Ideas for new operas

churchSo riffing off an idea raised in comments over at Likely Impossibilities, what books, films, plays, stories or other source material would you like to see made into an opera?  Feel free to suggest a composer and librettist and even cast it if you so wish!  To start the ball rolling I’ll offer up a few suggestions.

Magical realism seems to me a literary mode that’s well suited to operatic adaptation.  Marquez’ Chronicle of a Death Foretold is about the right length for an opera and is straightforward enough while still leaving room to explore ideas.  Some of Halldór Laxness’ shorter works might work quite well.  Under the Glacier or Iceland’s Bell would be possibilities.  This seems to me the sort of territory that might suit Thomas Adès.

beowulfThere are still “big stories” that haven’t been well served by operatic adaptation.  Eric Chisholm’s Canterbury Tales isn’t exactly a staple of the repertoire and Chaucer surely is good opera material.  Beowulf hasn’t been much expolred either.  A collaboration between Seamus Heaney and Harrison Birtwistle could be pretty exciting.

seventh_sealThen there is film.  I have a soft spot for Ingmar Bergman.  I don’t think most of his films would make good operas but The Seventh Seal or The Virgin Spring might.  This might be good territory for Poul Ruders.  Fellini too offers obvious possibilities.  La Strada is a gimme, La Dolce Vita has possibilities and E la nave va wouldn’t be a bad idea.  I can’t think of a suitable contemporary composer though.

Finally there really ought to be an opera about Maria Callas.  Turnage territory perhaps?

The floor is yours.


10 thoughts on “Ideas for new operas

  1. Ooh, what fun! I’d seek out a Birtwistle/Heaney Beowulf in a heartbeat. As a lover of old films (’30s and ’40s,) there are several I could imagine as effective operas, but most of them would do little to rectify the preponderance of suffering sopranos in opera (to put it mildly.)

    The Unbearable Lightness of Being, though, is a novel with operatic possibilities, I think, and I’d love to see its romantic/historical/linguistic dilemmas given music. As I think has been discussed before in various comment threads and Twitter exchanges, I think “Das Leben der Anderen” positively BEGS to be an opera. Still the problem of the suffering woman, but the film knows it’s a problem, and Christa-Maria could be a great role. Also, everyone suffers in that film.

    The question of ideal composers I will leave to braver souls, and the question of which of Iris Murdoch’s novels ought to become operas I will leave to Lydia.

  2. You know Lucy, Paul Newman and Joanne Woodward own the film rights to A Fairly Honourable Defeat? They had bought them while Murdoch was alive, but she wasn’t happy with Peter Ustinov’s screenplay, so nothing happened.

    Yes indeed, novels are difficult because they would have to be turned into a play-like creatures called librettos. And that doesn’t always work.

    Let’s see what contemporary composers have been doing… Many prefer a classical or well-known theatrical text. Irish composer Gerald Barry did The Importance of Being Earnest, and also The Bitter Tears of Petra von Kant. Reimann only chooses super-classical texts (Strindberg, Shakespeare, Lorca, the Greeks). Kurtag is working on his Beckett opera–I think he’s using Godot as is. Wolfgang Rihm did ‘Faust und Yorick’, which was written by the French absurdist Tardieu. He also reworked Hamlet into a thing called ‘Hamlet Maschine’. Detlev Glanert did his ‘Caligula’ based on the Camus’ play.

    I sort of prefer when the composer dares to commission an entirely new text–it is more difficult, more risky. And I’m always in favour of hiring living writers as opposed to paying royalties to an estate… So John Adams, Kaija Saariaho obvs tend to do that… City Opera Vancouver is doing a contemporary opera called Falluja, about the PTSD and war in Iraq. (Funded by an American foundation, the whole thing) COV is also doing The Brokeback Mountain, to be composed by Wuorinen, and the text remains by Annie Proulx. Margaret Atwood and Christos Hatzis are working on an opera called Pauline. Dean Burry is working on an opera-oratorio about the discredited Ontario pathologist Charles Smith. Brian Current did his Airline Icarus, which is about the fear of flying and the role of technology in our lives… (It’s on YT; I keep meaning to see it; premiered in Italy last year.) Elliot Carter did one opera in his life: What Next?, the story of six characters who are involved in a car accident. Henze also used contemporary playwrights…

    So the question is also: what is missing, what non-existent librettos need to be written, what would you like to see an opera about that we haven’t seen and enjoyed in another art form before.

    • Newman and Woodward?! And Peter Ustinov? I have trouble imagining how that might have turned out, but I am intrigued (if Murdoch was displeased, though, I presume substantial reasons.)

      That’s quite an exciting list of on-the-hob and recently-completed works; thanks! You’re right, of course, in noting that building new operas from the ground up, texts and all, may be the most effective way of expanding the canon in ways that are creative and responsive to ideas and events.

    • Wow! Do you maintain a database of contemporary opera projects?

      There are a couple of others I could add. Aaron Gervais’ Enslavement and Liberation of Oksana G. Last I heard it had a pretty good chance of getting produced as a COC/Scottish Opera co-pro. There’s also the Met’s commission of Golijov’s A Short History of Time though I think there are question marks about whether that will ever be completed.

  3. Whitney Houston, her life and music, should come to the stage–the classical Western opera stage (even if it might sound almost ridiculous to a traditional opera devotee). She was brilliant, and she certainly could have been one of, or even the greatest soprano of her generation–were she inclined and if she had been steered onto that career path at an early age. Of course, she came from the African American gospel tradition and segued from there into pop superstardom but her voice and talent were so singular that she really could have done anything, anywhere in the music world, had she put her mind to it.

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