[Dixielandjazz] Bringing something new to the party:

Steve Barbone barbonestreet at earthlink.net
Thu Jan 11 07:45:05 PST 2007

This article is about Opera. Specifically how the Metropolitan Opera Company
in NYC is reinventing their presentations . . . to packed houses . . . in
spite of some negative reviews by "critics". As the first paragraph asks;
"Could opera companies have better proof that today¹s audiences are hungry
for new works?"

Note especially the last 3 paragraphs which describe an Operatic version of
F Scott Fitzgerald's "Great Gatsby" and the adaptation of American Popular
music of the 1920s. Like "jazz age pop tunes, subtly spiked with astringent
modern harmonies." 

The article is excerpted and the three dots (. . .) after a sentence
indicate that there is a a sentence and/or paragraph left out, between that
and the next sentence, in the interest of brevity.

Does this mean we Dixielanders should adapt some Opera to our mix? Should we
do a little Puccini subtly spiked with syncopation? :-) VBG

Steve Barbone

New Operas at the Met: What Works?

NY TIMES - By ANTHONY TOMMASINI - January 11, 2007

The Metropolitan Opera has to be discouraged by the mostly negative critical
reactions to ³The First Emperor,² Tan Dun¹s ambitious opera, which had its
world premiere at the house on Dec. 21. The good news for the Met, though,
is that its run, through Jan. 25, is sold out, including this Saturday¹s
matinee, to be broadcast on radio and in high-definition screenings at more
than 100 movie theaters around the world. Could opera companies have better
proof that today¹s audiences are hungry for new works? . . .

Are there lessons to be learned?. . .

The score could be taken as a cautionary lesson about the challenges of
combining music from different cultures. There seems to be an assumption
today that the blending of Eastern and Western musical traditions is
intrinsically interesting. Is contemporary Western opera in trouble? Just
inject a jolt of Asian music. Sounds good, except it depends on who is doing
the mixing. . .

The success of any new opera depends to a large degree on its theatrical
viability. Does the work hold the stage? Is the dramatic pacing right? Does
it tell a story, create vivid characters?

These things matter. Still, like many buffs, I go to the opera to hear great
music. Think of all the theatrically hapless operas with convoluted plots,
like Verdi¹s ³Trovatore.² Yet ³Il Trovatore² has such rich, subtle and
emotionally penetrating music that, at least during a good performance, I am
lulled into thinking a complex human drama is unfolding onstage. . .

In retrospect Mr. Harbison¹s adaptation of F. Scott Fitzgerald¹s ³Great
Gatsby² seems by far the most distinguished of the three Met commissions.
Perhaps just by taking on this landmark American novel Mr. Harbison set
himself an impossible challenge. And it might have been a mistake for him to
write his own libretto, though it effectively compresses the story and
liberally quotes from the novel. Still he might have benefited from being
forced to contend with a strong librettist during the creative process.

For me, Fitzgerald¹s characters come through touchingly in this opera. The
evocation of the pop songs and dance music of the 1920s is ingenious: Mr.
Harbison had Murray Horwitz write snappy song lyrics for which he composed
his own riffs on Jazz Age pop tunes, subtly spiked with astringent modern
harmonies. The music of ³The Great Gatsby² is always elegant, mysterious and
captivating. . .

I can¹t wait to experience again John Adams¹s ³Doctor Atomic,² which had its
debut last season at the San Francisco Opera and is coming to the Met in two
seasons. Mr. Adams is making some adjustments to the score. You could
consider that San Francisco premiere production to be the ultimate workshop.

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