What did the NY Times make of John Adams’ new opera?

What did the NY Times make of John Adams’ new opera?


norman lebrecht

November 28, 2017

Almost a week after the premiere of John Adams’ new opera, Girls of the Golden West, people in the business are wondering why the New York Times has maintained a trappist silence.

The opera was greeted by two crunching put-downs in San Francisco media and a rather more cautious assessment in the Los Angeles Times by Mark Swed who calls it ‘the most highly anticipated new opera of the year.’

So where was the New York Times?

Did they not consider it newsworthy?

Or is someone still fine-tuning their first draft history, almost a week after the event.




  • martain smith says:

    Saving their pennies for Zachary’s Salzburg Summer…. in the hope he doesn’t mistake it for Vienna!

    • Ungeheuer says:

      To be fair to Mr. Woolfe, his assessment of the dreadful Verdi Requiems at the Metropolitan Opera is spot on. Rare to find something nowadays in the NY Times that’s so truthful about a performance at an institution so beholden to the paper. What was management thinking when they engaged a past their prime lot (conductor and singers) for these performances?


      • trolley80 says:

        They run terrible reviews of operas at the Met all the time. The NY Times is hardly beholden to anyone in the arts community, and it’s charming to think that the Metropolitan Opera (of all things) would have some kind of influence on the newsroom. Many people would profess to be shocked when they run a *positive* review of something, since the negative reviews tend to stick in the mind more.

      • Sanity says:

        What they were thinking was that they had already engaged four singers for La forza del destino that they were going to have to pay, regardless, so they might as well put them in something, anything.

        That the Met cannot cast Verdi speaks to the immense damage done to the industry by the teaching of ingolato techniques to young singers.

        That the main thrust of this comes from the major New York conservatoires is more disappointing still.

  • Robert Holmén says:

    ‘the most highly anticipated new opera of the year.’

    On the list of highly-anticipated things, that might not rank very highly.

    • Bruce says:

      ‘the most highly anticipated new opera of the year.’

      On the list of highly-anticipated things, that might not rank very highly.

      Do you mean on the list of highly-anticipated things, a new opera might not rank highly? Or that on the list of new operas, “Golden Girls” might not rank highly?

  • Tom Moore says:

    Maybe Richard Taruskin will assess it.

  • trolley80 says:

    Don’t you still work at a newspaper? Are you this unaware of how the industry works? The New York Times is under no obligation to rush to print a review of a program that’s happening across the continent and isn’t planned to come to NYC anytime soon. I’m sure whatever review they publish will run when they have space in the ever-shrinking arts section, assuming they sent a critic to be there on the first night to begin with.

    • James says:

      The NYT has the same dilemma – but much more acute – as the London Evening Standard, in that it’s a national newspaper but also a local one. However, a new John Adams opera is a major cultural event and there is intense national and international interest. The New York Times is by far the most influential newspaper in the US, so yes, one would expect a review and, if they believe in the arts as news, a prompt one.

      • David R Osborne says:

        Oh sweet Jesus…

      • John Borstlap says:

        “However, a new John Adams opera is a major cultural event and there is intense national and international interest.” What a horrible idea for a composer to know, while writing, that ‘the whole world’ is waiting for the result. Even if you write repetitive music, every time you begin to repeat again, you wonder whether the acclaim will repeat itself as well.

        Adams is brilliant, but his choice of subject for his operas seems to be pathologically flawed. And, concerning repetition, most of the time, for Adams I would repeat emperor Joseph’s comment: ‘Too many notes’. In Mozart’s case, that was not an appropriate remark but in Adams’ case I would say that if he would just take out all the notes which are too many, all would be fine. (That might result in quite short pieces, though.)

  • William Osborne says:

    Or is Adams perhaps persona non grata in NYC?

    • Ravi Narasimhan says:

      Wish that were true in LA.

    • John Borstlap says:

      Maybe Adams sounds ‘too nice’ for hard-edge New York. After all, the city has to uphold its image as the hub of the progressive world, with its sky line. Audiences of the NY Phil are also often criticized by the NY Times for not liking modernist music enough, and being too lukewarm for Gilbert’s doses of 20C music. My guess is that the NY Times would prefer Carter, Boulez, Xenakis et al to the bland repetitions of Californica.

  • Jan Kaznowski says:

    Even an icon like James Levine can be savaged by NY critics. See this just the other day :

    “…this concert demonstrated once again that Levine’s career, even before his recent loss of technical control, has been something of a fizzle. It seems as if he stopped developing artistically around the age of 40, when most conductors… generally bloom into deeper and more profound interpreters.

    As he approaches age 75, Levine sadly remains an eternal adolescent, dazzled by surface effects but unable to plumb any deeper into the music.”

    • John Borstlap says:

      A mixed review, well-written and clearly descriptional but which unintentionally is quite off-putting. Who would want to see / hear such forced, grotesque thing? Such plot can only be redeemed by a music which transcends the plot and reveals universal traits of the human condition, but Adams would be the last to be capable of doing that, his music being much too superficial. I tried to get through Dr Atomic but it was unbearably pretentious, both plot and music. And yet, probably Adams is the only composer around today – that is, an established one that we know about – who can at least write something that has some resemblance to the art form. But what a condemnation that implies for our time. Clearly, postwar opera has a serious idiom problem concerning the musical part, which is the heart of the art form.