New season, less opera: Chicago, LA in 2010-11
Tis the season for opera companies and orchestras to announce their upcoming seasons. And 2010-11 is a season of cutbacks; the Washington National Opera is not the only company tightening its belt.*
The Chicago Lyric Opera, for example, announced Tuesday that it is still presenting eight productions in 2010-11, but giving fewer performances of them (which is interesting; I always thought that the prevalent strategy was to perform an opera as many times as you could once you'd spent the money to mount it in the first place, especially since four of the eight productions are brand-new, and two more are new to the company. But you do have to be able to sell enough tickets to make money off of it).
(read more after the jump)
Chicago's program also, like Washington's, steers away from the offbeat to a certain extent. The most unusual (or, let's say, least canonical) works are new productions of Britten's "A Midsummer Night's Dream" and Handel's "Hercules" (both company premieres, both featuring David Daniels); "Hercules" is directed by Peter Sellars. In a smart piece of intramural play, Verdi's "Macbeth" (with Thomas Hampson and Nadja Michael) will be directed by Barbara Gaines, the artistic director of the Chicago Shakespeare Theater; I wish opera companies were generally better at playing together in this way with other organizations in their home cities. (In New York, the Met's much-vaunted announcement of its joint commissioning project with the Lincoln Center Theater has not yet brought tangible results.) Add Johan Botha and Emily Magee in "Lohengrin" and Sondra Radvanovsky and Stephanie Blythe in "Ballo in Maschera" and you have several operas worth seeing. In the Chicago Tribune, John van Rhein outlines some of the company's financial difficulties.
The Los Angeles Opera, WNO's half-sibling (since the two share a parent in the person of Plácido Domingo) has equally grave financial woes: even with the $14 million emergency bailout from the county that the company received late last year, it's cut back its season to 6 productions (down from 10 at its peak) and 42 performances. At the same time, the company is getting, in the calendar year 2010, two things denied to Washington: a complete Ring cycle at the end of the 2009-10 season (which may have been the last straw on the L.A. company's financial back), and a world premiere of a new opera from the Americas: Daniel Catan's "Il Postino," finally coming to the stage, after a postponement, to open the season in September and October, with Domingo in the role of Pablo Neruda. L.A. has something else Washington doesn't have: a dynamic music director in the person of James Conlon, who has, however, had to suspend one of his pet projects, the "Recovered Voices" series of operas written by composers who were censored by the Nazis.
The San Francisco Opera, which announced its season last week, is defying the financial climate by growing rather than cutting: adding a few performances more than it staged last season. It is also presenting the world premiere of the Zambello "Götterdämmerung" that Washington postponed indefinitely, and gets bragging rights by being the first company to present her "American Ring" complete. San Francisco is presenting its share of "Figaros" and "Butterflies," but it, too, has a dynamic new music director, Nicola Luisotti, in its favor, and is doing a couple of less-canonical operas (as mentioned in previous comments here): "The Makropoulos Case," with Karita Mattila (for whom Emilia Marty is probably a better fit than Tosca), and Alfano's "Cyrano de Bergerac," that confectionery showcase for the ubiquitous Domingo, who has not sung with the SFO since 1994.
The balance sheet? The recession may be taking its toll, but it's leaving glimmers of light as well, and it still seems to be hitting particularly hard in Washington (though it's hard to imagine how the Los Angeles Opera can survive that $14 million loan).
*(WNO has, incidentally, confirmed that Francesca Zambello will direct next season's "Salome," something that had not yet been finalized when the company announced its season on January 12.)
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