Sunday, December 04, 2016

Shocked, Shocked

Last week, it transpired that the Metropolitan Opera won't be performing a new opera by Osvaldo Golijov after all. Neither party is saying much about what happened or why the project is being canceled. From Michael Cooper's article:
The opera house and the composer were circumspect about why the project, which was more than a decade in the making, had been called off. The Met said in a statement this week that it had parted ways with Mr. Golijov because of “conflicting schedules” but would not elaborate. Mr. Golijov declined a request for an interview; his publisher, Boosey & Hawkes, cited an unspecified “difference in artistic vision” for the demise of the project.
Let me hazard a guess that Golijov's ongoing creative block is what's responsible; he has been having problems following through on commissions for years now.

However, "more than a decade in the making" does not reflect well on the Met: other composers are able to deliver commissions within a few years, and the company must have given Golijov an unusual degree of latitude to let the project drag on for so long. Consider, for example, the Pulitzer Prize-winning composer Paul Moravec: he has deliver The Letter (2008), Danse Russe (2011), and The Shining (2016) in less than the time it has taken Golijov to not deliver a score to the Met.

In response to this news, Anne Midgette took a long, hard, look at the Met's commissioning program and concluded that it is boneheaded. Okay, that is not what she says, well, not directly, but she is completely right about how misguided it is. The big problem is that the program doesn't commit the Met to actually staging anything that they commission; they can run workshops until the cows come home, but composers are not guaranteed a performance, although they do get paid for their work.

This seems very unfortunately to be typical of the Met. Over a long period - their whole damn history, in fact - there's been a very slight degree of commitment to commissioning and performing new music. Here is a list of Met world premieres:
  1. La Fanciulla del West
  2. Koningskinder
  3. Monda (Parker)
  4. Cyrano (Damrosch)
  5. Madeleine
  6. Madame Sens-Gen
  7. Goyescas
  8. The Canterbury Pilgrims
  9. The Robin Woman: Shanewis
  10. The Dance in Place Congo (ballet)
  11. Il Trittico (Il Tabarro, Suoer Angelica, Gianni Schicchi)
  12. The Temple Dancer
  13. The Blue Bird
  14. Cleopatra's Night
  15. Skyscrapers
  16. The King's Henchman
  17. Peter Ibbetson
  18. The Emperor Jones
  19. Merry Mount (world stage premiere)
  20. In the Pasha's Garden
  21. The Man Without a Country
  22. The Island God
  23. The Warrior
  24. Vanessa
  25. Antony & Cleopatra
  26. Mourning Becomes Electra
  27. The Ghosts of Versailles
  28. The Voyage
  29. Babbitt Piano Concerto (Met Orch at Carnegie Hall)
  30. The Great Gatsby
  31. An American Tragedy
  32. The First Emperor
  33. The Enchanted Island (pastiche)
Many of these works have sunk without a trace, although there are a few very bright lights in there....most of them written by Puccini. It's true that the Met has also performed a bunch of recent work not commissioned by the Met, including three operas by John Adams, Thomas Ad├Ęs's The Tempest, and Nico Muhly's Two Boys

Still, you could wish that the country's most prestigious opera company would taking some kind of lead in recruiting composers to compose operas, matching them with good librettists, and then following through by staging the resulting operas. They are certainly hamstrug by factors somewhat beyond their control: the enormous cost of staging opera in NYC, their gigantic theater, and the lack of a smaller, perhaps nonunion, venue - say a thousand seats? - where they could stage new opera at a lower cost and with much less risk, perhaps drawing on their young singers' program.

You should definitely read Anne's article, which goes into a lot of detail about issues with the Met program; also take a look at Justin Davidson's article about new opera at the Met. He's absolutely right that composers rarely get it right with their first opera (or operas); the exceptions include Mozart, Berg, and Britten, so you see.


CruzSF said...

I'm going to read Midgette's article now, but I'm also going to check out this title heavy with potential: Skyscrapers(!).

Dr.B said...

I am an admirer of Golijov and have concluded that he should move back to Argentina, his musical home. This sad to hear but not unexpected.

Eric G said...

Two points:

Muhly's "Two Boys" was co-commissioned by the Met, with ENO - as part of the Met's partnership with LCT.

And, Justin made point about Golijov's first opera - but his never to be realized work for the Met would not be his first. His "Ainadamar" has been a successful work (separate from the oratorio "La Pasion segue San Marcos").

Lisa Hirsch said...

Eric, you're quite right about Ainadamar and Two Boys. I didn't really make my own main point strongly enough in this post: the Met has a long, long history of not giving a damn about commissions and even about new music. There was that season not long ago when they had only two operas written after Turandot, for example. I should have cast more blame on James Levine for this, and on every general director the company has had.

Craig, let me know what you find. :)

Alex said...

Truly new work aside, I think they could be getting a lot more mileage out of doing great second or third productions of recent works. We would likely be living in a much better space for new opera if there was an expectation that if you make a splash at Houston or Philadelphia, the Met is likely to produce the touring show, or maybe even do a new production with a starry cast.

I suppose the logic is that there is more cachet to an entirely new work, but given the number of premieres that have been briefly hyped then forgotten, that doesn't really seem to hold. I didn't love something like Heggie's Moby Dick but it's now been lauded in lots of places while most in the tristate area have no expectation of seeing it. That seems odd, no?

Anonymous said...

I've had my own encounter with a Golijov commission that wasn't quite ready.

Lisa Hirsch said...

My only review of a Golijov work was half-admiring, half-mocking, owing to risible use of a shofar trio at the end of the piece.

Alex, I agree with you. There are dozens of good operas out there that deserve a second, third, fourth, Nth production. I would like to see more of Tobias Picker's work in SF, especially Emmeline, which was a Racette vehicle when new. A friend remarked to me last week that Carlisle Floyd's operas are good (and he specifically mentioned Cold Sassy Tree, another Racette vehicle). I wish SFO would bring over any of Thomas Ades's operas; even more, Birtwistle's. We've never had Moses und Aron.

Yeah, it seems very strange that the Met hasn't picked up Moby.