by Barry Drogin
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Although I am usually not pleased with meta-conversations (conversations about what to have conversations about), I think it is becoming appropriate to consider what this listserv has been, what it was intended to be, and how we can make it work. The listserv was founded around 1995-96, and I have been a member since 1996.
C-OPERA has seen the following types of postings:
1. Technical questions of the list. Some of these have come from academics and students trying to collect research data, some have been searches for recordings, names of operas, and the like. These kinds of questions typically result in a small flurry of responses, and are never heard of again.
2. Performance announcements. Since this is an international list, the net effect is, "If you happen to be in town, or wish to make the trip, here's a press release." There has never been any follow-up to these postings, either.
3. Calls for scores. There've been a couple of these, usually very specific about the type of work sought, the performance forces, and so on. I've yet to see a posting about the result of these calls, so it is impossible to gauge whether the results have been successful, i.e., whether a production has resulted.
4. Calls for co-productions. Again, no one has ever reported any results.
5. Reviews of productions. There have been two types: regurgitations of reviews written for a lay audience, and overviews and/or personal opinions written specifically for listserv consumption. Both types can be informative, but usually only generate some questions for more information, related recordings, etc.
6. Member introductions. These usually result in off-listserv communications.
7. Problems of creation. These are usually calls for help, sometimes for emotional support, sometimes for opinion. Some of these have been a little ridiculous (remember "Al Wants To Write A Musical"?), some more serious ("Political Correctness Problem").
8. Announcements of New Op meetings.
9. Topics. Are poets good librettists? Should a composer write their own libretto? Can anyone write for voice? Why is opera in such a sorry state (or is it)? Is multiple casting unusual?
10. Periodic inquiries to the list as to whether it has died. This is because the list typically goes quiet for months at a time.
To find out what the list was intended to be, one need only look at the welcome message that members receive upon joining:
"We hope that you will take the opportunity to introduce yourself to the
list at large and let others on the list know of:
* your own, or your company's, background and interests in contemporary opera
* calls for composers, librettist, designers, directors, singers, musicians, etc., for new productions
* new productions you currently have underway
* new productions for which you are seeking co-producers/presenters
* previously premiered work for which you are seeking second productions
* reviews of contemporary music theater or opera productions that might be of interest to the list at large.
This list came about as a result of the International Meeting of Contemporary Music-Theater and Opera, an annual meeting of opera companies, producers and creators from around the world. The objective is to see a more cooperative communication and relationship develop between members who have common artistic objectives in advancing and advocating a contemporary appreciation of the evolving music-theater and opera form in all its aspects."
Now let's briefly compare what the list has been to what it was intended to be:
1. Technical questions of the list - uses the listserv as a resource, but
irrelevant to its purpose.
2. Performance announcements. - uses the listserv as a marketing tool, which may be the first step in forming a relationship
3. Calls for scores - explicitly encouraged
4. Calls for co-productions - explicitly encouraged
5. Reviews of productions - explicitly encouraged when it doesn't conflict with "advancing and advocating" opera
6. Member introductions - explicitly encouraged
7. Problems of creation - when it falls under "new productions you currently have underway," explicitly encouraged
8. Announcements of New Op meetings - to be expected
9. Topics - this can contribute to identifying "common artistic objectives" among members, but was never intended as an end in itself
10. Periodic inquiries to the list as to whether it has died - well, what can you do?
Some rhetorical questions can be raised. Are we just another listserv? Is this just a mailing list of people who want to read mail about contemporary opera? Why are we moderated? What does this have to do with the meetings that many listserv members do not attend? How many of you have actually met Lukas Pairon or Kent Devereaux?
(Now look up the word "rhetorical" in the dictionary.)
The primary goal of this list, if you know anything about the meetings and the moderators, is the generation of co-productions. Everything else is fallout. The extent to which members bring their own agendas to the list (I'm lonely, I'm isolated, I want attention, I want to show off, I want to appear important, I want to learn, I want to get e-mail, I want to put in my two cents, I want to talk, I'm depressed, I want to justify my degree in music, etc.) would be a minor irritant to the list if, in fact, the list were regularly meeting its objective.
Can this listserv be saved? I think it can. The "threads" that members post should be periodic updates on their artistic projects. When someone from Walpurgis meets with a creative team, they should post about it. Later, as the work is developed, they should post again, perhaps examples of the script, the score, whatever. Castings should be posted, then projected performance dates. If another company has interest, they should post it, and the results posted, too. If there is a technical snag, maybe someone on the list can help. This kind of active exposure of the workings of each production will be the best way this listserv has of creating the possibility of co-productions BEFORE a piece is performed and lost.
Of course, there are members out there who think that this is just another listserv, and are very angry that anyone would suggest otherwise. As a radical civil libertarian, I think it's ridiculous that some think I'm censoring them when I question the appropriateness of their postings TO THIS LIST. I'm not a moderator, and I have no power. I've goosed the list on occasion, I've weighed in on most "topics", but to what end? Does this list belong to the twenty or so "writers" with opinions, or to the one hundred twenty or so members who joined so that they could advance their professional careers and the art form as a whole?
I'm not interested in continuing this meta-conversation about the listserv itself ON THE LISTSERV. If you've read this far and MUST respond, send your personal hate mail to me (firstname.lastname@example.org). If you disagree, keep up these discussions about topics you care about and kill the art form in the process. If you agree, write to the list about what you're working on NOW. And keep writing. Maybe something will happen.
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