Most successful opera of the 21st century?

Kasper Holten, ex-director of the Royal Opera, tweets that it’s George Benjamin’s Written on Skin.

Skin, which I disliked, would not make the cut in my top 10:

1 John Adams, Doctor Atomic (2005)

2 Desyatnikov, The Children of Rosenthal (2005) – newly out on record

3 Daniel Catan, Il Postino (2010)

4 Turnage, Anna Nicole (2011)

5 Nico Muhly, Two Boys (2011)

6 Jimmy Lopez, Bel Canto (2015)

7 Jake Heggie, Great Scott (2015)

8 Jennifer Higdon, Cold Mountain (2015)

9 Missy Mazzoli, Breaking the Waves (2016)

10 Miroslav Srnka, South Pole (2016) – probably the best of them all.


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  • Iain Bell’s Battle of the Somme opera, ‘In Parenthesis’ at WNO ought be on the list. It is an opera that grew on me at each hearing. I saw it four times and have since watched it twice on Opera Platform. It is a most moving work of great individuality – beautifully staged by David Poutney and wonderfully performed by the orchestra and magnificent chorus of WNO under Carlo Rizzi. It is an opera that deserves to travel.

  • You should include Kaija Saariaho’s “L’amour de loin” (2000) and Alexander Raskatov’s “A Dog’s Heart” (2010). Two very excellent operas from recent times.

    • We were all encouraged to celebrate the new millennium a year early. The new millennium, of course, began on 1 January 2001. The year 2000 was therefore the last year of the 20th century, not the first year of the 21st.

  • ” Saint François d’Assise ” from Olivier Messian, of course, and ” L’amour de Loin ” from Kaija Saariaho just after.

  • I kind of like this list, but I have only seen 3 of them. Atomic, Postino, Anna Nicole. Bel Canto is magically showing up on my tv in a week or so. But what about the rest?

  • I second Glanert’s ‘Caligula’ – terrific music. ‘Written on Skin’ left me absolutely unmoved – which is probably less complimentary than active dislike. I have no wish ever to see it again.

  • If we are discussing the most successful opera, As One, by Laura Kaminsky, Mark Campbell, and Kimberly Reed, cannot be ignored. Since its premiere by American Opera Projects at the Brooklyn Academy of Music in 2014, it has had NEW productions at Utah State University, West Edge Opera, Urban Arias, Berlin’s International Opera Projects, and Seattle Opera all with sold out houses and rave reviews. There are three more new productions this spring at Pittsburgh Opera, Opera Colorado, and Long Beach Opera and seven more additional new productions across America in the next two seasons, yet to be announced.

    (admission of bias – I am the Producing Director at AOP that commissioned, developed, and produced the premiere.)

    • Yes, I’m with you, Theodore. Written on Skin is exceptional and will, I believe prove to outlast many others on this list.

    • I agree. I found it haunting and kept thinking about it – also liked in Parenthesis. Going to see Written on Skin again soon.

      • Also, liking or disliking aside, the fact is, Written on skin, is THUS FAR, the most successful opera of the 21st Century. Revivals, concert performances, new productions running consecutively with the original production etc. There is also a reason behind that fact…. (it is v.popular).

  • The best opera so far (major caveat: haven’t heard South Pole) is not even on your list. Heggie’s Moby Dick is a strong piece and has had multiple productions. I liked the first act of Dr. Atomic but the opera has second act troubles and needs a major rewrite. Catan’s Postino was frankly terrible. A great disappointment after his Florencia.

  • Written on Skin
    Into the Little Hill
    Moby Dick
    The Tempest
    The Woman who Walked into Doors
    Of love and other daemons

    All deserve to be longlisted

  • Hey, what about my opera, “The Merchant of Venice?” Another David Pountney discovery and more showings coming to London this July 2017.

  • Heggie’s MOBY-DICK premiered at Dallas Opera in 2010 and with seven different runs of the original production in seven major theatres, a national PBS broadcast, DVD release, a 2012 Grammy Award, plus a revival run at Dallas earlier this season and future runs confirmed, must surely be considered highly successful. A new production of the piece is also in the making. GREAT SCOTT on the other hand did not have the same impact in its first run nor in its second, and it’s debatable when or if we will see it again. Is Kevin Puts and Mark Campbell’s Pulitzer Prize-winning work SILENT NIGHT, whose legs have carried all over the US and which soon premieres in Europe, not considered successful?

  • 4.48 Psychosis by Philip Venables would have made the cut were it more widely seen. The best new opera I’ve seen recently was H.K.Gruber’s Tales From Vienna Woods.

  • How does one define ‘successful?’ Audience favorite? Critical success? Box office gold? It depends on your definition.

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