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Links: WNO's "Figaro"

In today's Washington Post: WNO's satisfying "Marriage of Figaro," by Anne Midgette.

Edited to add: From The DCist, another view.

By Anne Midgette  |  April 26, 2010; 6:00 AM ET
Categories:  opera  
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Comments

Interesting that you listed "Porgy and Bess" as one of WNO's high-profile operas as opposed to "Marriage of Figaro," the "staple." I'll bet P&B outdraws MOF (I'm assuming WNO is using the superb Zambello staging). And is P&B really less-known repertory at this point in time?

Posted by: BobTatFORE | April 27, 2010 12:02 AM | Report abuse

Absolutely Bob- look at the Opera America compilation of the most performed operas in the US- Porgy doesn't make the top 20, whereas Figaro is 6.

Posted by: ianw2 | April 27, 2010 7:16 AM | Report abuse

And where does Porgy and Bess stand in the rankings of U.S. performances out of the perhaps 800,000 Western operas that have been composed and staged in the past 400 years?

Porgy and Bess is based upon the experiences of African-Americans, and, at least in the U.S., those who financially and artistically control the opera houses are very largely non African-Americans. (While African-Americans are finally converging with all Americans in terms of their earned incomes, they very substantially lag other Americans -- especially European- [white] Americans in terms of wealth -- both self-built and inherited wealth).

Perhaps more American operas would be performed in the U.S. if the governing boards of American opera houses were more evenly represented between European [white]-Americans and non-European [white] Americans -- that is, all Americans.

The Washington National Opera could have been leading the U.S. toward greater American experience representation at the nation's at least partially U.S. taxpayer-supported opera houses by following up Porgy and Bess, next season, with an American opera such as Amy Tan and Stewart Wallace's "The Bonesetter's Daughter", (championed by pro-American opera administration David Gockley in San Francisco) rather than dumbing down its national profile by staging, next season, 12 or 14 performances of Puccini's Madama Butterfly, which was recently staged by the former national company.

Posted by: snaketime1 | April 27, 2010 9:01 AM | Report abuse

Actually snaketime there are bigger problems than that- in the 20 list, not one is in English and not one was written by anyone still alive. Not surprisingly, Puccini was the most recent (or did Leoncavallo die after him? Either way, the point remains).

Butterfly, as I'm sure you're aware, is Number 1.

Posted by: ianw2 | April 27, 2010 10:18 AM | Report abuse

No, ianw2, I don’t believe that you have identified bigger problems.

The representation of the American Experience – in its full, including historic, industrial, warring, scientific, multi-racial, and multi-cultural aspects -- on the stages of partially U.S. taxpayer supported opera houses – including that of the John F. Kennedy Memorial Center (which apparently forgave $1 million in unpaid back rent owed by the supposedly private Washington National Opera) is, I believe, a bigger problem than whether English-language opera – or opera by living composers – is currently represented on the stages of U.S. taxpayer-supported opera houses.

Is it more important, in your opinion, for the now seriously reduced Washington National Opera to stage Britten’s Gloriana or Tippett’s King Priam; or Birtwistle’s The Minotaur, Conyngham’s Fly, or Turnage's The Silver Tassie, than American operas – of any period – which reflect deeply upon epic, American Experience?

And, yes, of course I support the reduced Washington National Opera staging Mozart’s The Marriage of Figaro (although personally I would have preferred that the former national company stage, next season, Beethoven’s Fidelio rather than yet another performance of R. Strauss’s Salome or Elektra).

But then again, the chief musical spokesperson for the Washington Post is a connoisseur of predominately European vocal music, rather than a student of - and champion of - American classical music and opera, and the American Experience. That privileged person is probably thrilled by the choice of Elektra over the choice of an American Experience-themed opera.

Posted by: snaketime1 | April 27, 2010 1:41 PM | Report abuse

... choice of Salome ...

Posted by: snaketime1 | April 27, 2010 2:07 PM | Report abuse

Having seen "The Marriage of Figaro" last evening, I concur with much of Ms. Midgette's review. I found it to be a lively and entertaining production. However, I must object strongly to her statement that "staples...tend to be what they're best at doing." It appears to me that the company expends more effort on new and lesser performed operas. "Jenufa" may have been the most powerful production I have seen in the past 10 years. "A View from the Bridge" and "Peter Grimes" also spring to mind. Some of the staples have been dreary affairs with the performers simply going through the motions. I must confess that I was pleasantly surprised that this was not the case with "Figaro." I welcome more 20th & 21st century works as well as, at least, one American opera per season.

Posted by: tbagdy1 | April 30, 2010 11:14 AM | Report abuse

It’s interesting to see the discussion between snaketime1 and ianw2. It gets to be too academic. I might be simple minded but opera to me is entertainment, and when I pay close to $200 for a ticket I expect to be entertained. As Anne put it, I want to “have a good night at the opera”. That is exactly what I had last night. It does not really matter to me if the opera is in English, German or in Italian as long as it is a good production and delivers on the entertainment and enjoyment value. I had a good time and came out of the opera house humming!

Posted by: Mike-Klein | April 30, 2010 11:34 AM | Report abuse

Thanks tbagdy1.

Mike-Klein, such discussion is hardly academic, but rather dialogue needed to keep the classical music field vital. I estimate that opera is entertainment to approximately 20% of those attending. Perhaps 80% seek a cultural value beyond pure entertainment and enjoyment.

Enjoy Salome or Elektra??!!

(We take out-of-town guests to Figaro this coming week.)

Posted by: snaketime1 | April 30, 2010 2:53 PM | Report abuse

tbagdy1: you're quite right that WNO expends more effort on the less-performed works; that was the point I was trying to make in my review. And you're also right that a lot of the staples at WNO have been kind of so-so. I was making a general statement about opera companies, rather than WNO in particular, when I said that staples were often what companies are best at doing. I've heard lots of administrators complain that they'd done, for instance, a really wonderful Boheme but were unable to get critics to come to anything but the unusual new work. As for Figaro: I was pleasantly surprised too. Glad you liked it.

Posted by: Anne Midgette | April 30, 2010 4:29 PM | Report abuse

Thanks snaketime1. I enjoy a good Salome ( like the concert version presented by NSO with Debra Voight), Elektra or even Wozzek or "Lady Mcbeth of Mtsensk" assuming that it is done right. The best thing I’ve seen this year at the Met was “The Nose” which was a total joy to watch and listen to. I am open minded and go to brand new operas like Tan Dun’s “ Tea a Mirror of Soul” which was in Philadelphia this spring. I still maintain that for a performing art form to survive it needs to provide entertainment value, otherwise it is doomed financially. Unless, of course, the government would further step in to support art that does not appeal to the audiences.

Posted by: Mike-Klein | April 30, 2010 4:39 PM | Report abuse

Thank you, Mike-Klein. I do not advocate government stepping in to support art that does not appeal to audiences, but have you seen a few of the latest Whitney Biennials or the fifth and sixth floors of the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art? Both are private museums. (The SFMOMA will soon merge its collection with the very large Fisher private art collection, almost doubling the collection’s size.)

I advocate government assisting arts organizations which appeal to fairly large numbers of citizens and visitors by providing intellectual, cultural, and artistic stimulation; education in the arts; and some entertainment.

In my opinion, it is the responsibility of 21st century cameratas of artists, scientists, and intellectuals to bridge sometimes challenging, true art which appeals to somewhat large numbers of currently living humans with some government support (transferred from disinterested oligarchs, as achieved in ancient Greece) and highly intelligent and well-trained cultural administrators. I am sure that the excellent Royal Shakespeare Theatre production of “Hamlet” that was shown on public television on Wednesday night received government funding.

(Although I have met William Kentridge on several occasions, I had to miss the MET’s “The Nose.” I am glad that you enjoyed it so much.)

Posted by: snaketime1 | April 30, 2010 5:22 PM | Report abuse

Thank you snaketime1. I have not seen the exhibitions mentioned by you. I believe that government has a role in promoting and supporting art that is less popular. Otherwise we will become a nation of "American Idol" worshipers and that would be a shame.

Posted by: Mike-Klein | May 2, 2010 9:17 PM | Report abuse

Thank you. I agree. And remember that Don Giovanni -- despite its tunes -- is also quite complex and takes some time getting used to. I support the government aiding performances of Don Giovanni -- and Die Frau ohne Schatten -- as well as annual new American opera.

Posted by: snaketime1 | May 3, 2010 9:32 AM | Report abuse

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