New Operas

I am not typically a big fan of opera music, but I love the stories they tell. The other day I heard a selection from Nixon in China  by John Adams on MPR. I think it was The Chairman Dances.   I remember seeing a televised performance that opera, and I found the costuming, with all those drab Mao jackets very amusing.

Operas do a good job of immortalizing important moments in history,  and I suppose that Nixon’s breakthrough with China was monumental.  I wonder what the opera repertoire  will be like fifty years from now?

What recent events would you like to see made into operas?  What is your favorite opera?

64 thoughts on “New Operas”

  1. I’ve like The Chairman’s Dance since the first time hearing it on MPR. There are a few pieces of music from operas that I really like: The Flower Duet from Lakme (we had that played from our daughter’s processional with two flutes and piano at her wedding), The Knight’s Dance from Romeo and Juliet to name a couple.
    It wasn’t until I saw Hoffman’s Woods on the New York Opera simulcast in the movie theater with sub-titles that I really cared for opera,
    Being a set designer I’m amazed at the incredible sets and highness of the technical theater involved.

    Liked by 8 people

  2. I am not an opera fan, and actually that is comic understatement of the truth. But I’ve been overwhelmed by Alma Deutscher’s framing of the Cinderella story as an opera. I think it is wonderful, but hasten to add that I’m not a qualified judge of anything operatic.

    Here is a snippet featuring the composer herself singing and playing organ.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. You point to a problem with today’s loony right, Giuliani in particular. When people’s speech and behavior become so extreme, how can anyone parody them? Truth beggars fiction, and Giuliani lives the life of a cartoon character.

      Liked by 5 people

    1. My sister gave me the Tommy album for Christmas when I was maybe young teens. I loved the music, but knew nothing about the story. (I’ve never been good at following the story in the music).
      It wasn’t until years later I discovered the album again and I remembered that album cover and realized she had put me on this path years before! Saw the touring version of the show and due to a seating mix up, our seats at the back of the house were exchanged for seats in the second row. We were standing at the back of the house talking with friends when that first guitar chord hit. It was LOUD and amazing and the house lights dimmed and we were off. I just love the music.
      We even did a production at our college. Talk about biting off more than we could chew. It came out alright and we all learned a lot. And we lost a lot of money (because musicals are extremely expensive to produce) and it was a good experience that left me with a lot of memories good and bad.

      Liked by 7 people

        1. A local theater did Hair! Although we skipped the nude bits. And it was a hit!
          We should propose it for the college; I wonder how much objection we’d get??

          Liked by 2 people

        2. The movie march to the plane and Let The Sunshine In, elicited in me anger. My draft number in 1970 was too high to be taken. And i didn’t know anyone who died in Vietnam. Still….


        3. I saw a production of Hair maybe 6 years ago in Mpls. – at (I think) Metro State University. They did the nude scene sort of – it was so brief before they cut the lights (was the end of the first half) you weren’t really sure whether it happened or not.

          Liked by 2 people

  3. Rise and Shine Baboons,

    Classical Opera has never been something I enjoyed much. However, then I discovered the Gilbert and Sullivan Operas, Hair, and Jesus Christ Superstar, which did speak to me. And with the advent of Hamilton, there has been a redefinition of opera that makes it culturally relevant again. The Sturm and Drang of the older, classical style operas is just too much for pragmatic me, I think. Plus watching unending emotional pain play out on stage is too much like my work.

    A modern day topic might be the pandemic. This would be easy and cheap to stage. One person, in pajamas and a mask, on stage with Netflix on the TV singing about boredom and loneliness into a computer camera and microphone.

    I suspect #45, this year’s election, the pandemic, and the 1-6-21 insurrection will show up in opera, probably authored by Lin Manuel Miranda. This has been a dramatic time we are living in. I can just see a chorus of singers on their NYC balconies, alone yet together, singing their hearts out about all of this.

    I have been scarce here lately. We are slammed with new clients at work. We knew this was coming and it has arrived.

    Liked by 6 people

      1. Same here. In fact when I was in eighth grade my father was my Sunday school teacher and we talked about the Chicago five and we also listened to JC Superstar over the course of a couple of weeks and discussed it. Of course the funniest thing about all of this is that my father was an acknowledged atheist, but they still asked him to teach this class.

        Liked by 4 people

      1. But when you speed skates on their feet, watch out, they are a force to contend with when they flying around the rink. The Flying Dutchman, of course, is a ghost ship. If I remember correctly, that whole opera was in the collection of albums I gave to tim some years ago, as were several Russian operas.

        Liked by 4 people

        1. Not sure what’s happening here, but my typing seems to indicate that I think it’s sufficient to just think a word, as opposed to actually typing it. My fall back position is that if you can make sense of tim’s stuff, you can supply the odd word missing here and there in mine. Where is tim? Hope he’s feeling better.

          Liked by 6 people

  4. Well, I am going to be a stickler (or stick in the mud) here and make an important distinction. The difference between opera and musical is this: Opera singers do not use microphones. They are trained to sing “big” enough to project to the back of an opera house using only their vocal power. Microphones are used in musicals. It doesn’t have anything to do with how much of the dialog is sung vs. spoken. As much as I love “Hamilton’, it is a musical, not opera. Same goes for rock operas such as “Tommy”. I will now step off my soapbox.

    I do not particularly enjoy sitting through a complete opera but I do appreciate some of the music – mostly overtures (no singing). From a singing perspective, The Flower Duet from Lakme is exquisite. O Mio Babbino Caro (Gianni Schicchi) and Un Bel Di (Madame Butterfly) are gorgeous. And I do like nearly all the music from Carmen.

    Liked by 4 people

    1. As you would expect, there is some debate over the use of microphones. Just because they’re not wearing a mic, doesn’t mean there aren’t microphones somewhere. They couldn’t do the Live in HD versions without microphones. And singing night after night without mics is tough on even the most trained singer.
      So yes, to the purest, opera shouldn’t have microphones. And to the realist, there’s probably some out there somewhere. But is the feed sent to the house? Just to the telecast truck?
      That I think comes as a choice to each director / producer / performer.

      For a lot my theater years, none of our local musicals used microphones. (microphones introduce a level of complexity the likes of which you ((and I)) have no idea!!) But more groups want them these days. If you want a large band onstage, it’s pretty hard for a singer to be louder than them. I know it’s been done; I’ve seen it. But it’s hard on the singers.
      And with microphones hidden in the hairline, you may not even know they’re wearing one.

      I thought the difference between an Opera and musical is that in opera it’s all sung, while in a musical there may be dialogue and dance numbers between the songs. But it can be a fine line.

      Liked by 4 people

      1. Ben, I used to think the difference was sung vs spoken. College students studying to be opera singers came to the middle school I was volunteering at to talk about opera and sing a few pieces. They were the ones who told the kids that microphone use/nonuse was the real difference between opera and musical.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Opera can have singspiel (spoken word in the opera) – so the difference between “musical” and “opera” is a little academic. Something like “Hamilton” really blurs the lines – it’s largely a matter of how much of story is presented as spoken dialog vs. sung. One could also make some arguments (if you knew more about music theory than I do) about the song and music forms used. You can’t just go with “popular music” vs. “classical” since Mozart was writing in the “popular” forms of his time.

        Liked by 4 people

  5. For months now, The Metropolitan Opera has been streaming full operas, and what a treat it has been. Unlike Renee, I’ve discovered that I actually like most operas best if they don’t translate the actual lyrics being sung; they are just too banal, yammering on and on about some inane thing or another. I just the gist of the plot, and I’ll take it from there. But the music, the voices, and very often the staging is what draws me in.

    The very first performance I saw at the Bolshoi was Mussorgsky’s Boris Godunov, and it was breathtaking. Don’t know that I can claim one favorite opera, however, like much else, it depends on the mood I’m in, and there’s something for just about every mood. One of my all time favorite arias is this one from Tchaikovsky’s lyric opera Eugene Onegin:

    You don’t need to understand a word to hear the anguish and despair, of course it helps if you know the story.

    Liked by 5 people

  6. Back in 1990, PBS broadcast all 17 hours of Wagner’s Ring Cycle. I watched it all from a motel in Minot with a workmate, Mario. On those rare occasions we talk, he will always bring up Brunnhilde and Wotan.

    Liked by 5 people

  7. A good friend of mine lived in Australia when she was a little girl when her father was stationed there as a submarine captain. She was chosen by her school to read a poem or something on the stage at the Sydney Opera House (see header photo).

    Liked by 3 people

  8. I know i’ve talked before about going to the Met in HD movies. As Paul said above, as a person interested in the technical side of theater, watching the spectacle of them is fascinating. I can’t stand 90% of the music. Some of it is good.
    The sets are sometimes huge and amazing. The lighting is sometimes wonderful and creative. The costumes can be fun and imaginative.
    And then there was the one opera where it was one set, one set of costumes, pretty much two repeating lines sung. Him: “Do you love me?” Her; “Yes I love you”. Over and over and OVER. OMG, kill each other and let me go home! I left after Act 2.
    But, I get my big popcorn, I get my drink, I get a recliner, I take a nap while they sing. Then wake up for the scene change and backstage interviews. 🙂

    Liked by 6 people

    1. We think alike on opera, Ben. I would never say it is bad, for many people love it so much. It’s just not for me: the grandiosity, the turgid plot lines, the tempestuous emotions. Not my world, not my music, not my sense of life. I always smile at the line (variously credited to Bill Nye or Mark Twain) in which he protests that Wagner’s music “is actually much better than it sounds.”

      Liked by 1 person

  9. I know this isn’t opera, but since not all baboons are on Facebook, may not catch this video where our own Lisa as prominently featured. For those of you who haven’t met Lisa, she’s in the center column, number two from the bottom. She’s also in the first of the two larger windows (to the left, wearing glasses). Just in case this link doesn’t work, you can goodgle: “Dream On – First Universalist Choir, youtube” and you should be able to find it.

    Liked by 2 people

  10. OT – I know the trail baboons in general are fond of Peter Ostroushko and his music, but I don’t know who are keeping track of what’s going on with him. Here’s an update in the form of a letter that Peter posted to FB less than an hour ago:
    “Hello Friends,
    I want to thank you for your support of my latest project, my podcast My Life and Time as a Radio Musician, available on my website. We are now up to 9 episodes released, with Episode 10, in two parts, coming up soon!
    While I was recovering from my stroke, I was given a few CDs of my live performances on A Prairie Home Companion by Jason Keillor. Listening to them, I was struck by a couple of things: One, was how my memory did not recall much of what I was hearing, and two, I was struck by how great the performances were! I told Garrison that I thought it would be great to follow a musician’s journey from beginning to end, and for me that was for over 40 years of playing on the show – 260 shows that I performed on, to be exact. Garrison arranged for me to receive a hard drive with all of those shows. So, for the past two years I have been listening to and cataloguing all the songs I played on. My original idea of putting these out as recording was just too big. That is when my dear friend Marian Moore stepped in and suggested I put out a podcast instead, and that is what I decided to do with all of the material that I was given.
    I consider this project to be a love letter to all of the musicians I played with, and all the musicians who inspired me to become the best that I could become. It is also a thank you note to everyone who has supported my recovery since my stroke.
    Yours in music, Peter”

    And here’s a link to his podcast:

    Liked by 4 people

  11. Fun topic today. I am not a huge opera fan but it’s interesting that just last week I came upon some thing on YouTube that defined the two types of music in opera, recitative and aria. I had no clue.

    Liked by 3 people

  12. I wonder where Anna is? I know she’s an opera lover. You’d think it’s too cold to be roaming her neighborhood taking photos, but what do I know?

    Liked by 1 person

  13. Finally chiming in – busy day. Yes, I am an opera lover. Clearly in a minority here. Though I will add that I much prefer to see it live vs. recordings or even streaming. Like Ben has mentioned, some of it, for me is the sheer spectacle. I grew up listening to “Live from the Met” on Saturdays (Saturdays of my childhood include opera in a language I don’t understand and the smell of bread rising on the radiator mixed with a bit of Scott’s Liquid Gold – my mom would often start bread rising and then dust the house with SLG while she listened in to that week’s opera). I truly fell in love when I worked at the Ordway in college. “Don Giovanni” was what pulled me in once and for all – to this day it’s one of my favorites. When you go you have to assume that the plot will be overwrought, if it’s Puccini the soprano will die (likely while she is singing a grand aria), and if it’s Wagner it will be dark. Choose your operas carefully. Don’t start with “Siegfried,” start with “The Magic Flute.”

    My best friend and I have had season tickets to the MN Opera for, well, more than 17 years (memorable because I missed the last opera of one of our early seasons because I was weeks away from delivering Ms. S and was too large and sitting still was too uncomfortable). My opera buddy loves Puccini – “La Boheme” makes her weep. I find Puccini lovely to listen to, but even with my caveats, the plots can be a bit much. “Carmen” is a favorite because the music is so fantastic, even with it’s overly dramatic plot – would watch that one any day of the week. Modern operas are a bit hit and miss. “Nixon in China” is survivable (though knowing that Kissinger is the comic relief should tell you something), “Handmaid’s Tale” was one where once was enough (it’s done in 12-tone like “Nixon”… and, well, it’s Margaret Atwood – good subject, but may as well hit yourself in the head with a brick). When MN Opera did “Grapes of Wrath,” that was good – again, not an easy one to listen to, but really captured the emotion and story. Though if you want a truly amazing modern opera, “Silent Night” cannot be beat. The music is lyrical and lovely, even in the midst of capturing so much of what was horrible about trench warfare in WWI. The last time the MN Opera staged it, Karin Wolverton sang the soprano lead – and she was simply amazing.

    So yeah. I am an opera fan. Love the costumes. Love the sets (mostly – not the weird thing MN Opera did for “Wuthering Heights” awhile back… it looked like grey corrugated cardboard, but their 1980s “Don Giovanni” is still a favorite). Dramatic lighting. Give me a good baritone and I am in heaven.

    Liked by 6 people

      1. Well, it looks like our Anna is too modest to indulge in any self promotion here, but she has just published a book. Here’s her announcement as it appeared on Facebook roughly half an hour ago:

        “Okay #postcardsfromsmpls fans – it’s a book. I have a proof copy, and it looks pretty darn good. Includes everything from the very first postcard through the beginning of 2021. If I make a bulk order, it works out to about $20 a copy. If you’re local, we can figure out a low contact/contact-less drop off. If I need to mail it, we can work that out, too. Heck, I’ll even buy a new Sharpie and sign your copy if you want. 😎 Let me know if you want in – will try to place an order shortly after Valentine’s Day. ❤️ Thanks for walking with me.”

        Liked by 3 people

        1. Yes, I’ll attempt to. Anna has been taking daily walks around her neighborhood during the pandemic and been posting “pretend” postcards about what she saw and heard on those jaunts, along with a photo of something she saw on the walk. They are really quite whimsical and charming. Here’s an example of the text of the postcard from January 3rd:
          “I went for a walk in my neighborhood and spotted five orange cones standing in formation. I saw Christmas trees laid to rest in the snow, their season to shine done for the year. I passed the pink house that has chickens and wondered where the birds roosted when there is snow. #postcardsfromsmpls”
          The photo accompanying the text usually has no relation to the text.

          Liked by 4 people

        2. Well, hmm… I attempted to post a link to Twitter of one of the “postcards” (they go up there as well as Facebook), but it says the comment is awaiting moderation… if it does go up, you may need to click on the link to see the accompanying photo. 🙂

          Liked by 2 people

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