29 November 2008

Qual’ Coltello! Cutting Back in Opera World

Pretty, isn’t it? But did you notice the seats are empty?

The continuing economic crisis is being felt in the opera house. Washington National Opera recently cancelled its planned Ring Cycle, while the Metropolitan Opera Company announced that it would not go forward with a scheduled revival of John Corigliano’s The Ghosts of Versailles, a production that is very big (and therefore very expensive) of a work that is very modern (and therefore a tough sell to New York audiences, who run from anything newer than Turandot). To replace Ghosts, the Met is presenting Franco Zeffirelli’s La Traviata, a work formerly by Giuseppe Verdi that requires only three principal singers, a familiar score, and lots of furniture for the audience to applaud.

These are just a few of the cutbacks and cancellations occasioned by the troubled economy. American opera companies especially are in jeopardy, since they rely so heavily on contributions from a public that is no longer employed by major financial institutions; but even European companies, blessed with government subsidies, are feeling the pinch. For the benefit of my opera-loving readers, I provide a brief rundown of the companies and their responses to hard times.

The Metropolitan Opera Company
Ghosts will not be the only victim at the Met. A total of 27 new productions must be scrapped; all of them will be replaced with Franco Zeffirelli’s La Bohème, starring Renée Fleming, Natalie Dessay, and Justin Timberlake (debut).

The New York City Opera
Currently homeless (while Lincoln Center’s New York State Theater is remodeled) and cash-strapped, NYCO was in hot water even before the crisis cranked up. But much as it’s done in the past, Manhattan’s scrappy, populist company has devised truly innovative solutions. Concert performances in alternate venues around the city are planned, in conjunction with a special “Can You Find Us?” contest. The “Adopt a Singer” program gives audiences the chance to bid for the legal adoption of promising young American artists. Perhaps most exciting is the “NYCO Lottery,” the winner of which will receive all rights to Lauren Flanigan and the directorship of the company.

Chicago Lyric Opera
Having enjoyed success in recent seasons with Sondheim’s Sweeney Todd and Gilbert & Sullivan, general director William Mason announced plans to present the national touring companies of Spring Awakening, Spamalot, and Gypsy this season. Next fall, Chicago favorite Catherine Malfitano returns for a role debut, in Jerry Herman’s Hello, Dolly!.

You’re lookin’ swell!

San Francisco Opera
General director David Gockley has announced exciting new plans to sit in the dark with his head in his hands, staring forlornly into space, while moaning softly. Gockley further announced that, if composer Jake Heggie is willing to play piano in the background, they may be able to get away with calling this a new opera.

Houston Grand Opera
More repertory changes are expected at Texas’ largest company, beginning with a five-year cycle of the operas of the ever-popular Michael Tippett; the world premiere of Huw-Dafydd Cromlech’s Llewellyn ap Gruffydd; and an innovative outreach project, “The All-Star Lone-Star Eisteddfod,” a city-wide festival in which various community organizations join forces to enact scenes from The Mabinogion. Planned productions of Madama Butterfly, The Marriage of Figaro, Tosca, and Don Pasquale have been abandoned, being “irrelevant to Houstonians,” according to a press release. Though most roles will be taken by members of the company’s acclaimed Studio Artists program, look for the long-awaited American debut of Dame Angharad Gwalchmai-Cunddelw, in 2010.

English National Opera
Remaining at least half-faithful to the company’s mandate to present opera in English, ENO has announced a season of works by Andrew Lloyd Webber, beginning with Starlight Express, which will mark the return of company favorite Jane Eaglen. Each performance will begin with a special “Strip-a-Thon”: the baritone with the most pounds tucked into his G-string will be awarded the role of Don Giovanni, one of these years.

Deutsche Oper Berlin
With typical German efficiency, this venerable company will dispense with music altogether. Beginning in May 2009, cutting-edge stage directors will be engaged each evening to stand downstage center and hurl insults and garbage at spectators.

Bavarian State Opera
Elsewhere in Germany, Intendants look to the past for solutions. Munich’s company will reinstate the monarchy next season, and is currently engaged in a search for any gay guy named Ludwig who’ll pay the bills.

Los Angeles Opera
Despite hard times, general director Plácido Domingo continues to reach out to Hollywood’s moviemaking community. An ambitious 2009–10 season promises nothing but movies about opera, while a summer-long “Festival of the Smaller Screen” features television episodes about opera, and the entirety of that Nathan Lane sitcom where he played a retired tenor. Josh Groban hosts. Valet parking and validation on request.

New Orleans Opera
First Katrina, now this. Seriously, what did they do to deserve this?

Utah Opera, Salt Lake City
Praying even harder than usual.

Opéra National de Paris
It’s always about money to you Americans, isn’t it? Liberal pigs!


Anonymous said...

Nice piece -and I thought Americans didn't do sarcasm! Some very well directed barbs for those who can take themselves too seriously -even if these are serious times for opera companies the world over

William V. Madison said...

Is it sarcasm? I think of it really as joking to keep from crying. A lot of good companies are in peril -- and thus a lot of good music may go unheard.
To say nothing of good people out of work.

Anonymous said...

And in yesterday's mail we received an astonishing announcement from the Fort Worth Opera that it has ended this year with a net profit. A cultural renaissance in Texas?!

Anonymous said...

Yes, Fort Worth Opera is the greatest!!!!