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Manifesto for a Living Lyric Drama: Is Opera a Museum Art?
The Debate Continues



PARIS, 27 July 2005We 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 ",(available in English and French). 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 length.

Dear Editors,

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 opera itself.

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 Berkeley.

I predict that opera will not die because of those of us who love it.

Viva l’opera.

Dr. Barbara Baker
Frederick, Maryland

Dr. Barbara Baker maintains a blog at:


Another recent comment on "Is Opera a Museum Art?"

Earlier debate on this topic

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