Thursday, August 7, 2014's a question

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.

1 comment:

  1. You're probably right in implying that the motivation for opera companies including musicals is both artistic and economic. I think that as younger people are involved in producing opera (and by "younger" I include Baby Boomers like myself), they bring more eclectic tastes and a disregard for categories and boundaries, and they want to reach their like-minded contemporaries who perhaps haven't discovered opera yet. For singers, this calls for ever more versatility, with the understanding that even "musical" is not a monolithic style, and someone who can sing "The Magic Flute" might be able to do "Oklahoma!" but maybe not "In the Heights."

    I don't know where the line is between operas and musicals, except to say that, since 1900, "serious" music has too often pursued isolation from popular taste. That's been changing for the past several decades, but that negative stereotype remains for a lot of people - toward not only contemporary music, but the entire classical tradition as well. That's a boundary we need to keep trying to break down, and sprinkling musicals among the operas is one way to attempt to do so.