An outbreak of American operas

An outbreak of American operas


norman lebrecht

April 07, 2016

Over the coming weeks, the following American-themed operas will receive world premieres:

This weekend, Opera Ithaca presents the world premiere production of Billy Blythe, an American folk opera about the childhood of President Bill Clinton.

On April 23 Fort Worth Opera presents JFK. 

Igor Stravinsky and wife received at the White House

Minnesota Opera’s The Shining, based on Stephen King thriller, opens on May 7.

Opera Colorado presenting the world premiere of Nathaniel Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter, also on May 7.

Some kind of trend?



  • Bruce says:

    Let’s hope so.

  • minacciosa says:

    This hardly offers penance for ignoring native operas for the last century. Frankly, save one, the subjects above bode well for notoriety rather than success.

    • Eddie Mars says:

      You’ve got Princeton, the Frankfurt School bigots, and the Twelve-Tone maniacs to thank for that.

  • Bruce says:

    Some of these sound interesting. I wonder who the composers are.

  • John Groves says:

    The Great Gatsby is being revived next season at Dresden – very powerful, The Crucible (Ward) is at Braunschweig in a few weeks, and it’s about time that Floyd’s Susannah was staged professionally in the UK – it’s the sort of opera that Sadler’s Wells would have mounted in the ‘good old days’!!

    • Halldor says:

      English Touring Opera produced it in the UK in 2008.
      Looking forward to Barber’s Vanessa at Wexford though.

      • Jerron Jorgensen says:

        Hartford Opera Theater is producing The Crucible in May as well.

        • Eddie Mars says:

          The Crucible is a fine work of music theatre, and deserves to be better known. I was peripherally involved in the Abbey Opera production in London in the 1980s (cond Tony Shelley).

          I wish all of these brave and exciting productions the best of success – and appreciative audiences.

          Agreed with the plaudits for Carlyle Floyd, too! Can Menotti ever shake off his jaded reputation in the USA? He is appreciated as a fine composer elsewhere. I’ve staged two of his works here in Moscow, and we sold out every night of the run.

          • Herbert Pauls says:

            Thank you for that very interesting (not to mention revealing) bit of information! I guess it seems that here in North America, the critical reputations of Menotti and many others still suffer from the residue of older ideas about where music history should have gone. The widely read Music in a New Found Land once classified Menotti among the “misfits”, those of “musically arrested development.”

          • Jerron Jorgensen says:

            It hasn’t been my personal experience that Menotti’s reputation suffers in the United States. The school at which I am currently getting my doctorate does “Amahl and the Night Visitors” every December as a tradition and the previously mentioned opera company (Hartford Opera Theater) did “The Old Maid and the Thief” as half of the double-bill for their main-stage production last year. Meanwhile, at that same school there’s a production of “The Telephone” happening this very weekend. There’s more Menotti going on in the Hartford area than Mozart!

          • Eddie Mars says:

            Music In A New-Found Land was voicing the opinions of the Frankfurt School – the inheritors of the ideas of musical misfit and failed composer Theodore Adorno. Amazingly, this group of neo-Marxist charlatans managed to hoodwink American sponsors into funding their work in post-WW2, and the relocation of their operations to the USA.

            Adorno was a spoilt little mummy’s-boy, to whom no-one had ever said no. Yet he lacked any ability in music, and his attempts to become a composer himself were a laughable failure. Out of motives largely stemming from personal revenge, he used his position within the Frankfurt School to take up the sword against everyone who angered him – successful composers and musicians. He carried out campaigns against Toscanini, whom he attacked for “gathering huge audiences”, which was proof – in Adorno’s warped mind – of his guilt, in “pandering to the tastes of the bourgeousie”. He wrote a book called “The Philosophy Of Modern Music” (published by the Frankfurters in the USA, n 1949), in which he attacks every kind of modern success in classical music, and begins shouting attacks on any kind of beauty – because it brings “aesthetic pleasure”, which is (as anyone as insane as Adorno could see) very wrong indeed. He also undertook critical and personal attacks on Igor Stravinsky – which were so viciously unpleasant (as well as being utterly pig-ignorant) that even his ally, Schoenberg, denounced Adorno, and vowed never to see, meet, speak or write to him ever again.

            Today it seems amazing that a non-achieving nobody like Adorno could wield such power. But among the hatreds and rumours of post-WW2, Cold War America, he was somehow seen as a kind of “gold standard” to ensure that “it could never happen again”.

            Perversely Menotti – who was also a refugee from fascism in the USA, only from Mussolini’s brand – has been shoved into corner… for having the cheek to write music that people actually liked. Which of course proved his “failure” for the Frankfurters. Barber, on the other hand, was a born enemy for Cultural Marxists – he came from a wealthy old-established American family, and was therefore cursed before he’d written a note 🙁

            Yes, some of Menotti can seem a bit schmaltzy – but the same postwar pacifist accusation can be laid at many doors (Britten, Tippett…). I don’t find Amahl and the Night Visitors more indigestible than, say St Nicholas, or A Child Of Our Time? His greatest work, IMHO, remains The Medium. It fuses the dying after-burn of Italian verismo with the hard-boiled 1940s values of Film Noir into a bleak, modern classic. If only Barbara Stanwyk had been able to sing Madam Flora :)) (There are some clear homages in the story to Sorry, Wrong Number, and especially to Mildred Pierce) Perhaps it doesn’t stand up against Verdi – but it was never intended to. It comes out of the same Italian tradition as Puccini’s Tabarro – a fleeting hope of love…. crushed by a grisly murder, and a quick curtain. Verismo indeed.

          • Eddie Mars says:

            Great to hear it, Jerron! We need more Menotti productions 🙂

            What we need most is a full-scale production of The Consul. Sadly its relevance – of bitter and disappointed people trying to get visas to flee their homeland, from a Consul who doesn’t care, and hasn’t even come to the office – remains as true today as when Menotti wrote it. But the State Department doesn’t come out of it well, so I doubt we will see it on stage again anytime soon…

          • Herbert Pauls says:

            Jerron, yes, of course Menotti and others in the 20th C tonal tradition have always done well at the college and regional level (thank goodness!) but have long been studiously ignored by the kind of mainstream scholarship that finds its most public face in the overviews that all music students must read. Even now, such repertoire will not be given a close look in platforms like Perspectives of New Music anytime soon. What I would like to see is a lot more perceptive commentary (on the order of Eddy Mars’ last comments) that draw insightful connections with the past and properly place Menotti, etc. as living expressions of their own era.

  • Brian Hughes says:

    Is this a bad thing, Norman?

  • clarrieu says:

    And this one in June, “Shot” by Persis Vehar about President McKinley’s death:

  • RW2013 says:

    Vanessa is finally receiving it’s Berlin (semi-staged) premiere later this year.

  • Cyril Blair says:

    Just as long as I don’t have to sit through a folk opera about the childhood of Donald J. Trump, I’m okay.

    • Mikey says:

      that one has a nice “Chorus of the Mexican Slaves”.
      I believe there is also an allusion to Pink Floyd’s “The Wall”.
      The only problem is the orchestra is YUUGE, like really YUUUUGE.

    • William Safford says:

      There’s already a Broadway musical about him, written presciently when he was but just a lad:

      “How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying.”

  • Mark G. Simon says:

    Do these operas have composers and librettists, or did they grow on trees in the yards of the opera administrators?

    • Eddie Mars says:

      I believe “Nathaniel Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter” may be the work of Nathaniel Hawthorne – but I could be wrong?

      No-one’s mentioned the marvellous work being done by Jake Heggie – so let me add it, since he should not go unmentioned in discussion of this kind 😉