Opera for a new century

As 2011 draws to a close I got to thinking about which, if any, “new” operas might survive infancy (for the survival rate of new operas seems to be roughly comparable to newborns in an 18th century foundlings hospital). My knowledge of new opera isn’t comprehensive and it’s biased to the English speaking world. Is it my imagination or is there a major split in this area between continental Europe and the angloverse? Or is there simply not much new work being produced on the Continent? Anyway here’s a far from complete list of operas that premiered in 2000 or after and my thoughts on their likely longevity.

John Adams Doctor Atomic 2005. Not Adams’ best work in my opinion. The libretto is pretty awful but there are some good orchestral lines and it’s a great subject. It probably has a future because it’s by Adams.

Harrison Birtwistle Minotaur 2008. Early days but the equally good (IMO) Gawain never got any traction. It’s also a pretty uncompromisingly atonal approach to a classical subject in a world where “tabloid opera” seems to be the thing. It’s probably undeservedly doomed though the fact that a really good video recording is available may help it.

Thomas Adès Tempest 2009. Already scheduled for the Met with a starry cast so has good survival chances.

Marc Anthony Turnage Anna Nicole 2011. I hate it but it fits the contemporary Zeitgeist.

Oswaldo Golijov Ainadamar 2003. A brilliant score but I bet it’s a bugger to stage. Probably doomed.

Jake Heggie Dead Man Walking 2000. This is well established in the US and has, crucially, been performed a few times outside the angloverse. Probably a survivor.

Kaija Saariaho L’Amour de Loin 2000. One of only two non English language opera on the list. Seems to have traction in both Europe and North America. Survivor?

Thoughts good people?

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8 thoughts on “Opera for a new century

  1. Hello John,

    I continue to hold my belief that opera is going through a ‘mini dark age’.

    Oh where is the Wagner, Mussorgsky and Debussy of today ??

  2. All goog inclusions, John. I’m like you–part of me wants to hate Anna Nicole and the other half wants to see it. What about Moby Dick, John? Should that be on the list?

  3. When I first saw Anna Nicole, I didn’t like it but now that I’ve watched it a few times, I’m starting to like it.

    Although written in 1968, Mieczysław Weinberg’s The Passenger was only staged properly in 2010. I haven’t seen it yet, either live or on DVD, but I have a feeling this one may be a ‘stayer’.

    • I had the same reaction to Doctor Atomic. In fact I left at the interval at the MetHD broadcast. Watching the Amsterdam production a few weeks later I liked it a lot more. I do think the libretto’s clunky though. The scene with General Groves and his chocolate cake takes banality to levels even Rossini can’t match. I guess I shall have to give Anna Nicole another go.

  4. Reimann’s Medea!!!! It’s totally great. Also totally atonal, so its chances in North America are pretty close to nonexistent. But it was the most exciting new opera I’ve ever seen.

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