Is Opera Dead?

Opera is a particularly tricky genre to exploit nowadays when so many of its constituent parts have themselves mutated markedly over the past fifty years, yet the usual home for performances is a building whose traditions are better suited to an outmoded form of dramatic presentation. Opera, music drama, music theatre, or whatever, nearly always seems to be lagging behind present-day possibilities, not least because it’s usually stuck in these houses which belong to a different era.

The only opera I’ve heard close to its inception when I knew it was a masterpiece (and I speak as someone who grew up in the 1970s) was John Adams’ Nixon in China.

I always think that when people come out of performances scratching their heads, and saying, don’t know, what do you think, that bit with the flutes was nice, the performance has failed. It’s got to grab you, even if you don’t understand it all at a first hearing.

How I would love to have been present at those Britten or Shostakovich premieres.

What is opera, if not a flawed art form?


2 Responses to “Is Opera Dead?”

  1. Good post, Robin. I’ve always thought of opera as a very high-risk venture. It’s a rare performance that gets me, but when it does, it’s with the most powerful high. I think opera lovers keep going to the opera, and sitting through a lot of so-so performances, in hopes of experiencing that rare and remarkable thrill. It’s like a drug.

    • Grazie, Principessa!

      My expectations of opera are so high that I have had many disappointments, but, yes, when it comes together, it’s amazing. My greatest experience of opera happened quite by chance when I decided on a whim to see Peter Grimes at the Royal Opera House back in 1984. In the first interval I consulted my programme and realized that Haitink was conducting!

      The performance was unforgettable; but that whole experience was marked by so much for me personally, including missing the last train back to York … my girlfriend of the moment and I had to stay the night in a friend’s bedsit in Earl’s Court.

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