Monday, January 02, 2012

 Does anyone remember a plaque on the base of the Statue of Liberty welcoming anyone in the world who was seeking a better life, no matter who they were, what their religion ?   Virtually all the Republican candidates claim to uphold the country's glorious past but efforts are under way to disenfranchise large numbers of US citizens of different races and lower economic status by placing roadblocks to their voting into law in a number of states.  And Republican lawmakers and state governments across the country are opposing immigration.  We used to be proud of being a melting pot, we believed our diversity made us strong.  What happened to that America? 

 I know the answer, of course, but I deplore it.


Ying Huang in Opera Boston's world premiere of Zhou Long's Madame White Snake won the Pulitzer Prize in 2011

Just before Christmas, a relatively short and stark press release appeared in the Boston Globe and on it's website,  Opera Boston was joining a frighteningly large number of excellent regional opera companies in closing down. Operations ceased as of January 1, 2012.

Tom Meglioranza as Prior Walter in the U.S. Premiere of Angels in America by Peter Otvos

 The chill of shock that ran through all of the Company's fans whom I know is still with us. The company was a great resource to the true opera lover, one who, like me, embraced the art form whole from Monteverdi to what was written last week. Yes, some production concepts failed but the risk had been taken and risk in the arts is essential to their progress. I think the audience here understood that -- Boston is a musically very sophisticated town, and its opera lovers still speak of Sarah Caldwell's repertory exploration as a golden age, no matter how chaotically organized and chronically indebted her company was.

Stephanie Blythe, superb comedienne in Second Empire fashion and commanding voice in Offenbach  

Along with traditional productions, OB mounted many updated and re-investigated text productions that were visually stimulating and theatrically exciting.   When the first body in Kurt Weill's The Rise and Fall of the City of Mahagonny was picked up and almost casually tossed in the dumpster on stage right, I remember saying to myself, "they got it absolutely right."  And when the great mezzo-soprano Stephanie Blythe took over the stage as Offenbach's La Grande Duchess de Gerolstein in a series of sumptuous period costumes and sets, the audience was dazzled.

 The Nose by Shostakovich

There's little doubt in my mind that Boston's other major opera company, Boston Lyric Opera, was jolted out of its standard repertory complacency by OB's adventurous repertory choices. In my opinion, which is shared by a good number of others, Boston Lyric's current, wider approach to repertory, and their new series of contemporary works done in appropriate venues all around the city, would not have happened if not for Opera Boston's success.  And OB trumped the MET in New York by a year in presenting Shostakovich's musically and satirically brilliant The Nose.

Paul Hindemith's Cardillac, magnificently sung and acted by Sanford Sylvan

Some information has seeped out about the contentious Board of Directors meeting that ended with the closure of the company.  The decision to pull the plug on OB was apparently violently opposed by many on the Board.  The financial problems of the company which were revealed are telling: after the inspired seven and a half year leadership of general manager Carole Charnow, the company was running a relatively modest deficit of just over $200,000.  In just six months of the new general manager, Leslie Koenig's administration, that deficit rose to $750,000.

Andrew Schrott and Heather Buck in Powder Her Face by Thomas Ad├Ęs

There seems to have been some disorganization attendant on the precipitous announcement released to the press immediately after the decision was reached.  Nobody apparently thought to contact the cast, designers and director of the upcoming and highly anticipated Boston premiere of Michael Tippett's The Midsummer Marriage -- they learned that they were out of their jobs from the press announcement like everybody else.  At the very least, that's a breach of professional courtesy.  Subscribers have not yet received any letter informing us of the closure (we assume, of course, that there will be no reimbursement for our money spent on tickets for the canceled part of the season) -- we know only what we get from the press. 

I hope that the company might be reorganized financially and revived, something called for urgently in the Boston Globe's editorial on the closing, which concluded with, "It's nothing short of a tragedy for the city that such a cultural institution could be dissolved with so little transparency -- and without a fight."

Any way you look at it, this is all very bad news for music and opera in Boston.

"...risk in the arts is essential to their progress..."

Similarly, the fixation on fear of the unknown or the stranger leads to an inwardly focused and proscribed world view that reacts and lashes out rather than expanding, innovating and inventing.

My goodness! I am certainly grumpy today.
(Perhaps) without meaning to, it seems to me that you've also described most of the Republican Party and its varied and sundry supporting groups.
We are so far off of "what America really is" that it's scary. We should be nervous. And scared.
I just can not be optomistic about the state of the union. I am sorry for your & Boston's loss.

Oddly, Portland Opera is running on the black (barely)... minor company though it is.
Arizona opera is not faring so well; they rely on 'old war horses' but I think this backfires. The people who go have heard the bromides so often that when they hear 'B" singers sing them, they are disappointed.
Michael, in venue after venue it has been proven that in tough economic times the thing to do is adventurous programming, offering people something new, done excitingly rather than to repeat the old favorites over and over again.
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