Monday, June 18, 2012

The Opera Conference and its discontents

Finished the Opera Conference 2012 in beautiful Philadelphia, having gone in partial settlement of a debt to Opera America for all their help over the years. Grant awards that I assume were sized as moderate assistance to a major company have been to me lifesavers: major assistance to my micro-sized company.

It was a wonderful and eye-opening experience. Clearly the tides of opera have turned since I first joined in the late 90s. Back then, the Opera America Magazine's list of upcoming opera productions of the major companies would be the same every issue, changing only in which company was assigned to which opera. Which reminds one of the story of John Cage during the writing of the first Europera, being allowed into the basement library of the Metropolitan Opera, where he expected to find a vast array of scores covering the history of the art form but was surprised to find only a few handfuls, as really that was all that was necessary year by year. Now, however, companies are scrambling to present new works, either in main stage high-profile commissions, or second or third or Nth productions of smaller or exotic works that have picked up some press, e.g. the famous-for-its-humjob Powder Her Face, or the moving Nico Muhly opus Dark Sisters, the latter of which was presented at the conference, and is in the seemingly growing genre of operas about the complexities of faith.

To an extent, this sea change is due to a die-off of the Old Guard - a descriptive phrase used publicly during the conference - as well as a growing understand of the Death Spiral, to wit, cutting budgets and doing the same-old same-old and finding your ticket income dwindling and then cutting back more and round and round. As for the pilot of a small Beechcraft caught in a tailspin plummeting to earth, one needs to pull back on the stick as it were, and The Way that has been determined to accomplish this is the development of new pieces. Which might possibly be good for those of us who have been doing it. Possibly.

Some high points: the neon-overloaded Geno's vs the tradition-beloved Pat's Cheez Whiz® slathered steak competition, the Mütter museum, the call from Kent Devereaux to talk about coming up to Cornish to teach the young tykes only to find out that we were 50 feet from each other, the walking around the downtown, the kindness of the people of Philadelphia, the Philosophical Society, a bunch of interesting people from staff members of Opera America to producers to opera lovers and kooks and rich folk, the endless drinking, the Persichetti memorial, the follow-on trip to New York for the Bang on a Can Marathon and the visits with more friends, and a lovely meeting with the powerful, intimidating but also quite inviting Beth Morrison.

In the picture above, I am praying. My prayers may be answered. Time will tell.
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