When the first photographs appeared people thought that maybe “painting was dead.” Who needs a painting of something when you could just take a photograph? Of course painters did not see death, they saw opportunity. Opera faces a similar challenge contending with competing technologies. It also has to contend with its own history. One has to at least ask the question. Is there anything new to be said in the genre or will the future of opera just be ad nauseum John Adams derivatives?
After viewing four operas from the Prototype festival I can say first hand that opera is not dead. To the contrary this might be one of the most vital decades for opera since the maestro (Puccini) put down his baton.
I wrote an earlier post also titled “But is it opera?” to understand why Porgy and Bess is categorized as an opera sometimes but other times as musical theater. Around the same time Kanye West put on a show that he called “opera,” but technically was really an oratorio. It made me wonder if these distinctions really matter or is it just for the marketing department.
Since a goal of my blog is to see 101 Operas, I think the question is worth revisiting. Especially as contemporary opera pushes many boundaries, some people are bound to ask the question, but is it opera?
One of the early things I loved about opera was that the voice was not mic’d the way it is in musical theater, to hear the human voice fill a room without artifice thrilled me. There are newer contemporary operas with the voices amplified, and I question this even though it makes sense for certain venues or to maintain a balance and with experiments in the orchestra. Opera has constantly be changing and adapting since its very beginnings. I prefer the natural voice, but I’m not writing to pass judgment on these choices, but to document what I hear and see in the world of opera today.
Artists need space like the Prototype Festival In NYC and the American Opera Initiative in D.C. to take risks and experiment, not accept the status quo but look for opportunities to expand the definition of opera in a way that speaks for the audience of the moment. Bring on the change I say and let’s see what sticks.