Is opera dead?

by Barry Drogin

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A listserv member wrote:

What do you think are some of the defining features or most important trends in recent opera? I'm particularly interested in the relationship between musical and dramatic structure. I know it's a vague question, but maybe it will inspire some discussion.

"Defining" features and "most important" trends? What I myself am working on is the most important, and I don't have the perspective to define my own features. An alternative response is: Opera is dead and contemporary opera does not exist, speaking in general terms. We're all struggling to create a rebirth, but we ain't there yet. Therefore, the most important trend in recent opera, and its defining feature, is that it barely exists in the public eye, and that its creators are isolated from participating in any kind of dynamic dialogue or intellectual ferment. Thus the c-opera listserv and NewOp meetings.

Now I AM interested in the relationship between musical and dramatic structure, but isn't that something we all try to grapple with from piece to piece? I'd like to think that lietmotifs are discarded as yesterday's invention, but the only recent "trend" I can identify is a disappointing one: much contemporary opera I hear (and I hear mainly American opera from my location) sounds like film scores with a vocal line tacked on as an afterthought, and as such is unsuccessful. A strong opinion, obviously with my own personal agenda, but what else can be expected?

As Maury Yeston said (maybe an embarrassing citation!), every piece we listen to is "a lecture, a lesson" in how to create our own, and so we run off to hear each other's work. And as I've said before, I believe in the validity of all aesthetic experience. Maybe there's some "worth" in getting us to try to characterize each other's work and spot "trends," but as we are mainly advocates for our own work, and passionate about it, it might turn into more of a spectator sport --- fun to watch, but destructive to the participants.

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A Musical Contrarian 1999-2006

Last Updated: August 4, 2007