Sunday, December 23, 2007

Telling It Like It Is

Anthony Tommasini takes a vigorous whack at timid concert programming:
So at the end of 2007 I salute audiences in New York and elsewhere who turned out not just for safe bets but also for challenging fare. For too long presenters of concerts and directors of orchestras, ensembles and opera companies have blamed supposedly tradition-bound audiences for their own timidity. But this year, from my experience, some of the most adventurous programs attracted the most ardent and diverse audiences.
Go, Tony, go!


pjwv said...

I've often had the feeling that maybe it's not the audiences that are timid so much as the administrators, who just assume that audiences are timid. It's also a mistake to assume there's only one audience out there that must not be alienated in any way: I know lots of people who went to Le Grand Macabre, Dead Man Walking, Dr Atomic, and suchlike, who wouldn't have bothered to go see the standard repertoire.

Henry Holland said...

I wouldn't say audiences for non-standard rep are timid, but rather that they are limited in size.

I'll never forget going to a performance of Busoni's wonderful Dr. Faust at ENO; the usher said they'd only sold 13% of the house and almost canceled the performance because it would cost twice as much to put it on as the ticket revenue was bringing in.

I've been in half-empty houses in the UK, Germany, all over the US for stuff that's not even really musically difficult, just obscure and with no marquee value. For stuff that truly *is* difficult, like Reimann's Lear, it's kind of amazing that it's still produced every once in a while.

It's a shame because a lot of fine operas are left unheard; James Conlon's Recovered Voices project here in Los Angeles is a good start, with Schreker's Die Gezeichneten and Braunfel's gorgeous Die Vogel eagerly awaited by me. I listened to a recording of Alfano's Cyrano de Bergerac the other day and the piece is a knockout; same with D'Albert's Die Toten Augen.

Of course, getting the decent singers to give up the lucrative paychecks they can make singing Wagner and Strauss and Verdi to sing in these pieces is another story altogether.

Lisa Hirsch said...

A couple of things -

All opera productions cost twice as much to stage as the ticket revue they bring in. For that matter, it's true for symphony concerts as well. Organizations have to raise as much money from donations as they get in ticket revenue.

13% of the house sold is incredibly sad. I am not sure how well the Busoni sold in San Francisco, but most of the new operas in the last few years have sold out - certainly Dr. Atomic and St. Francois.

Like Patrick, I know a bunch of people who don't care about standard rep and don't know much about singing who went for the new stuff. Most of them liked St. Francois better than I did. :)

I think I agree that it's admins who are timid. Audiences are willing to listen. I think.