The COC has announced “live” performances for the balance of the 2021/22 season and colour me massively underwhelmed. Obviously, the return to live performance is something we’ve all been waiting for but three dull revival productions of ultra-mainstream operas is not what I had hoped for. For the record here is what’s coming up:
Puccini – Madama Butterfly – February 4th – 25th, 2022. Tghis is the COC production that has been seen umpteen times already at the COC and it has absolutely nothing to say. One had hoped that if and when the COC did this piece again they would come up with a new production that wasn’t so transparently colonialist.
Verdi – La Traviata – April 23rd – May 20th, 2022. Another basically dull, traditional production though, at least, as Douglas Adams might say “mostly harmless”.
Mozart – The Magic Flute – May 6th – 21st, 2022. This is the production that the original director called “feminist” though anything “feminist” or, indeed, “anythingist” has escaped me on the multiple occasions I’ve seen it.
So there it is. Looks like a “lowest common denominator” approach to luring back the traditional crowd. It’s certainly hard to see how it helps with reaching out to new audiences or to achieving any of the bold goals of diversity, inclusion and telling stories relevant to today’s audience that were bruited so loud during lockdown.
While the selection of operas and productions does seem conservative I’m interested in discussing why they might have settled on these choices? First, do we know for sure the Butterfly is the much revived Brian MacDonald staging? Guessing yes but as they haven’t announced any details of directors or casting I guess we don’t know yet. But assuming it is that production, the COC seems to have settled on shows they already own or co-own and one therefore assumes are relatively economical to stage vs going for new productions or unusual works. I also feel that their lack of strong artistic leadership in the past 1 year+ hasn’t helped. Perryn Leech would most likely not had much of a say in these choices? One assumes? This also shows quite bare facedly how precarious opera is in this country in that the national company has to ‘come back’ live with very safe titles and stagings. It seems symptomatic of a bigger story.
I think there are enough clues in the presser to conclude that all three are revivals.
I think you are right about “precariousness” but that still means there are choices to be made about what audience they want to get back. As Katja said when I told her what was happening; “I don’t know what audience they are trying to attract but it isn’t us”.
They could have done two war horses and thrown in something bolder but not expensive just to show that they weren’t a third tier provincial US company. The Duke Bluebeard/Erwartung double bill would be cheap enough or how about, say, Turn of the Screw.
I don’t agree with your notion that it’s “lack of artistic leadership”. Perryn has been in place for months and one would imagine he would want to stamp his authority on the first season to be identified with him. As far as I know too, both Johannes Debus and Sandra Horst are still on the payroll. And, at the end of the day, the board signed off on this.
All in all, it worries me. It seems to mean one of two things; either the COC is broke and believes that the best survival strategy is to be as boring as possible (which I don’t buy… at best it’s death by a thousand cuts) or it’s a conscious artistic decision i.e. now we’ve got rid of that pesky German we can go back to the stuff we like. Or, possibly, they think that if they do Parsifal in the fall all will be forgiven and forgotten. Bleh!
You make good points here. I strongly suspect this is mainly a money issue but true they could have revived something like the Bluebeard for one would assumed even less cost. I think the fact that it’s just a three opera ‘season’ also has something to do with it. They probably didn’t feel they could risk anything off the beaten track for what will effectively be a third of the season. I doubt their Chorus Master would have anything remotely to say in this matter frankly. The Music Director, yes, one would hope so! If even one of these productions were more interesting as concepts would have gone a long way into making the choices seem less uninspired.
I found this post very interesting. Here in NYC where we have the most traditional and reactionary opera audience in the world, the Met (which for years has been in financial distress) is doing three operas–Hamlet, Eurydice and Fire Shut Up In My Bones (the latter the first work the Met has ever performed by an African-American composer and the opening night) that had their premiers in the last five years. Given the Met’s audience I doubt any of these works will sell much more than 50% . I really do not like Gelb, but I will give him credit for this.
It’s a very good point. I’m especially pleased to see Hamlet, which I admire greatly, in the line-up. Katja, always more acerbic then myself in these matters, did point out that Fire Shut Up in My Bones did seem to have been designed to tick the most possible “progressive” boxes while probably offering little to challenge the traditional Met audience.