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Education: Rotterdam Conservatory, Cambridge University // Activities: composition, writing

Monday 7 September 2015

American opera and its critics

Another revealing discussion on Slipped Disc... this time about contemporary opera, and the American way of criticizing it:


The difficulty of thinking out, or rather crawling out, of the aesthetic box of the last century, is still extremely hard for people who got finally more or less adapted to the 20C idea of 'progress' and 'advanced musical language'. On one hand, it is suggested that a new opera should connect with audiences, which are contemporary as a given, but on the other hand the music should be consciously contemporary in the sense of an implied necessity of using an 'advanced musical language'.

'Contemporary audiences' are supposed to like 'advanced' music but mostly they don't, it is the critics who fear to appear in the next volume of Nicolas Slonimsky's 'Lexicon of Musical Invective' and thus, advocate the 'new' of 100 years old. Then you have the contemporary composers who use contemporary entertainment material in the hope that audiences will feel 'connected'. But audiences who go to the opera, are NOT expecting the same banalities they can hear daily everywhere in public space. And when opera houses want to develop new audiences and thus commission such new works, where pop meets world music meets snippets from Bernstein, they create audiences who will find it as much difficult to unterstand Verdi, Monteverdi, Mozart, Wagner and Puccini etc. etc. as if they had never enjoyed the new, contemporary entertainment products. You cannot have it both ways.

I strongly believe, and I know it is for many people an absurd point of view, that only a full embrace of oldfashioned opera music could ever produce a really worthwhile new opera. And I am not the first one saying this:

"Torniamo all'antico: sarĂ  un progresso." (Giuseppe Verdi)

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