‘Opera in 21st century America seems a defiant anachronism, a magnificent corpse that, inexplicably, still breathes’

‘Opera in 21st century America seems a defiant anachronism, a magnificent corpse that, inexplicably, still breathes’


norman lebrecht

June 21, 2016

A must-read critique by Andrew Grossman in, inexplicably, a site called Pop Matters. The headline is: Why is Opera so Derided in America?


The very existence of opera in 21st century America seems a defiant anachronism, a magnificent corpse that, inexplicably, still breathes. Whatever cultural capital opera retains in Europe or Russia is nowhere to be found in America. What fills opera houses is an overgrown swamp of verismo, a “cinematic” mode that sweetly colonized the operatic imagination long ago. There are bold new opera productions, of course, but the wild machinations of avant-garde directors only expose an old repertoire needing far more than sexy revisionism.

A desiccated bel canto score will thwart attempted (post-)modernizations as a moribund body rejects a transplanted heart with too fast a beat. An all-nude production of Meyerbeer’s Les Huguenots relocated to a ‘80s-era Caribbean cruise ship will still sound like Meyerbeer, even if appendages swing with abandon and the director splays the bodies of Huguenots slain in the St. Bartholomew’s Day Massacre throughout the ship’s late-night comedy club. Likewise, a sanguine director can relocate Bellini’s Norma to an outer-space brothel and invest the action with robot sex and multi-breasted aliens, but you’ll still have to listen to Bellini for three hours. 

Read on here.

Wagners Das Rheingold Metropolitan Opera 2010


  • John Borstlap says:

    Obviously, it is not the plots or subjects of opera that is the problem – since they can be changed at will and relocated – but the music. Good music can have been written ages ago, but if it still is much alive and ‘speaks’ to contemporary audiences, it means that its qualities have transcended its historic birth place and are still alive today. In other words: it has become contemporary forever, which is also demonstrated by the fact, that music only exists at the moment it is performed, after which it sinks back to a mere blueprint: the score. So, ‘old music’ that is alive today, thanks to its performers, is not really old at all. THIS is the real problem of the core repertoire of Western classical music: the problem of its success.

  • Pianofortissimo says:

    It is precisely the three hours of Bellini that matter, even if condoms would be distributed to the public at the entrance as a complement to that outer-space thing.

  • Bill Florescu says:

    Is this person who’s written this article at all aware of how much new opera this “American corpse” is producing these days?

    • MWnyc says:

      He might be.

      But for this particular purpose – trolling – he doesn’t really care.
      (See below.)

  • MWnyc says:

    Oh, this is just trolling.

    Grossman wants to review The Fiery Angel, but knows a mere review of the world’s 436th-most-performed opera won’t get many clicks. So he wraps the review in a gratuitously provocative set of potshots that are likely to get a bunch of hate-clicks from opera fans and music professionals.

    And of course aggregators are going to help Grossman do this by blurbing this article on their sites.

  • David Osborne says:

    God save us this is so dense, so opinionated and with each opinion so contentious I eventually just gave up. Really don’t know where to start. There is nothing here that even vaguely resembles a reasoned argument.