Gatecrashing the NOA

by Barry Drogin

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I snuck into a few hours of the National Opera Association's 44th Annual Convention here in NYC (don't worry, Sally, I spent my twenty bucks to see your piece at MSM). Sorry to speak in metaphors, but it felt like a Rembrandt scholar convention, replete with art historians, a few museum curators, expert restorers, the occasional aspiring student. Rushing through the hallways shouting, "Rembrandt is dead! Rembrandt is dead!" wouldn't have served much purpose. Every major city has its Rembrandt, and all these people are so INTERESTED in the subject --- I guess they have a right to their little corner of academia.

Leaving this metaphor behind, this was, as Sally warned, a gathering of academics. Everyone was so ENCOURAGING, and there was so much thinking going on --- opinions, theories, pet peeves, whatever. The priorities are well summarized in Manhattan School of Music's full-page ad on the back cover of the convention program, listing teachers in "Voice", "Opera Studies", "Accompanying", "Jazz/Commercial Music" and "Related Vocal Studies" (diction, movement, literature, German): singer fodder for Opera America's member companies.

They're very interested in new work of a very particular sort: educational work for student voices, especially if it's got lots of women's voices, and work for performance in educational settings, i.e. in front of student audiences (Sally's Vice President of Opera For Youth, whose convention in in June). They also enjoy work that presupposes an audience that has done its homework; thus, Sally's opera, "Paris and Oenone," being a twist on the golden apple myth (precious if not flippant), and "talk opera," in which Rigoletto's main characters are subjected to a 90's daytime talk show (ditto, but finding its perfect audience). I congratulate them on creating and sustaining their own market although, unlike band music, no one's interested in sticking them into the occasional parade or homecoming game for general consumption.

What bothers me most was how, for academics who know the smallest minutiae about matters of a hundred years ago, they are all so blissfully unaware of music theatre and the current opera scene. The creator of "talk opera," who lives in New Jersey, had never heard of "Dennis Cleveland." NewOp? What's that? The Opera America membership is similarly ignorant. Makes you wonder, no?

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A Musical Contrarian 1999-2007

Last Updated: August 4, 2007