Shorter operas

Yesterday’s review of the Glyndebourne Ravel double bill prompted a question from a regular reader as to why that particular combination wasn’t performed more often.  That meshed with some thoughts I’ve been having about why combinations of shorter operas aren’t programmed more often in major houses.  They are pretty much a staple of the indie companies in Toronto, especially where contemporary works are concerned but much less featured by the larger companies.  For example, in the eight completed or planned COC seasons I have data readily to hand for, four of fifty four slots were/will be filled by such combinations.  For the record, The Nightingale etc in 2009/10 (a show that sold out and had an extra performance added), Gianni Schicchi and A Florentine Tragedy in 2011/12, Duke Bluebeard’s Castle and Erwartung this season and Pyramus and Thisbe etc next season.  The last time Opera Atelier did anything comparable was, I think, a pairing of Dido and Aeneas and Blow’s An Ode on the Death of Mr. Henry Purcell but that was a very long time ago.

nightingaleI really don’t know why not.  There are lots of works that last around 45 minutes to 75 minutes that could be done in all sorts of intriguing combinations.  There are verismo classics and works by 19th century composers that would maybe help bring in the more conservative crowd.  There are more recent works of great significance that aren’t often performed because they are short.  Ullmann’s Der Kaiser von Atlantis comes to mind.  Then there are lots of contemporary operas that are short.  Judith Weir’s Blond Eckbert and  Peter Maxwell Davies’ The Lighthouse come to mind. Even more recently, and closer to home, there is Brian Current’s intriguing Airline Icarus.  Obviously these are only a few examples from what is probably a pretty long list.

kaiserMaybe one could program a “crowd pleaser” with something more esoteric?  Il Tabarro and The Lighthouse?  Dido and Aeneas and Airline Icarus?  Would this help expose some people to newer music who would never sign up for a full length opera by Birtwistle or Reimann?  I find the idea intriguing.

Airline Icarus Soundstream

4 thoughts on “Shorter operas

  1. John, I think this is largely an issue with larger companies. In NYC as in Toronto smaller companies will frequently perform double or triple bills. I think there are a couple of reasons why larger companies tend to stay away from most short operas. One is that many of them won’t work in a large house–I can’t imagine Dido and Aeneas at the Met (even though SFO I believe paired it with Bluebeard’s Castle recently). Another factor I believe is the older, more conservative audience at large houses who quite frankly want to keep hearing the same 50 or so operas that sometime in the last century came to be considered the “standard rep.” Than there is the problem of what to pair works with. I actually think Dido and Bluebeard are a great pairing (maybe because they are two of my favorite operas) but absent a major star(s) the Met would be empty. The Met this season has paired Iolanta and Bluebeard (btw HD broacast on Valentine’s Day–maybe next season they will schedule the new production of Lulu on Valentine’s Day). The thinking here being that the combination of Anna and Tchaikovsky would fill the house (which from where I was sitting in the balcony it did). The two works really just don’t work together (well for me, except for Beczala nothing in Iolanta worked). Many people left after Iolanta. They came, they saw Anna, they Bravoed, they left (they also missed a great production of Bluebeard). So I don’t know if the idea of putting something popular–say Gianni Schicchi with Birtwistle works. Maybe as a means to sell tickets, but even then I think the more unusual work would still put off much of the audience.

    • I certainly think there’s a risk that if one did a “pop” and something new a lot of people would leave at the interval but maybe a few would take the “i’ve paid for it I might as well see it” approach and even find they liked it.

      I’d quite like to see the Met double bill but I’m seeing Walküre again tonight and moving back to the Kitten Kondo on Sunday so energy and time might be a bit short.

      Dido has been done in bigger houses. The ROH did it with Sarah Connolly quite recently and back in the day, don’t laugh, Kirstin Flagstad sang the role at the old Mermaid.

      I do like Bluebeard. It’s being paired with Erwartung here which seems fair enough.

      The 50 standard operas crowd are probably beyong hope. As we used to say in the ILP when the oldies were holding things back, “pray for a hard winter”.

      • Have never been to the ROH but I think the Met is a lot bigger. The last time the Met did Bluebeard it teamed it with Ewartung with Norman in both pieces. I was living out of town at the time so I have no idea how it sold. Norman was one of the Met’s biggest draws at the time so it may have done okay. I just don’t think a lot of the audience finds double or triple bills other than Cav/Pag really satisfying and they will stay away absent a star like Anna. We should all be grateful for our small companies and the wonderful artists they hire and unusual works they do.

      • The Met is bigger but I do get a bit amused by the “you can’t do x at the Met because it’s too big” when they do so much Mozart!

        Amen to your last sentence.

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