One of the very old discussions in our business is where the line between musicals and operas exists.
In today's American opera scene the point seems somewhat moot - musicals such as Sound of Music, Carousel, Sweeney Todd, Showboat, and A Little Night Music are popping at companies all over our country (and Europe as well, for that matter).
So, the question is (and I realize that this isn't an either or question probably) - are these works being done because the opera world is finally recognizing that American musicals are a true part of the operatic continuum or is this purely a financial decision to help underwrite the "real" operas?
There is a great deal of new opera being produced today - Silent Night, Dark Sisters, Elmer Gantry, Dead man Walking, Moby Dick, and Our Town, just to name a very few. All of these pieces owe more to an ongoing classical tradition than they do to American musical theatre. Further, if a company does one of these works, they are credited with doing "new work". On the other hand, if that same company produces Light in the Piazza which is a contemporaneous with the above works, that same company would not be credited with doing new work, but would probably said to be chasing dollars.
One further point to bring up - even contemporary composers make the argument blurry.
Take Bernstein for example:
Three works - West Side Story, Candide, Trouble in Tahiti
The first is considered a musical, the second a hybrid, and the third an opera. And, all have been performed by opera companies, while only the first two have been performed by theatre companies.
Stephen Schwartz - very well known composer of such musicals as Godspell and Wicked, but decided to write an opera - Seance on a Wet Afternoon. It would seem in this composer's mind, there is a difference, though I do not know this for a fact.
In any case, I know I don't have an answer for this, but I certainly would like to know what others think.