PARIS, 27 July 2005—We received the following comment from one of our readers in
the United States in reaction to Lukas Pairon's
provocative essay, "
Opera Houses Under
Fire: a Manifesto for a Living Lyric Drama
Other readers who wish to continue the debate are invited to contact us.
We will select particularly interesting responses to this piece to share
with our readers and with Lukas Pairon, who has been known to respond at
I find it offensive that this article begins with the quote by
Stravinsky that we should be taught to love music. Speak for
yourself. This whole article seems to proceed from the assumption
that people don’t love opera passionately. The point of view here is
that in 60 years there will be no opera companies so let’s get it over
with. Put foot to behind and get them out the door.
This is a very European perspective. It presumes that there is
just one huge theater in the center of town—the opera house—that gets all
the tax money, and the rest of the arts scene is a vast wasteland.
In America we have always had two perspectives about musical theater—the
opera house and Broadway. We don’t have to force the opera house to
give up its space to make way for contemporary musicals because that is an
already long established part of our artistic scene. We have plenty
of new works like The Producers, The Lion King, Wicked, The Phantom of
the Opera, etc.
It would also be a European perspective
that Andrew Lloyd Webber is a less worthy artist than Ligeti. We see
this as pure snobbery. This may be a major reason why our opera
companies are so conservative.
The contemporary works created for performance in an opera house is
another thing entirely. I enjoyed Dead Man Walking, but for
purely theatrical reasons, not musical ones. Most modern operas do
not replace the traditional ones in the repertoire because they
stink. I enjoyed Le Grande Mecabre when I saw it in San
Francisco, but it is absurd to suppose that it is a reasonable alternative
to Tosca. If you want contemporary
musical works to
replace traditional opera, you are going to have to come up with some
works that deserve to.
The European equivalent to Broadway may simply not exist, except
perhaps in London. Encouraging a more contemporary musical theater
in Europe doesn’t have to mean destroying opera, which is what I am
reading. If the institutions that support opera are gone, so is the
Professional quality opera cannot be done without the professionals who
play and sing in its performances. The musical theater you are
describing, one that shares its staff among various potentially
incompatible genres, will be vastly inferior to the present one in the
quality of the performances it presents.
My observation is that while the large houses may be in trouble—ticket
prices are ridiculous—opera is everywhere. In the San Francisco Bay
Area alone there are opera companies in San Jose, Palo Alto, Berkeley,
Oakland and Marin County in addition to the main house in San Francisco,
and they put on decent productions. They are doing all kinds of
things. I saw a very decent performance of Masked Ball in
Palo Alto, and Glass’s Akhnaten
was successfully put on in
I predict that opera will not die because of those of us who love
Dr. Barbara Baker
Dr. Barbara Baker maintains a blog at:
comment on "Is Opera a Museum Art?"
Earlier debate on