Opera for lunch?Why not?
A couple of days ago I joined about 600 (!) of my fellow Eldoradans for a free lunch (really) hosted by a soon to open restaurant in the Agora called Arable. It was crowded and we asked if we might sit at a table for four where only two people were eating. They readily welcomed us and introduced themselves as Desiree and Peter and I immediately realized that we were dining with Desiree Mays, the Santa Fe Opera afficinada who talks and writes about opera with verve and sly humor. What a treat!
We chatted about this and that but I had to bring around the conversation to opera; I had to check out a couple of things I’ve been thinking about opera today.
They don’t make them like they used to…
says the old fan of – whatever – you name it. But there is some validity in that sentiment when it comes to opera singers today. Granted, there are some very fine singers now; Renee Fleming, Anna Nebtrebko, Deborah Voigt,Juan Diego Flores but in the days when I was intensely committed to opera the heavens were ablaze with extraordinary singers: Callas, Farrel, Tucker, Merril, Sutherland, Horne, Corelli, Price, Caballe, Arroyo, Elias,Troyanos, Morris, Diaz, Bergonzi, Ramy, Sills, Vickers, Ludwig, Baker. I’m sure I’ve left some out.
and they don’t sing like they used to…
Since the breakup of the Soviet Union, we have seen more and more Russian and eastern European singers at American opera houses. They often sound to me like they are yelling. Desiree suggested that this has something to do with the differences in vocal training, that the eastern Europeans are trained to belt it out and that doesn’t leave much room for subtlety.
The Santa Fe Opera formula
I used to subscribe to and avidly read Opera News which, among other articles, reviewed performances at opera houses around the world. The Santa Fe Opera always seemed to do unusual performances and in a stunning setting. I longed to see an opera there. Since moving here 19 years ago I have seen many there and have generally been very happy to do so. I have noticed, however, a kind of formula for the 5 operas presented in any season: there is an old chestnut (Carmen, Traviata, Butterfly, etc), a Mozart, a 20th century German ( usually R.Strauss or Berg), a contemporary opera, maybe even its premier, and, lastly, something familiar but not an old chestnut and perhaps comedic. (Wouldn’t you know this season debunks that hypothesis – no Mozart)
Desiree suggested I check out the Steve Jobs opera this season. I’m fairly old fashioned in my opera tastes* (you’d never guess that, right?) and she was encouraging me to take a leap. It has the virtue of being one act, 90 minutes long, and the music, while occasionally jarring, she said is not completely atonal. And it has some meaningful messages about the human condition. I might just take her advice.
PS, added 8/29/2017: I did, after all, go to see The (R)Evolution of Steve Jobs, the world premier of which happened here this season. I liked it! I’ve been trying to think of how to describe it to others who have not seen it. It’s a combination of a sound and light show, the Super Bowl halftime extravaganza, and a good old fashioned opera story with a hero/villain who dies in the end. The music was neither atonal or dissonant nor was it melodic, but intensely rhythmic, brash even. One critic – and they were uniformly positive – described it as full of American bravado, like Jobs himself. I’m glad I went and recommend seeing it if you have the opportunity. And you definitely don’t have to be an opera lover to appreciate and enjoy it.
* My three favorite operas are Norma, Traviata, Tales of Hoffman – marvelous music from start to finish.