The Rich Girls Are Weeping

15 June 2006

Can it, ya big diva. Pinkie and I sat on the edge of the pool at a tony Westlake address last night during a friend's birthday party, splashing the swimmers -- as we'd forgotten our bathing suits, and I chatted with a friend about the state of opera companies in the US. This friend has worked for several major opera companies for the past 25 years and recently made the switch a social activism charity after a contract stint with a certain federal agency after a certain devastating natural disaster.

My friend was telling me about a story that surfaced yesterday: The Houston Grand Opera, one of the most innovative and daring companies in the US, will have a $2.3 million budget deficit at the end of their fiscal year this July. Strangely enough, the HGO's former artistic director, David Glockley, recently moved to the San Francisco Opera to clean up the crippling $12 million deficit created by the previous director, and there just happened to be a story this morning on the Bloomberg wires about Glockley's plans to turn around the SFO.

Now, I hope you don't find this boring. But maybe it's just me who finds this kind of thing interesting; the opera business in the US has been in increasingly dire straits since the late 90's. And you can't point to anything simple as the cause. Sure, you can give the hairy eyeball to tired productions of the classics and too-weird productions of new operas, or the fact that people seem more motivated to support and contribute to health and social activism charities, or the post-9/11 economic downturn -- but the fact remains that opera companies have trouble doing outreach to new patrons -- especially 20-and-30-somethings. Which is to say, the demographic of most of the readership of this blog. For curiosity's sake: Do you have an interest in opera? If not, what would make you more interested in opera? If so, do you regularly attend opera productions? If not, how come? Ticket prices? Production quality? Uninteresting or unfamiliar repertoire?

Remember all those movies in the 80's that used arias and overtures as musical motifs? Moonstruck, Wall Street, The Hunger, A Room With A View, Raging Bull, Fatal Attraction -- just to name a few notable examples. Whatever happened to that fad? I suppose it just got played out, no pun intended.

And then there was the rather disastrous run on Broadway of Baz Luhrmann's retooling of La Boheme (the very early version of which I very vividly remember watching when it was on Great Performances as performed by Opera Australia about a million years ago). I had the rather amazing luck of seeing the production on Broadway, and it was about the most fantastic thing I'd ever seen on a stage in my entire life. Unfortunately, I don't think anyone else felt that way.

...but then wasn't it just a few years ago that everyone was mad for the Jerry Springer opera?

Leontyne Price -- 'Un Bel Di Vedremo' from Madama Butterfly

Alfredo Kraus -- 'Questa O Quella' from Rigoletto

Mary Costa -- 'Quando M'En Vo' (Musetta's Waltz) from La Boheme

James Levine and The National Philharmonic Orchestra -- Intermezzo from Cavalleria Rusticana

In other news: Thanks to George for tipping me off to the new Herbert album, Scales. I'm unsure how I missed knowing about a UK dance/house/whatever music producer who uses live instrumentation (STRINGS! HORNS!) in addition to samples, but there you go. (Oh, wait -- he produced that Roisin Murphy album Ruby Blue -- aha!) Check out tracks Pound For Pound and Silence Is A Rhythm Too.

Also, I'm finding I have a soft spot for bizarro pop singer/songwriter (and Canadian) Hawksley Workman. As I mentioned elsewhere today, he hits the same part of my brain that appreciates Rufus Wainwright, Ed Harcourt, Josh Ritter, M. Ward, Harvey Danger (and Sean Nelson in general), Keren Ann, Cass McCombs, Kevin Tihista, and naturally, the biggie, Harry Nilsson. I'm especially attached to "No Sissies" and his rather lovely cover of "Love Will Tear Us Apart" (via MOKB).

And: Here's a rather nice profile of Greg Dulli and a discussion of The Twilight Singers' Powder Burns from The Independent.


Blogger FiL said...

Oh yes, I am indeed partial to a spot of opera. Having spent the bulk of my life as a grup in the UK, my comments may only prove analogous to what's going on in the US of A. We never went to the Royal Opera purely because of price; any seats worth having generally started at around $75, and they went fast. Then you were looking at $120 and up, up up...

The English National Opera offered cheaper seats in the gods that were nevertheless acceptable, so we would periodically forage at that trough for operatic fodder. Production quality varied, but was generally good. I recall seeing a wonderfully wacky version of Die Fledermaus with a fantastic set that looked like something out of "The Cabinet of Dr Caligari."

And we have yet to explore the offerings here in the new hometown of Vancouver...


Thursday, June 15, 2006 6:40:00 PM  
Blogger cindy hotpoint said...

Huh, well, FiL, I guess I just answered my own questions by finding nearly complete and utter silence in the comments -- the indie rock kids don't care about opera. At all, apparently.

And all of maybe 5 people downloaded the accompanying tracks.

Friday, June 16, 2006 4:22:00 PM  
Blogger FiL said...

Yes, I had noticed the silence. Oh well, full marks for trying. Perhaps if we could get Greg Dulli to cover "La donna รจ mobile..."

You can count on one more person downloading - once I get around to firing up the home computer.


Friday, June 16, 2006 6:56:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I thought this post was fantastic. Nothing against indie; I like that, too; but it just happens that arts budgets and concert music take up more of my time, thanks to school.

Anyway, FiL and I would read this kinda thing every day, right FiL?

Friday, June 16, 2006 9:00:00 PM  
Blogger madrigalia said...

I like opera, but I'm not really of the socioeconomic class to actively support it yet. I also have serious reservations about arts administration and how its older funders stifle all attempts at ingenuity.
(Then again, I studied music in university, so perhaps my opinion doesn't count.)

Friday, June 16, 2006 9:44:00 PM  
Blogger FiL said...

Oh Cindy, perhaps you and I were too hasty in passing judgement. Maybe your readership is simply taking some time to digest this pithy post??

Gina, too right! I'm not an addict - I can stop ANYTIME I want to!! "More, more, more (how do you like it, how do you like it)..."

Friday, June 16, 2006 10:30:00 PM  
Blogger Amy said...

Hey, I like opera and I guess I sorta qualify as an indie kid (thought probably getting a little too old for the "kid" part). We're very lucky in Chicago to have the Lyric Opera, one of the best and most financially successful opera companies in the country. The Lyric basically sells out its entire season to subscribers. I don't have a spare $1,000+ for that, but usually end up going once a season or so as a guest of friends who do.

Saturday, June 17, 2006 1:11:00 PM  
Blogger Sean Nelson said...

so are you going to put out my nilsson record, then?

Saturday, February 17, 2007 3:40:00 PM  

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