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  • Recommendations: Center for Contemporary Opera
    by InterstitialArts | March 16th, 2010 |
    CCO logo

    I recently attended a gala for the Center for Contemporary Opera, a small but valiant opera company which dedicates itself to presenting new, mostly American, opera in English, and was struck by the interstitiality of the evening, which offered tidbits from the company’s current season. Now if ever there was a genre with highly specified borders and devout artists and audiences guarding them, it is opera. In the popular mind, at least, opera is sung in German or Italian or French on grand stages like the Met to people dressed in tuxes and evening gowns peering through opera glasses. (Julia Roberts and Richard Gere in Pretty Woman come to mind.)

    Of course, it’s been a long time since that was the only kind of opera in town, and there have been a number of great American operas in the last 100 years, but the question of what is real opera, what is music theater, what is performance art, and what is all this other stuff, persists enough in the field so that when a small company like CCO defines itself, it is still obligated to explain that yes, it is offering that wildly innovative thing, contemporary opera in English.

    What struck me about the evening was how eclectic it was (and not even all in English, at that). They offered selections from four diverse works. Both Anaïs, by Susan Hurley, based on the diaries of Anaïs Nin, and The Secret Agent, by composer Michael Dellaira and librettist J.D. McClatchy, based on Conrad’s work, delved into the tragic emotional territory traditionally held by opera. But the excerpts from both works drew on a broad, flexible American musical language, and used singers with contemporary, fluid voices, and were not bound by expectation or idiom. The company also presented The Opium Song, a powerfully beautiful work written by American composer Eric Salzman to a French translation of lyrics by German writer Bertolt Brecht. Performed by master accordionist William Schimmel, it was a truly interstitial work, I think, in that it reflected and transcended so much music and social history.

    The evening ended with Review, a very short opera by librettist Patricia Marx (adapted from her own short New Yorker story) and composer Jeremy Beck, performed by the James Madison University Opera Theater. In the old days, battles might have raged as to whether it was opera or music theater; but as things seem to be moving on and people are finding other battlegrounds, it seems to me it was lively good fun, and unlike many operas I have seen, I found it much too short.

    Andrew Lloyd Webber is supposed to have said (and it may well be apocryphal) that the difference between opera and music theater is that when you are asking for a grant, it is opera, and when you show it to a producer, it’s music theater. But in an ideal world, it would interstitially be whatever it needed to be, on whatever stage served it best. It seemed like that night at CCO it was getting a little closer to that, and it was a very successful evening, even if nobody had opera glasses.

    Photos

    Anais

    Anais (Photo © Richard Marshall)
    Anais

    Anais (Photo – Richard Marshall)
    Review

    Review (Photo © Richard Marshall)
    Accord/Discord

    Accord/Discord (Photo © Richard Marshall)
    finish line

    One Response to “Recommendations: Center for Contemporary Opera”

    1. Jermar Inman Says:

      Enjoyed the article and quote from Webber. Refreshing that the artists are moving forward in that direction.

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