:

              Somehow, Oedipe, I managed to hear Pascal Dusapin’s strong “Faustus, the Last Night” at Spoleto USA in 2007. Last year they played German-based Japanese composer Toshio Hosokawa’s MATSUKAZE, which I really liked. It moved on to New York’s Lincoln Center Festival, and this year Gotham in NYCO mounted the same composer’s THE RAVEN-- I am pretty sure it was reviewed on this site. Peter Eötvös’ ANGELS IN AMERICA has been done in Boston and Los Angeles both.

            • m. croche says:

              Hosokawa doesn’t seem to count in oedipe’s tallies, Krunoslav. We won’t ask why.

              Angels was also done by Fort Worth around 2008 of so.

            • redbear says:

              The failure of operas everywhere, but particularly in America, to perform contemporary opera is the chief reason opera is struggling with relevance. Opera is 90% dead. Santa Fe used to try. They’ve given up apparently. This is doubly tragic because there is a new wave of composers who have parted ways with the older generation of serialist and are writing engaging and excellent music. My grandson, who would not be caught dead at the opera, plans weekends to travel to hear works by Glass and Adams. Commissioning new work is THE MOST IMPORTANT THING opera companies do. All else is simply running a museum.

            • oedipe says:

              You are right, Hosokawa’s presence in America largely compensates for the absence, or near absence -since an opera by Eötvös has been staged in the US- of a whole slew of others, whose ONLY claim to glory is their being on my “pet composer” list. (Well, Europeans seems to hold them in high esteem, but that’s irrelevant.)

              Simply forget all the names I mentioned, don’t clog your minds with them, they are superfluous. The composers that get performed in America suffice and are undoubtedly much better.

            • m. croche says:

              Doctors agree: the moving of goalposts is excellent exercise!

            • manou says:

              …so long as you remember to watch your back.

            • oedipe says:

              Hard to watch your back when you are a team of one and your (numerous) opponents are all in agreement that you must be in permanent offside, whatever facts you may provide. (Why am I not surprised?) ;)

            • manou says:

              “Si l’on n’est plus que mille, eh bien, j’en suis ! Si même
              Ils ne sont plus que cent, je brave encor Sylla ;
              S’il en demeure dix, je serai le dixième ;
              Et s’il n’en reste qu’un, je serai celui-là !”

            • CarlottaBorromeo says:

              Actually Boesmans’ Julie did make it across the Channel if not the Ocean. Music Theatre Wales toured it around Britain in 2007. I cannot say I found it particularly interesting but then I wouldn’t say it was particularly well-served by its interpreters…

  • 15
    Rowna says:

    I don’t know how this thread morphed from being about the Chicago Lyric Opera to Kirstine Opolais’ sounding like Tebaldi, but here are some random observations about whose voices sound something like someone else’s. Every now and then when I hear a singer, something reminds me of a “piece” of a voice of someone else. Although Agnes Baltsa was a mezzo, there were some aspects of her vocal presentation that reminded me of Callas (and interestingly -- there are Greek genes involved.) The first time I heard June Anderson, she reminded me of Joan Sutherland -- of course they sang a lot of the same repertoire Ms Gheorghiu also remiss me in some ways of Callas, and Ileana Cotrubas and Gheorghiu has certain similar qualities (again -- same nationality). But getting back to Opolais and Tebaldi, their voices don’t sound similar to me at all, except that in general, they sing the same rep. The most exciting voices are those that have a unique footprint -- a la Richard Tucker, Pavarotti, Sutherland, Price, Caballe,Verrett, Nilsson, Bartoli, etc. Whether it is a peculiar mannerism or something completely individual, they stand the test of time. (I could have added at least 20 more names, but I have to walk Emma now.)

    • 15.1
      Rowna says:

      UGH -- small tablet -- excuse all the misspellings and bad grammar. Emma is crossing her legs and I must run!

      • 15.1.1
        manou says:

        One sincerely hopes Emma is a canine.

          Batty Masetto says:

          It’s more fun to imagine that she’s a lobster.

          Rowna says:

          I know that most parterrians are keenly interested in all things opera, but my pooch, Emma, a French Bulldog by breed, has had a very interesting life. So far, she tries to sing with me, but as soon as I get out my iPhone or recorder, she clams up. She also tries to speak. Very often she must get the glands in a most delicate part of her anatomy “expressed” at the veterinarian, and she knows that when we take her there, this is going to be a likely occurrence. Here she is voicing her opinion: