An opera about Schoenberg in Hollywood

An opera about Schoenberg in Hollywood


norman lebrecht

March 11, 2018

It’s a Boston Lyric Opera commission from Tod Machover, to be premiered next season.

Arnold Schoenberg will be played by Omar Ebrahim (left).

More here.



  • buxtehude says:

    A little bird chirps in my ear that Hollywood will found wanting here. You don’t mention who will be playing her.

    • James says:

      Prehaps the west-coast avatar of Pauline Strauss, who thought
      Schoenberg would be better off shovelling snow than writing such stuff.
      Or was that her husband speaking?

      • buxtehude says:

        Did Hollywood have snow in those days?

        • James says:

          There is no reason that Pauline would have known, or cared.

          Anyway, I believe she made her views known long before Schoenberg left Europe.
          With some prescience she was certain he was on the wrong path.

  • Jstheater says:

    This sounds very intriguing. I wonder whether Machover will weave not just 12-tone but tonal music, including snippets of Schoenberg’s music itself, into his composition? His final years in Los Angeles were quite fruitful: he completed his Second Chamber Symphony, his Violin and Piano Concerti, the Kol Nidre, and deeply moving A Survivor from Warsaw. Will Machover also include at least one scene of the Sunday gatherings at the Schoenbergs’ home in Brentwood, which drew the likes of George Gershwin, Edgard Varèse, Harpo Marx, Thomas Mann, Ernst Toch, and Peter Lorre? (Shirley Temple directly lived across the street; did she visit?)

    I also wonder whether someone else is considering commissioning (or already has) an opera based on Thomas Mann’s 1947 novel and masterpiece *Doctor Faustus,* which itself draws upon not just the Faust story, but Nietzsche’s life and Schoenberg’s musical innovations. Schoenberg apparently–and rightly–was so upset at Mann’s incorporation of his ideas and methods (including material from Schoenberg’s Harmonielehre) that he was able to get Mann to append a note crediting Schoenberg as the inventor of the 12-note compositional approach. With the right librettist, I could see Thomas Adès doing a very fine job.

    • David R Osborne says:

      Schönberg the ‘inventor’ of the 12 tone compositional approach? And there I was thinking it was a ‘discovery’. Devastating news.

      Seriously though, it is a great idea for an opera, A disappointed late romantic whose ambition drove him to invent something truly ingenious, an awful idea with almost magical longevity. A formula that enables the mediocre to pass themselves off as the creatively inspired. An arbitrary yet stultifyingly rigid set of rules for which there is no sensible or logical rationale. Yet these very rules changed the musical world in such a spectacularly dramatic way, because they turned out to be (perhaps more by accident than design) the perfect instrument of control.

      Thanks, that was fun. By the way, I like the Kol Nidre very much. Excellent piece.

      • buxtehude says:

        A seriously inviting scenario. Tremendous musical comic possibilities when you imagine imbeding 12-tone discoveries in a tonal context.

        Imagine how much more effective this would be than an article, essay, book — as a riposte to the madness.

        Please do it soon! Even poor Glenn Gould, once so promising, was caught up in the madness:

  • John Borstlap says:

    MIT: “The Boston Lyric Opera just announced the commission for Tod Machover’s next opera, called Schoenberg in Hollywood. The premiere will be in November 2018. Machover is taking a sabbatical from the MIT Media Lab to work on the opera.”

    Mr Machover writes an overa in only a couple of months. That is not surprising:

    It is not serious, really.

    He appears to think that technology is needed to really make people more musical:

    …. so, an opera on Schoenberg can be expected to have lots of ‘creative tools’ to make the poor man more modern posthumously.