Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Joyce Castle: Inquiring Mind

Considering her morbid fascination with the supermarket tabloids, it surprises very few people to learn that Joyce Castle feels perfectly at home inhabiting the bodies of an old woman with one buttock, a bisexual Russian prince, and a bearded lady. Who else but the 5'10" mezzo-soprano with shocking red hair, piercing green eyes, and "an enquiring mind" could hit operatic pay dirt while baking innocent children into gingerbread cookies and popping dead pussies into pies? Who else could earn the respect of her peers for allowing herself to be soaked and tossed about in a Venetian gondola while begging the world's greatest lover to transform her body into that of a male infant?

Only the woman known to her colleagues as Amazing Joyce. Whether appearing as the comic witch, Fata Morgana, in Prokofiev's The Love For Three Oranges. or the sex-starved Meg Brockie in Lerner & Loewe's Brigadoon, Joyce Castle brings a dramatic intensity to her performances that could encourage opera fans to pay scalper's prices for the privilege of watching this lady sing the telephone book. The Wall Street Journal's Manuela Hoelterhoff notes that, "In Mascagni's Cavalleria Rusticana, in the minor role of the old lady with one dumb son, Ms. Castle was so compelling holding her dish rag that her reviews were better than the singer who starred as Santuzza!" During the Washington Opera's production of Massenet's Cendrillon, Castle all but stole the show as Cinderella's ridiculous stepmother, Madame de la Haltiere. And, in the Long Beach Opera's production of Moore's The Ballad of Baby Doe, her riveting portrayal of Augusta Tabor became one of 1987's towering achievements in opera/musical theater.

"I specialize in special cases: nuts, mamas, lesbians, nymphomaniacs, witches, and men," she boasts. And few performers can match her in her fach.

What is the secret of Castle's success? She is the proud owner of that rare and sorely under-appreciated gift: a genuinely operatic voice supported by profound dramatic skills and a superb sense of musicianship. "I love the quest of going into another person's body or thought processes. It's something that I know about, although I don't exactly know why," muses Castle. "I'm very tedious with costumes, make-up, and being sure that my wig is right, which is tough on the costume people around me. But we work very closely together because I need to get all of that stuff right. When I can look in the mirror and see someone else there, it all sort of takes off in another direction and I can 'drop in.' "

"Watching rehearsals and attending performances is also very important. I try to see a lot of performances on Broadway, off-Broadway and, certainly, in the opera house, because I learn so much that way. Sometimes I don't even know what I'm learning, but it's a very important part of the artistic process. Back when I was doing all those performances of Sweeney Todd, I'd always keep telling myself to look further, to try to see if there wasn't something interesting about Mrs. Lovett that I hadn't yet caught onto. It's the same in my personal life. There's that constant searching to find the growth, to learn more about my place in the world, to understand my journey and my characters' journeys."

"That's risky business," she warns, "because you can miss or overstep your bounds. But taking risks is where it's all at. I'm not interested in being safe onstage. Nor am I interested in being in casts where I'm 'the best singer.' The key to my performing is that I don't want to print or freeze any of my roles. I prefer to be in a tremendously talented ensemble where people start spurring each other on and challenging each other because, if I'm hot -- if I'm really cooking --then I feel a great warmth with the audience."

That special kind of communication and reciprocity is what spurs Castle on to peak performance levels. "When you get to a certain space where you believe in yourself, the craft feels solid, the voice is working and you're trusting yourself more (which comes with maturity), that's when you can really start to love the product. And I don't mean 'loving it' in the worst, egotistical sense because. when a singer comes to the point where he or she loves the voice and loves the sound of the voice, it's a major career triumph. That means that you're in touch with yourself."

Is there a danger of getting too closely in touch with some of the kooky characters she portrays? Not according to Castle. "I love it when people tell me that they didn't recognize me onstage. That means I've 'dropped in' and found that slot or dramatic peg. It means that my voice is working well and has taken on the right timbre for the character. Recently, I seem to be succeeding more often. Who knows? Maybe I'm finally getting it all together."

It took many, many years for Castle to achieve that intoxicating state of musicodramatic equilibrium. Although people always told Joyce that her talent was exotic enough for her to do the high-drama mezzo roles, the voice wasn't there yet. In some ways, it may have taken her longer to mature than most other singers. As a child, the first pieces Castle ever sang were from Broadway musicals. Even as a pianist, she loved going through her family's collection of songbooks by Jerome Kern, Rodgers & Hart, Noel Coward, Cole Porter and Rodgers & Hammerstein.

"Mom tells me that I sang in public at the age of three and always acted around the house. I know that I had a vivid imagination and wanted to go into different characters as a form of make believe, but I don't ever remember thinking there was any difference between the world of acting and the world of singing. Whenever I sang, it made sense for what I was singing to show what the song meant. I guess I just came into the world with some of that information because an actress draws a lot on what's in her world and what's inside of her head."

"The young Joyce knew it all. She took lessons and sang art songs but certainly didn't do a lot of opera back in Baldwin City, Kansas," Castle reminisces. "Nevertheless, she believed in herself, loved her voice and, at least through college, could do absolutely anything. After she got her master's degree from the Eastman School of Music, she received some Rockefeller and Sullivan grants, sang with Western Opera Theater, sang with the Washington Opera, and did some concerts in New York. She always knew that singing was the only thing she could do. That was her dream."

The dream, alas, proved to be elusive and, like many women, Castle's artistic ambitions soon took a back seat to her marriage. Joyce's first husband, Wendell Castle, was a furniture designer from Kansas who built a $50,000 Steinway piano. Her second husband was another singer: tenor Bruce Brewer. In 1976, the Brewers moved to France and made their home in Paris. "I didn't sing in public for an entire year. Then I did a Salle Gaveau concert which was sudden death," recalls Joyce.

Later, I sang with Radio France, but it was tough going. 1 wasn't terribly happy and was doing a real number on myself by putting my dreams on the back burner. I understand that relationships require a certain amount of give and take, but when we don't speak from the truth within ourselves, then things just don't work. A lot of women can probably relate to those thoughts of 'Maybe I should defer to my husband in this instance: I now know that, whenever I used to say those things to myself, I was not really speaking honestly or coming from my center."

Although married and singing, Castle's ambitions remained far from being fulfilled. "I always knew that I needed to sing but there aren't too many American singers today who are making a living in France. Of course, my second marriage wasn't all bad," she argues," because, even if I was not doing the biggest roles or singing 70 performances a year (which I've been doing since I returned to the United States), at least Bruce and I sang a lot of bel canto concerts together. Bel canto certainly wasn't my repertoire, but singing a lot of music by Bellini, Rossini, and Donizetti didn't do bad things for my voice, now did it?"

It certainly did not. And, while performing with regional opera companies in Lyon, Monte Carlo, Rouen, Lille, Metz and Tours, Joyce acquired a wealth of stage experience. In addition to her appearances at the Aix-en-Provence Festival, she made her German debut in 1981 with the Frankfurt-based avant-garde music theater company called Grupo Accion. "Luckily, I sang throughout the entire time that I was living abroad. And what was also happening was that I was slowly getting older. That worked very well for me because, when I came back to the States, I was finally able to sing the roles I looked like I should have been singing when I went to Europe."

By the time of her second divorce (the domestic crisis which Castle credits as the catalyst which launched her career into high gear) the mezzo's talents had reached a critical temperature. "I had been singing for nine years in Paris but not really pushing myself," she explains. "I was working on my voice, my head, my nerves and trying to fit it all together. I knew that, at that point, I could trust myself, go for the things I'd always wanted and pursue the dream I'd had for so many years. And I was so ready to hit America!"

In 1982, Castle sang an audition for Beverly Sills, who offered her a contract at City Opera that was less than great. "I could have turned it down, but decided to go to New York, get my foot in the door and be seen (even in a small role) because I felt that if I could just get onto the scene, I could grow and be offered something else," she states. "Then the strike came and I was reduced to making my City Opera debut as Olga (a speaking role in The Merry Widow) and doing the little part of Suzy in La Rondine. As I say, I could have waited for 'the big offer' but you never know when a so-called 'small offer' might lead to great things. As it turned out, I was right to have taken that c ontract because, ever since my debut, Beverly has given me fantastic roles at city Opera!"

Castle's biggest break came when she auditioned for the Houston Grand Opera's production of Sweeney Todd. "I had been recommended to sing for Hal Prince, who didn't know me from nothing! I couldn't get hold of the score for Sweeney Todd in Paris, didn't know the songs and didn't know Mrs. Lovett at all. So I had to learn 'The Worst Pieces in London' and 'By the Sea' right off of the recording. Luckily, I seemed to understand the character. When I walked onstage to audition for Hal in London, he said 'You didn't have to fly here to do this -- I could have heard you sing in Vienna in June.' I said 'Yeah, I know. But if I hadn't come here, you'd have had this show cast by June!' "

A year later, when Houston Grand Opera became the first opera company to perform Sondheim's Sweeney Todd, Joyce became the first opera singer to tackle the role of Mrs. Lovett (an extremely daunting proposition). "It's logical to be in awe of such a huge role because it's so enormously challenging," she explains. "Mrs. Lovett is a tremendous, high-adrenaline role which requires a lot of work. You give and give and give and, with a part like that, it becomes like a great gift: all that energy comes back to you. However, with Angela Lansbury's mark all over the role, it was a very intimidating experience. Angela's one of my favorite actresses and a huge star. Just think: We know her from her work in the movies, on television, and on Broadway. We know her legs, her voice, we know everything about her. She's just fantastic!"

Hal Prince's assistant, Arthur Masella, did most of the staging until the last week of rehearsals. "Artie knew that I was scared to death," recalls the mezzo-soprano, "and I quickly realized that to copy Angela Lansbury would be a hideous mistake. I was going to have to dig deeper and try to discover what I could see about the character and what my voice could do with the songs. That's because, first of all, I have a very different voice and personality. Second, there was no way that I could be Angela -- she's just much better at it!"

If it was difficult for Castle to exorcise Lansbury's ghost from the role of Mrs. Lovett, it was even harder for some of the people working with her. "The conductor, John DeMain, apologized and said 'I'm sorry, I've just got Angela lodged in my brain: However, a wonderful role can be done by many people and that's where a performer can search for the gold in her own self."

How did Joyce solve the problem? "I started off by loving Sondheim's work. That's obvious, but I want to say it, anyway. I love his music, his plays on words and the role of Mrs. Lovett. And, yes, I was intimidated when he came to our first dress rehearsal," she sighs. "Most of us were, because it was like having Beethoven out there! Luckily, Steve is immediately approachable and, when it comes to working one-on-one, he's such a creative mind that he immediately gives you the impression that he's hearing new things which are very interesting to him. Steve worked very carefully with me on line readings, voice colors and only tried to work with what I was bringing to the role. I never got anything negative from Sondheim -- if he tried to change something, he would do it in such a gentle way that it felt like a collaborative effort."

Joyce has since performed Mrs. Lovett for the New York City Opera and Arkansas Opera Theatre. How does she feel about having an ongoing relationship with the composer of such a groundbreaking work as Sweeney Todd? "Steve's now seen me perform the role many times and always comes backstage to give me notes. If I get notes, that means I've challenged him. But if Stephen Sondheim ever comes backstage after having seen me perform Mrs. Lovett without giving me notes, then I can rest assured that I'm not doing anything very interesting anymore!"

Having appeared at City Opera as Mrs. Lovett in Sweeney Todd, Meg Brockie in Brigadoon and Lalume in Kismet, does Castle see any dividing line between her work in opera and musical comedy? Not really.

"It's all a package to me. Whether you're doing a straight play, musical comedy, or opera, it's still performing. Where it does make a difference, however, is in the voice. Now that I'm doing an awful lot of opera I find that, when learning a musical comedy role, I have to be careful about how I work out the vocal part. That's because I'm not Ethel Merman. Instead, I'm what you might call a fake belter, which means that whenever I 'drop into' a character, my voice has to be molded to that character's sound (which has an awful lot to do with color and timbre). I have to know exactly what I'm doing in order to achieve a certain mix in the middle range so that I can color my voice without hurling it and yet make it all sound right. I can't keep faking chest voice up to high C because I know when I'm going out of chest and, if I take chest voice too high for too long, I can kiss my next role good-bye."

That's the last thing Joyce Castle would ever want to do. Three years ago, the girl from Kansas (who had waited so long to get it together) found herself working all three theaters in Lincoln Center: the Met, the New York City Opera and (with the New York Philharmonic) Avery Fisher Hall. "I was proud to be working those three houses," boasts Castle. "Very, very proud. And now that the Washington Opera and Santa Fe Opera have started to use me on a regular basis, there's been a show of confidence which makes me feel very good."

Since her bloodthirsty triumph as Mrs. Lovett in 1984, Joyce has been applying her dramatic skills to a string of mezzo roles. Last year she sang Waltraute in the Met's new production of Die Walkure while covering for Evelyn Lear as the lesbian Countess Geschwitz in Berg's Lulu. "I'd kill to do that role;' she snarls.

In December Joyce returns to the Houston Grand Opera as the witch in a new production of Humperdinck's Hansel and Gretel. Following her appearances in Texas as Rosina Daintymouth, she tackles her first Herodias in Winnipeg. One role on which Castle has left an indelible personal stamp is the character of Madame d'Urfe in Argento's Casanova. Following the opera's New York premiere, New York Magazine's critic, Peter G. Davis, commented that, "as the obsessed Madame d'Urfe, Joyce Castle somehow manages to be hilariously loony and strangely touching at the same time -- a remarkable performance."

How does the lady herself feel about Argento's crazed alchemist? "When I was researching d'Urfe, I didn't have much to go on except what I saw on the page and what we were developing in rehearsals," Joyce recalls. "But right away, I saw this very serious woman who was trying to turn metal into gold and wanted to be changed into a male infant. d'Urfe is a fascinating character, an amazing woman who actually existed! And the key to portraying her is that this lady earnestly believes in what she's doing."

"During rehearsals for Act II (which contains my big storm scene in the gondola) Artie Masella kept saying 'This lagoon scene is so funny! This is the battiest woman!' I suppose that, in a highly-stylized comic opera like Cendrillon or The Daughter of the Regiment you could turn a role like d'Urfe into a caricature. But I didn't see her as being the slightest bit funny Maybe it's a question of semantics, but we're talking about a very serious woman."

The earnestness with which Joyce approached the role paid off in spades for, during Casanova's Act II storm scene, City Opera audiences kept howling with laughter. Joyce's shattering interpretation of another major mezzo role (frequently dubbed "the American Amneris") will be on view in Lincoln Center this fall when the New York City Opera revives Douglas Moore's The Ballad of Baby Doe.

"Sometimes, if you haven't done a role before, you really don't know how it's going to play,"states Castle, "and I was as shocked by the opening night reaction to my Augusta in Long Beach as I was by the response in New York to Madame d'Urfe. Back when I was working on the role with Peter Mark Schifter, I remember preparing a very dramatic confrontation with Horace Tabor which places Augusta in great tension. Although I wanted to show it all, Peter suggested that Augusta might have been such a Northeastern woman (who had been raised in such a rigid family) that she would not really show all of that emotion. Instead, perhaps she would let it all boil up inside her. When I read the same line again, I realized that to show Augusta's fire by being cooler would make her much more volatile. Why? Because all of that fire remains so tightly controlled and pent up inside her."

"You see, Augusta loved her husband in the best sense of the word. She supported Horace for all those years, did the very best she could and now some little snip has walked in and shattered her life. She can see in Baby Doe so much of what she herself lacks: youth, beauty, and a certain kind of softness. I'm convinced that, somewhere deep inside, she wishes she might have had some of those girlish qualities. But Augusta's a very proud woman who understands that she is what she is. What's more, she knows that she's been done wrong."

In the Long Beach Opera's production of The Ballad of Baby Doe, Castle played Augusta's final scene in a wheelchair, thus effecting a theatrical tour de force which shocked many people in the audience. "Placing her in a wheelchair showed even more of the emotional control Peter had been talking because, by that point in the opera, circumstances have started to close in on Augusta. She's older than Baby Doe, she can feel the world closing in on her and yet she still wants to do things which might help Horace. But she can't get out of that chair. Although Augusta still has very strong feelings for her husband, being stuck in that wheelchair made me say 'I cannot go to him because I can't get out of my situation."

Last summer, while performing in Die Fledermaus and The Black Mask at the Santa Fe Opera, Joyce found herself in quite a different situation: giving master classes to apprentice singers. "What I really like to see in the kids is that romantic spirit about their work because, if you love what you're doing, then you're going to stick it out. I like to talk to young singers about that process and I always scream at them about the need to let the voice develop on its own. Every singer has to learn how to just sit still, wait and be patient. You don't need the moon to open things up;' she cautions. "If your craft is strong, your voice is going, and you're working on what you do, a door will open up somewhere. Somehow."

"Look, if I'd started singing Klytemnestra (which I haven't done yet) 10 or 15 years ago, there wouldn't be a shred of voice left today! So patience is the real biggie for a singer. Unfortunately, I also see a lot of that big, unspoken word --fear -- in the eyes of the apprentices. Many people are scared of the business and scared of performing. They're scared of getting out there, cracking on a high note, and then finishing the aria. I can sympathize with all that because I've gone up on lines, had terrible fears, and been in performances where my voice wasn't ready. I've been frightened of the voice and frightened of not being able to make a living. Anyone who's been in the business for twenty years (like I have) can sympathize with those fears if they're really being honest with themselves:'

What advice does Castle like to give to the apprentices? "How you react to a review reflects how much you believe in yourself. I've been very lucky to have had wonderful notices. But I've also gotten some bad reviews from time to time and, yes, they do hurt. For a young singer it hurts even more because, at some periods in your life, you're so sensitive that you might read a review and go into a great depression. Later, when a friend calls up to say 'That was a nice notice you got; you realize that, by being hypersensitive, you'd read something into the review that wasn't there and made it sound even worse! But Schwarzkopf got bad reviews. So did Sutherland. And once in a while we have to remember that. I'm now able to let bad reviews go by the wayside and maybe even disagree with them. But the hardest thing to deal with is when I get an unfavorable notice and agree with it because I think I was off during that particular performance."

Is there any kind of singing which Castle doesn't like to do? You'd better believe it. In 1986, while she was rehearsing the role of Prince Orlofsky for the Santa Fe Opera's new production of Die Fledermaus, stage director Charles Ludlam (who founded the Ridiculous Theatrical Company) told Joyce "You really do drag well:' Less than a year later, the mezzo-soprano was singing at Ludlam's funeral.

"In the past few years, some brilliant minds have been closed because of AIDS and this disease has hit our business very hard. Music helps, and what we are doing in this profession is very important for humanity. Sometimes you have to share your talent and, although, at such moments, there's a real sense of sharing, it's never easy to sing at a friend's funeral," sighs the singer. "Marilyn Horne has sung at many funerals lately and been very generous with her time. If, personally, I prefer not to sing at another funeral, it's simply because I don't want another one of my friends to die."

"The sharing of music and my relationships with people are very important to me. I've traveled so much that I don't have a serious home. But what I do have are lots of friends, lots of links with people and a feeling that we need to be there to help each other in this world. I love the fact that I love my work, that it can be very uplifting to people, and that it can take people out of their own problems and suffering. I've seen that happen over and over again and that energy gives me a good feeling."

For a moment, Joyce falls silent as she struggles to regain control of her emotions. When she looks up at me, her speaking voice has resumed its deep and lazy drawl. "Occasionally, singers become very insular and allow the voice to become the only thing that matters. My life has been a series of moments. Wonderful moments. And, while I don't like to shut the door on any of those moments (not even on some of the painful memories), to say that certain things in my past did not exist would really be deluding myself. Wouldn't it be too bad if I was just in this business for my own thing, or if I were just trying to make a big buck? Wouldn't it be too bad if it were just me, my voice, and my journey? My ego? My path in life? Me? Me? Me?"

"If your friends and loved ones don't mean an awful lot to you, then it's very hard to see that other side of the drama onstage. I haven't come to the time in life, knock wood, where I've lost my parents or people in my immediate family who are very, very close to me. But I've had two broken marriages and friends of mine are now very ill. Some of them are dying and I feel lucky to have known these people; if only for a little while. Humanity is a really big word to toss around, but I mean it very sincerely when I say that, in this world, the minutes do count."

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This article originally appeared in the November 1988 issue of Opera Monthly magazine.

Classical Symptoms

My opera education differed radically from that of many others. Instead of reading one musicological tome after another, I stood in the theater each night, watching and listening as singers learned new roles. Instead of comparing umpteen recordings of the same aria performed by singers who were by that time quite dead, I listened to artists as they continued to stretch their talents and grow before my very eyes. Night after night, I witnessed the operatic art form come of age in my own country and in my own time. The uniqueness of my experience left me with a perspective on the art form diametrically opposed to the consumer-oriented mind set of so many members of today’s audiences.

Recent advances in digital technology have produced such exciting breakthroughs in the quality of recorded sound that it seems like the technological revolution is causing more and more opera fans to stay home as opposed to attending live performances. Lately, some of my friends have spent so much of their earnings purchasing compact discs that I’ve begun to wonder if a group shouldn’t be formed called “CDs Anonymous.”

Thanks to the new technology, videocassettes of live performances are simultaneously allowing more people to become better acquainted with the operatic art form and, in many ways, the experience of watching an opera video is similar to that of watching a travelogue. One can instantly be transported to the Met, La Scala, Glyndebourne, or the Verona Arena for an armchair adventure which captures a specific operatic moment and preserves it for posterity.

What worries me is that, even as opera succeeds in reaching new audiences, the mass consumerism spurred by the home entertainment center is discouraging people from going to the theater. I think that’s a tremendous insult to the army of professional singers who (although their performances may not be available on compact disc or videocassette) are exceptionally strong performing artists who deserve our undivided attention.

Singers continue to grow according to a unique set of variables and their voices, bodies, personal and professional lives all undergo changes which are rarely taken into account when a videotape from an earlier part of their careers is randomly dropped into someone’s VCR. Because a great deal of performing involves taking risks and struggling to improve one’s art, the hard copy emblazoned on a digital or videotaped product might prevent consumers from supporting artists (live and in person) as they age and, like the best of wines, continue to mature.

I am by no means opposed to people acquiring books, records, compact discs, videocassettes, and other spin-off products which can only add to their appreciation of the operatic art form. After all, building a musical library satisfies the obsessive demands of any operatic gourmet’s palette and most people prefer to go shopping for tangible goods.

The problem I envision lies much further down the line and is perhaps best illustrated by the phenomenal success of America’s video porn industry. In a perverse way, opera videos are remarkably similar to skin flicks. Both products offer the consumers a distinctly vicarious set of rewards. But, when push comes to shove, the video is no substitution for the excitement of participating in the real thing.

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This article originally appeared in the November 1988 issue of Opera Monthly magazine.

Opera Monthly Editorial - February 1989

Ever since its inception, the editors of this magazine have attempted to focus our readers' attention on living rather than dead composers. Why do we feel these creative talents need a forum in which to explain their work while describing their feelings about the artistic process? Because, in this day and age, it's extremely difficult to capture a commission to create a new opera. It's even harder to keep a new work alive after its birth.

No operatic composer, from Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart to John Adams, ever got it right on the first shot and, in today's acutely media-conscious music world, reviews, interviews, and other forms of publicity help to validate a composer's artistic output and create a growing appetite for his or her work. Market demand yields further opportunities to compose, and only by reliving and re¬working the creative process can a composer's talent develop and his artistic output grow.

The facts speak for themselves. In March 1986, when Opera/Columbus presented the world premiere of Thomas Pasatieri's thirteenth full-length opera, The Three Sisters, the production was reviewed by a handful of critics. Although Pasatieri's opera was recorded for posterity and subsequently staged in the Soviet Union, the world premiere's lack of national press (and the fact that Opera/Columbus acted as a sole producer) may have doomed a beautiful opera to an untimely death. Jay Reise's Rasputin (which was independently produced by the New York City Opera last fall) seems destined to follow in the footsteps of The Three Sisters.

By contrast, the overwhelming success of Nixon In China is due, in large part, to the massive wave of publicity which accompanied its initial string of performances as well as the way in which John Adams's first opera was co-commissioned and co-produced by a consortium of arts organizations. Thanks to a national telecast on PBS and the opera's successful commercial release on LP, cassette, and compact disc, Nixon in China is assured its niche in the repertoire. Adams is now working on a new opera about the hijacking of the S.S. Achille Lauro.

At Opera Monthly, we are determined to give contemporary composers the media exposure they deserve within their own lifetimes. Even though our magazine is just a little under a year old, we are proud to have published interviews with such important contemporary composers as Conrad Susa, Robert X. Rodriguez, Philip Glass, Jay Reise, Dominick Argento, and Alva Henderson. In this issue, we proudly introduce you to two more creative talents: Charles Strouse (a well-established Broadway composer who is crossing over into children's operas) and Stephen Paulus (who composed The Village Singer, The Postman Always Rings Twice and The Woodlanders for the Opera Theatre of St. Louis).

A superb craftsman who would love to write another opera, Paulus finds himself in an extremely peculiar predicament. Although, at present, he is up to his ears in commissions from symphony orchestras, he is not a "trendy" composer. Nor have his operas evolved as part of any co-production scheme. We fear that unless more people start paying serious attention to Stephen Paulus's music. his name vill be overlooked when opera impresarios go shopping for composers who can write new scores.

Why are we devoting so much space to Postman and Paulus instead of publishing an academic treatise explaining why, on some cold, dark and stormy night Mozart ordered stuffed cabbage for dinner? Because we sincerely feel that the North American opera community cannot afford to neglect such an important talent.

As one singer so tactfully suggested, "Mozart's dead. He doesn't care what vou write about him." Nor is Mozart seeking a commission to write another opera.

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This article originally appeared in the February 1989 issue of Opera Monthly magazine.

The Media And The Message

Each September, when the curtain rises on opening night of the opera season, the media pays close attention to the evening's festivities. Only for a handful of journalists, however, is the performance a musical event. To many, it's a fashion circus (the local installment of Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous) and the reporters who get the most print space are the ones who describe the evening as an orgy of conspicuous consumption. As a result, the message the media delivers to the public is that opera is a feeble excuse for the rich to flaunt their wealth.

Last year, the San Francisco Sunday Examiner's Image magazine published a cover story appropriately titled Let Them Eat Cake which detailed how 970 San Franciscans spent $11.5 million in seven "fabulous, fabulous days" surrounding the opening performances of the San Francisco Symphony and the San Francisco Opera. Although the people mentioned in this article were thrilled to be treated as celebrities, the message delivered to readers was anathema to most people working in opera.

If we can't do a better job of educating the folks who shape the news, then the negative images of opera perpetuated by editors who know nothing about our art form will continue to repulse those who never have and probably never will attend an operatic performance. (Such people outnumber opera lovers by a ratio of 100 to 1.) Thankfully, change is on the horizon. Although the cynical greed, political corruption, and artistic cowardice embraced by the Reagan administration have spread to Margaret Thatcher's Great Britain, the social pendulum has already started to swing in the opposite direction. Angry reactions to repressive and elitist ideologies are being expressed from London to Los Angeles; from Texas to Tiananmen Square. It now looks as though the 1990s may surpass the Sixties as an era of protest, liberalism, and social upheaval.

In February, tenors Jose Carreras and Placido Domingo were performing at a benefit concert (whose proceeds went to fund leukemia research) when 52 people were injured outside the theater as a crowd of 1,500 clashed with police. Angered at the ostentatious display of wealth being paraded before them by the audience attending Vienna's Opera Ball, rock-throwing demonstrators chanted "Eat the Rich!"

Each nation experiences a period of tremendous decadence in society during which there is a sudden and incredible explosion of creativity. At this very moment, the United States is ripe for opera to become a contemporary art form and, in many ways, the hypocritical excesses paraded onstage in Where's Dick? are symbolic of what has been wrong with America during the 1980s.

This exciting new opera by Michael Korie and Stewart Wallace (which recently received its world premiere from Texas Opera Theater) holds a frightening mirror up to a society in which child abuse, evangelistic con artists, gratuitous violence, and a national dependency on drugs have become part and parcel of our cultural landscape. Nevertheless, in examining our nation's current priorities, it's easy to understand why so many people in the arts feel disillusioned.

In June, a genuine fear of political and economic reprisals initiated by conservative forces led the management of Washington's famed Corcoran Gallery to cancel an exhibit of the late Robert Mapplethorpe's controversial photographs. Congress was asked to bankroll $193 million to underwrite the pomp and glory delivered by military bands while the $170 million proposed as the entire budget for the National Endowment for the Arts (a paltry sum with which to stimulate artistic growth throughout the 50 states) has come under political attack by Congressman Jesse Helms.

The arts are a vital avenue of expression which must never succumb to political oppression. Yet, with little understanding of the artistic process -- or the freedom of expression guaranteed to creative minds by the First Amendment of the United States Constitution -- Senator Helms has publicly and self-righteously denounced the work produced by artists like Mr. Mapplethorpe as "trash!'

Beauty rests in the eye of the beholder. And that's why so many of the acutely intelligent people who work in opera and its fellow disciplines don't hesitate to hail Mapplethorpe's controversial photographs -- and a seminal opera like Where's Dick? -- as important pieces of American art while denouncing narrow-minded ideologues like Senator Helms as our nation's truest trash. Perhaps those who were aghast at the insidious double standards, evil forces, and ghoulish characters depicted in Where's Dick? should ask themselves whether it is the opera which actually horrifies them so much or the sick society that this daring and iconoclastic piece of art reflects.

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This article originally appeared in the September 1989 issue of Opera Monthly magazine.

Backing It Into The Future

While many opera professionals continually bemoan the fact that audiences aren't getting any younger, other than the Santa Fe Opera, the Houston Grand Opera, and Opera Theatre of St. Louis, few companies have been courageous enough to embrace an artistic policy that would commit them to staging new works on a regular basis. At a recent opera conference, controversial stage director Peter Sellars warned a crowd of traditionally-minded operatic producers that he represents the next generation of creative talent and, if people are not going to cooperate with him, the very least they could do is get the hell out of his way.

This summer, American audiences have been exposed to a surprising number of operas by contemporary composers. Philip Glass's groundbreaking Satyagraha and The Making of the Representative from Planet 8 have been performed in Seattle and Houston. Krzysztof Penderecki's The Black Mask will soon receive its American premiere at the Santa Fe Opera. The New York City Opera is about to unveil Jay Reise's Rasputin, and in November, the Dallas Opera will present the world premiere of Dominick Argento's The Aspern Papers. Two weeks later, Opera San Jose will present the world premiere of Alva Henderson's West of Washington Square.

Further down the line, Holy Blood and Crescent Moon, the first opera to be composed by Stewart Copeland (drummer for the rock group Police) is scheduled to have its world premiere at the Cleveland Opera. In 1989, the Opera Theater of St. Louis will unveil a new science fiction opera, Under The Double Moon, with a score by Anthony Davis. And, following the success of Nixon in China, we hear that Peter Sellars is working with John Adams on a new opera about the hijacking of the S.S. Achille Lauro.

When confronted by such irreverent antics, the opera world's old guard bristles with rage. And yet, the same conservative audiences who decry the use of four-letter words onstage can blissfully ignore the politics, immorality, and harsh realities of Violetta's wholesale whoring, Scarpia's sadistic tortures, and the Duke of Mantua's impressive track record as a rapist -- as long as these activities are backed by opera's hit tunes.

Ever since the Vietnam War and the social upheaval engendered by the sexual and drug revolutions, our society has undergone frequent and dramatic change. While the operatic art form boasts a glorious past, the people entrusted with its future can no longer afford to seek shelter from reality by hiding in the nineteenth century.

In order for opera to become a popular art form in America it must embrace new sounds, new thoughts, new language, and new technologies. Clinging tenaciously to the hit tunes of Mozart, Verdi, Wagner, and Puccini won't solve the problem. We are at the dawn of the twenty-first century, and if opera is to survive, its producers and audiences must take greater artistic risks than they ever even dared consider before.

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This article originally appeared in the August 1988 issue of Opera Monthly magazine.

Opera Monthly Editorial - June 1988

Back in 1959, when he was campaigning for the Presidency, Senator John F. Kennedy insisted that, "after the dust of centuries has passed over our cities, we, too, will be remembered not for victories or defeats in battle (or in politics), but for our contribution to the human spirit. The new frontier for which I campaign in public life can also be a new frontier for American art. I look forward to an America which will reward achievement in the arts as we reward achievement in business or statecraft."

A quarter century after Kennedy's death, the fertilization and nurturing of operatic talent by such apprentice programs as Texas Opera Theater, the Exxon Arts Endowment Conductors Program, Affiliate Artists, and various components ofthe San Francisco Opera Center have pro-duced thousands of skilled American artists. But these talented men and women all need jobs. Throughout their careers they are confronted by enormous expenses (the financial overhead most commonly known as "the costs of doing business") and, having invested an extraordinary amount of blood, sweat, tears, and money to develop their professional skills, should not be expected to perform for less than adequate financial compensation.

The dwindling of the dollar's value outside the United States amounts to an opportunity to reinvest in American artists. Foreign singers continually cancel their engagements, and various impresarios are casting many roles with Americans, who are happy to accept payment in American dollars while singing on their home turf. And each American hired by one of our opera companies joins ranks with an army of native professionals who can help prevent the industry from being held hostage by foreign artists whenever the dollar loses ground against the yen, pound, or Deutsch mark.

Just as the auto industry rallied behind Lee lacocca's cry to "Buy American," we urge readers to invest their time, money, and energy to support opera in America. Investing in America's opera scene can mean bypassing the automatic snob appeal of a foreign name to validate the work that is being offered by so many American artists. Sometimes it means resisting the temptation to be swept off our feet by intensely hyped but artistically mediocre one-night stands with international superstars. Most important, regularly attending performances in cities throughout the United States will prove to anyone that what we present on our stages is often as good as (and frequently better than) what is produced in many European opera houses.

Thanks to competitively reasonable airfares, it is now more practical and economic for Americans to schedule weekend jaunts to cities like Chicago, Los Angeles, Houston, St. Louis, New York, San Francisco, and Washington than it is to fly abroad to attend opera. The pickings are plentiful, the artistic standards are most im¬pressive, and in many cases, the product itself is even home-grown.

We urge you to rediscover America and explore its many operatic frontiers.

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This article originally appeared in the June 1988 issue of Opera Monthly magazine.

Back To School

"Give me a girl at an impressionable age and she is mine for life;' insisted Miss Jean Brodie when she was in her prime. Back in the days when I worked for a YMCA summer camp, the teenaged boys who went sailing, swimming and waterskiing during the day got used to hearing the voices of Joan Sutherland, Ethel Merman, and Beverly Sills emanating from my office as they returned to their tents each night.

Recently, when I dined with a former camper (who is now a Yuppie lawyer on Wall Street) he made a rather startling confession. "You probably never knew it at the time but, in a very subtle way, you let us all know that, in addition to sports, it was okay for opera and other cultural stuff to be a part of our lives."

In addition to introducing young audiences to opera by having them attend student matinees, educational outreach programs have had a tremendous impact in planting the operatic seed in the minds of America's youth. During classroom sessions held in Florida's Bradenton and Sarasota school districts, students were asked if they had ever seen an opera. Few raised their hands. But when asked how many of them watched MTV, the air was suddenly filled with eager arms. "Well, Tosca was the music of its day,just as Motley Crue or Sting perform the music of today," singer Jeanette Lavoy told the youngsters.

"The idea is to give the kids something they can remember, whether they react with giggles or in awe;' insists Lois Flach, Director of the Manatee Council for the Arts. "We don't know if they'll become the opera audience ofthe future, but they'll be stimulated and remember this form of music."

Having finally conceded that their audiences are not getting any younger, most impresarios have finally acknowledged the need to work harder at instilling a love of opera in the minds of the very young. Thanks to the educational outreach efforts of the San Francisco Opera Guild, students in the Berkeley school system are receiving a hands-on experience with the art form by composing and performing their own operas in Italian. In other cities, performances of children's operas such as John Davies' The Night Harry Stopped Smoking, Karen DiChiera's Snoopy Goes To Northland, and James McKeel's Jargonauts, Ahoy! present opera in a time and place meaningful to schoolchildren instead of teaching them that the only place opera ever stood a chance was in nineteenth-century Europe.

If the Armed Forces and today's televangelists can be so brazen about recruiting young souls to their causes, there's no reason why opera's professionals can't follow suit. In hopes that the seeds planted through its educational outreach programs will grow into strong, well¬educated operagoers who buy tickets and donate money, OPERA America has recently developed a solid curriculum for Grades K through 12. Opera is, coincidentally, the only performing arts discipline to have developed such a tool for teaching America's youth.

The basic rule of thumb is simple: "As ye sow, so shall ye reap."

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This article originally appeared in the October 1988 issue of Opera Monthly magazine.

Opera Monthly Editorial - January 1989

For most nonprofit organizations, the last two months of the year represent the period in which corporate and individual fundraising activities hit peak levels. This is the time when businesses determine how much money they can afford to donate to charitable causes and when individuals are most likely to write checks out of the goodness of their hearts. However, donations need not always be made on a purely cash basis (one can donate securities, real estate, life insurance, art, antiques, jewelry, valuable books, or records), and gifts made in the form of a bequest or charitable remainder trust can be written into a person's will in order to help an opera company prosper after a donor's demise.

Although the tax laws regarding deductions for chari­table contributions keep changing, there are two precious and wholly untaxable gifts which, throughout the year, we all give to opera. One is our basic love for the art form; the other is word of mouth. Together, these are in­valuable when it comes to performing a vital missionary function. Other support comes in a surprising variety of shapes, sizes, and flavors, and two types of donors can never receive enough thanks for their steady stream of contributions. Although the gifts they give do not come in the form of money, throughout the season many non-­union people employed in the opera world (ushers, super­numeraries, administrators, secretaries, photographers, journalists, receptionists, etc.,) expend tremendous amounts of energy while performing services which lie far above and beyond the call of duty.

These folks often work unscheduled hours during peak production periods, run crazy last-minute errands and help to defuse the numerous insane crises which beset every opera company. They are rarely thanked for their efforts and yet, if these people were less willing to pitch in at the last minute in order to further a cause in which they passionately believe, we'd all be in pretty hot water.

In a similar vein, the nation's vast army of volunteers frequently prevent this industry (and for that matter, America's entire nonprofit sector) from grinding to a dead halt. The gifts these people give both in kind as well as in kindness deliver multiples of the goods and services which a donor's money can buy.

Since this is, traditionally, a season for giving and the making of new resolutions, we'd like to suggest that you start the New Year off by giving a very special gift which will help opera prosper in America. It's an important gift -- the gift of knowledge -- and, as we all know, knowledge is power.

By giving someone a subscription to Opera Monthly, you can help us join hands with America's professional opera community to achieve an important long-range educational goal. The better-informed our readers become, the better-equipped they will be to enjoy the operatic art form. Educated audiences soon become educated donors, and those opera companies which receive their support are most likely to thrive and show a greater willingness to commission and produce new works.

New works and the broadening of the repertoire help to increase the public's awareness and excitement about opera, thus whetting the appetite for more knowledge about the operatic art form. So help us to complete this important cycle of learning by empowering yourself and your friends to share in the excitement of exploring America's cultural frontiers by subscribing to Opera Monthly.

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This article originally appeared in the January 1989 issue of Opera Monthly magazine.

Find Broadway's Babies A Home

Not every performer has the vocal equipment or musical talent required to become an opera singer. Yet each and every opera singer must become a skilled performer who can learn from and, when the occasion demands it, adopt a wide variety of musical styles. Many years ago, soprano Eileen Farrell was perfectly justified in telling Rudolf Bing that she had a right to sing the blues. That's because it doesn't matter whether one's vocal technique is applied to Mozart, Motown, bel canto, or Broadway. Each genre requires a performing artist to use his or her voice as a means of punctuating a specific dramatic moment and communicating it in musical terms.

In recent years, the question of whether to define a work as a full-blown opera or a piece of musical theater has become a moot point. During the 1960s, while several German opera companies began performing West Side Story, My Fair Lady, and Fiddler On The Roof, people like Sheldon Bock and Jerry Harnick (who wrote Tenderloin, Fiorello! and She Loves Me!), Tom Jones and Harvey Schmidt (The Fantasticks, Celebration, and 110 In The Shade) and Mitch Leigh (Man of La Mancha) were crafting musicals with increasingly operatic tendencies.

Since 1970, composer/lyricist Stephen Sondheim has been extremely successful at bridging the gap between operatic and Broadway performance venues (Pacific Overtures, Follies, Sweeney Todd, and A Little Night Music have all entered the operatic repertoire), while Broadway audiences have embraced "pop operas" like Evita, Les Miserables, and The Phantom of the Opera with an enthusiasm that won't let go. This season, American opera companies will be performing West Side Story, Kismet, A Little Night Music, Follies, The Threepenny Opera, Show Boat, The Pajama Game, Candide, Porgy and Bess, Man of La Mancha, and My Fair Lady on stages across the nation. The Houston Grand Opera will even perform Show Boat in Cairo this month!

Americans invented the Broadway musical, and theatergoers now recognize this style of entertainment as a legitimate art form with a history and repertoire all its own. The time has come for us to celebrate Broadway's contributions to the global culture with the same level of enthusiasm and support that is routinely bestowed upon Beethoven, Mozart, Shaw, and Shakespeare festivals. Why? Because the seeds planted 25 years ago by a handful of daring pioneers have taken root and sparked a renewed interest in the history of the Broadway musical.

A quarter-century ago, under the guidance of Jean Dalrymple, New York's City Center of Music and Drama began producing revivals of such popular Broadway shows as Wonderful Town, Brigadoon, Carnival, Ohlahomal, My Fair Lady, and Kiss Me, Kate. When Lincoln Center's New York State Theater opened in 1964, its first few summers were devoted to productions of Kismet, Carousel, Show Boat, Annie Get Your Gun, South Pacific, and The King and I.

In addition to Broadway's independent, commercially-produced revivals of On The Town, My Fair Lady, The Music Man, Gypsy, Cabaret, and Ain't Misbehavin', the Houston Grand Opera has produced national tours of Show Boat, Porgy and Bess, and Hello, Dolly! The Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts has produced important revivals of On Your Toes, Oh, Kay!, and West Side Story. In recent years, the Goodspeed Opera House in East Haddam, Connecticut, has brought its productions of Take Me Along, Whoopee!, and Very Good Eddie back to Broadway. Meanwhile, Philadelphia's American Music Theater Festival and Pasadena's California Music Theater have revived classics like Strike Up The Band, Pal Joey, Call Me Madam, and She Loves Me!

Popular interest in the choreographic content of previous Broadway shows has led to groundbreaking dance documentation by the American Dance Machine Company and the success of the recently-opened Jerome Robbins' Broadway.

Although the recent push to legitimize the scores of many Broadway musicals by including such music in the operatic repertoire is a welcome phenomenon, what we really need to bring about involves a great deal more than an occasional restaging of hit dance numbers by one choreographer, a series of crossover recordings, or digital re-releases of original cast albums in compact disc format. The time has come for Americans to institutionalize the Broadway musical by creating some sort of performance archive which will keep the art form alive and vital for future generations. At some point before the dawn of the 21st century, we need to develop a theatrical company devoted to performing the literature of the American musical theater, a producing entity which can act as a partner with the nation's opera companies in consortium efforts that will bring the Broadway musical, on a regular basis, to a wide range of new audiences.

Whether such a project's artistic leadership comes from ANTA, the National Institute For Music Theater, OPERA America or Harold Prince, Americans deserve to have a national repertory company devoted to the literature of their native art form. Whether the seed money for such an institution comes from the League of Broadway Producers, the National Endowment for the Arts, or Donald Trump, a living museum dedicated to showcasing the art and history of the Broadway musical could and should become the cornerstone of New York City's efforts to rehabilitate its Times Square theater district.

Lord knows, we've got enough good material in the repertoire of the Broadway musical. Our audiences are hungry for quality entertainment. To top things off, we now have a whole string of potential co-producers throughout the opera community who could make a significant contribution to nurturing such an institution. Meanwhile, there are several historic theaters which sit in silence on 42nd Street, just begging to be renovated, and any new skyscrapers erected as part of the Times Square rehabilitation project could easily include new theaters.

The ingredients for such an institution are all there. As Ethel Merman used to say: "Who could ask for anything more?"

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This article originally appeared in the March 1989 issue of Opera Monthly magazine.

A Right To Understand The Ring

Back in 1972, when the San Francisco Opera presented all four segments of Richard Wagner's Der Ring des Nibelungen as an integral part of the company's 50th anniversary season, Kurt Herbert Adler harbored grave doubts that he could fill the city's 3,200-seat War Memorial Opera House for such an audacious undertak­ing. To his simultaneous chagrin and delight, Adler learned that, even though Das Rheingold, Die Walkure, Siegfried, and Die Gotterdammerung had not been presented in San Francisco in festival format (with each opera in its proper dramatic sequence), he could easily have sold out four complete Ring cycles.

In July 1975, when Glynn Ross launched the Pacific Northwest Wagner Festival, the Seattle Opera presented two Ring cycles in festival format while making the Ring available to travel agents (through Gray Line Tours) as a commissionable "IT" package. Although, in subse­quent summers, the Seattle Opera's German cycle always outsold its English cycle (which used Andrew Porter's excellent translation), Wagner fanatics from Europe, Japan, and Australia as well as from all 50 states con­tinued to travel to Seattle with a frenzy bordering on religious fanaticism.

Two years after Lotfi Mansouri introduced Supertitles to the North American opera community, the way in which the Ring was marketed to audiences underwent a startling transformation as people were informed that opera's new technology would allow them to follow Wagner's text and really appreciate the cumulative ef­fect of his 19-hour music-drama. Considering how effec­tively comedienne Anna Russell had always lampooned the Ring's convoluted plot twists, even the most devout Wagnerites were curious to see how Supertitles might enhance the Ring's communicative powers and heighten its dramatic impact on an audience. They soon found out.

In June 1985, when the San Francisco Opera presented its new Ring cycle in a strict festival format, Terry McEwen announced that, in order to appease the tradi­tionalists in the audience, the first of SFO's three Ring cycles would be performed in German without any Super­titles. The following two cycles would be performed with those newfangled English-language translations pro­jected above the stage. What happened? The demand for tickets to the Supertitled performances was so over­whelming that the General Director of the San Francisco Opera rented Davies Symphony Hall for a live, closed-­circuit telecast of the Ring. McEwen later confessed that he could have kicked himself for not planning four, ­perhaps even five complete Ring cycles with Supertitles!

In 1986 and '87, the further use of Supertitles (con­taining even more text than those used by the San Fran­cisco Opera) gave the Seattle Opera's new Ring a stronger sense of dramatic urgency and greater theatri­cal impact than any other Ring staged in North America during the past three decades. For these two West Coast companies to have insisted on using Supertitles in their Ring productions reflects sound artistic and business philosophies which acknowledge the simple fact that au­diences who are willing to pay good money for the privi­lege of sitting through four nights of twisted mythology have a right to become involved in the dramatic action onstage.

Ring fever is about to strike America again, with 1989's outbreak of this peculiar disease localized along the Northeast Corridor. From April 1 through May 6, the Metropolitan Opera will present three complete Ring cycles (without Supertitles) in Lincoln Center. From June 2 to 18, the Kennedy Center for the Arts will present the Deutsche Oper Berlin in two complete Ring cycles using Gotz Friedrich's "time tunnel" interpretation. Wisely enough, the visiting German company will use Supertitles.

By now, you'd think that some people would have got­ten the message. However, the Metropolitan (which claims to be the world's leading opera company) remains determined to keep its audience critically and, in some ways, criminally in the dark. Stubbornly clinging to James Levine's "over my dead body" policy, the com­pany's official stance with regard to Supertitles reminds us of how Lily Tomlin's feisty Ernestine once described her employer's lack of compassion: "We're the telephone company. We don't have to care!"

The Met will undoubtedly sell out all three of its Ring cycles but, as far as the editors of Opera Monthly are con­cerned, Maestro Levine's artistic snobbery constitutes intellectual elitism. So, if you've been wondering whether you can afford to miss out on the Met's Ring, let us suggest that there's nothing to stop you from en­joying the Met's Ring live over the radio for free, or from listening to James Levine's interpretation on high­ quality compact discs as you prepare for the time when you can experience the Ring with Supertitles. Instead of being taken in by the glamor of experiencing the Ring at the Met (while suffering a severe theatrical handicap), why not approach Wagner's creation as the intensely dramatic work it was meant to be? Opera fans who attend Ring productions mounted by companies using Supertitles are destined to have an infinitely more satisfying theatrical experience. Find the Rhine's most precious gold at the Kennedy Center in the Deutsche Oper's production of Ring in June. Travel to the San Francisco Opera for its Ring in 1990. Go to Seattle for its Ring in 1991.

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This article originally appeared in the April 1989 issue of Opera Monthly magazine.

Fighting Elitism In The Arts

For many years, opera was referred to as an elitist acti­vity, the "plaything of the rich." However, what was once the exclusive domain of the privileged few now belongs, irretrievably, to the masses. Today, any city with a decent-sized airport probably has an opera company. Two decades of live performances telecast into the liv­ing rooms of millions of American homes have democra­tized and desegregated the art form by eliminating some of the rigid socioeconomic barriers which once prevented people from entering an opera house. As our nation's cultural landscape continues to change, what was once a 400-year-old European art form is rapidly becoming a popular form of entertainment.

Futurists warn that, in the 1990s, impresarios will discover the operatic audience fragmenting itself into smaller market niches which need to be lured into the theater with new and different sales techniques. They tell us that, even as another recession looms on the horizon, the costs of doing business will continue to escalate without mercy. Only a fool could ignore the handwriting on the wall. With social causes such as AIDS and the homeless having much more urgency than the need to mount a new production of Tosca, opera's fundraisers are going to be forced to work much harder to raise less money in upcoming seasons.

Alas, general directors who spend their time entertain­ing donors at fundraising events (or in their theater's "Green Room" during intermissions) don't always ex­perience the diversity of their audiences on a first-hand basis. Some ofthe harsher realities of professional fund­raising which confront many development directors mean that the main floor and box sections of most American opera houses are now divided according to the priorities of donor seating. Donations are de rigeur for admission to most pre- and post-performance social events.

Thus, despite the influx of new and younger audiences, a peculiar mix of financial pressures is transforming opera, once again, into an elitist art form. Even as this insidious type of economic discrimination is becoming more and more institutionalized, newcomers to the operatic art form are encountering a severe form of in­tellectual snobbism from the old-timers in the audience.

Those who do not enter the theater possessing a musicologist's appreciation of the evening's opera are sometimes looked upon as Neanderthals. Others are regarded as social climbers and/or "Yuppie scum." Dur­ing a recent (and rather tedious) argument about the pros and cons of Supertitles, a well-known conductor turned to me and asked, "Do we really want the type of
people who need Supertitles coming into our opera houses?" I quickly reminded him that without that au­dience, he wouldn't have a job.

While such expressions of economic and intellectual one-upsmanship subtly work to keep the people who make opera at a distance from their audiences, the urgency with which most opera lovers are forced to leave the theater as soon as a performance is over adds another rude shock to the operagoing experience. In most situa­tions, audiences must abandon the warmth of an audi­torium, where they have intimately shared a common dramatic experience with up to 3,000 people, to re-enter the "real world." Some are confronted with the cold sterility of a parking garage; others battle the noisy pressures of pedestrian and street traffic. All too frequently, the emotional high from the performance they've just attended evaporates into thin air.

Like any other opera company, the Opera Theater of St. Louis holds plenty of fundraising functions throughout the year. But, after attending a performance at the Loretto-Hilton Theater, the operatic experience is allowed to linger on one's palate. Since Webster Groves, Missouri, does not exactly bustle with nightlife, after each performance, the cast, crew, administration, and au­dience make a habit of adjourning to the company's gaily-striped "Pavilion Tent" to socialize.

Of course, many audience members head straight for the parking lot as soon as they exit the theater. But for those who choose to stay and visit, the fact that a per­son is alive, friendly, and interested in opera is all that matters. Anyone of any station is free to chat with anyone else. It doesn't matter whether you're dressed in a tux or a T-shirt, in jumper or jeans. The only price of admission is a smile.

Often referred to as America's answer to Glynde­bourne, OTSL also invites its audiences to picnic on the lawn surrounding the Loretto-Hilton Theater (or at the chairs and tables under its open-air tents) before each and every performance. Since many of OTSL's singers have been involved in extensive community outreach work, one notices a genuine sense of family among the artists, administrators, and operagoers gathered in and around the Pavilion Tent. OTSL's special tradition is a phenomenon unique to this pioneering opera company. And it is with great pleasure that the editors of Opera Monthly salute this simple expression of Midwestern hospitality-a coming together of opera lovers which, although born out of necessity, has evolved into a shining (and all too rare) symbol of democracy at work in the arts.

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This article originally appeared in the June 1989 issue of Opera Monthly magazine.

Dial 976-OPERA

It's no secret that we live in the age of information. And that computers dominate our lives. However, as more administrative functions can be accomplished by computer, general directors need to free up their staffs' professional time to allow for more creative pursuits.

OPERA America was formed in 1970 with the key ob­jectives of sharing information and establishing a stronger network for communications between America's opera companies. The recent and rapid penetration of the fax machine into the business community has helped to bring some opera companies into the late twentieth cen­tury. Yet, in too many other ways, the operatic communi­ty has been slow to take advantage of the technology at its disposal. Several years ago, when a top staff member of a major opera company was asked why he insisted on doing payroll extensions manually (instead of letting the computer perform such a function) he answered, "I don't mind. Besides, I like doing it this way."

While other businesses have upgraded their computer systems (out of the need to remain competitive), budgetary restrictions have forced many nonprofits to keep systems upgrades a low priority. That's why Kevin Smith, the new Chairman of OPERA America's Commu­nications Committee, insists that one of his pet goals will be the creation of an electronic database to serve the operatic community. The primary function of such a tool will be the compilation, sorting, and distribution -- at electronic speed -- of information relative to the opera in­dustry. We cannot here sufficiently stress the need for such a database (which would operate like an electronic bulletin board).

Precious time and money could be put to infinitely bet­ter use if everyone involved in the operatic community had access to a customized database designed to serve the industry. An electronic BBS (which could be accessed from any PC operating with a modem) might have a per­versely egalitarian effect on a community where the sharing of information is a vital yet all-too-often un­fulfilled goal. Users would be able to download data on a 24-hour basis and any opera company (from the smallest regional arts organization up to and including the mighty Metropolitan Opera) could come on-line simply by dialing a toll-free number.

In addition to documenting performance dates, casting information, and who to contact for any possible need, an electronic database would allow members of the operatic community to keep track of which artists routinely canceled engagements, which productions were available for rental, and which foundations were giving what types of grants. Reviews for each and every produc­tion could be filed electronically so that the acutely unfortunate --but traditional --prejudice toward music critics from the Northeast sector (a prejudice which is sadly reflected in OPERA America's Media-Watch kit) could be eliminated for once and for all.

Personnel seeking new positions could become aware of job opportunities as soon as they became available. Im­presarios seeking partners for new productions (as well as those wishing to rent or sell their sets and costumes) could post general messages to the community. All this information (and much more) could be used to compile statistics, identify trends within the industry, generate reports, and help people working in our community to perform their jobs in a more efficient manner. The daily updating of an electronic database could easily be managed by a Sysop working at OPERA America. With­out a doubt, the money each company saved on long distance phone calls (especially those dedicated to infor­mational wild goose chases) would be enough to cover a yearly membership fee for access to an operatic database.

Just think how an electronic BBB could help during an operatic emergency. Suppose a major artist canceled an appearance and a replacement had to be found on short notice. No matter where he was when he received news of the cancellation, an impresario could instantly access OPERA America's database to find out which singers had that role in their repertoire, where such ar­tists were performing at the moment, how they could be reached and their approximate fee schedules.

Although this task -- and many others -- could easily be accomplished with computers, here's how a lot of infor­mation is currently documented within the operatic com­munity: People keep private little lists in their heads (or in card files secreted away in their offices) and treat their stash of information with a tremendous amount of terri­toriality. Meanwhile, because of their lengthy editing re­quirements, the monthly, quarterly, and annual publica­tions distributed in hard copy by OPERA America, Cen­tral Opera Service, and Musical America become out­dated by the time they reach consumers. All too often opera's administrative personnel waste time and money by doing things "the way they've always been done." The bottom line is that time is money. And, whether we like it or not, the arts are a business. It's high time for OPERA America to establish a database which can distribute email and be accessed by one and all. Otherwise, an industry which fetishizes tradition will continue to cripple itself with its own myopia

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This article originally appeared in the August 1989 issue of Opera Monthly magazine.

Let's Face The Music And Dance

Art is a messy process filled with mistakes and failure.

Unfortunately, we live in a society hell-bent on censor­ing its artists and sanitizing their work in order to keep everything looking neat, clean, safe, and pretty. One of the most bizarre enigmas in American opera is the fact that while the artistic process requires people to break ground and investigate terra incognita, most of opera's funding comes from conservative sources determined to maintain the status quo.

Artists are, by definition, creative people. Most artists are also sexual creatures capable of expressing them­selves, physically and verbally, in a wide variety of sex­ual terms. "Some people have an attitude about art which insists that it is meant to elevate and should be above daily life," complains composer Stewart Wallace. "But vulgarity and art are not mutually exclusive. When you sing the word 'Fuck,' it gives your work a visceral connection to our daily existence which, dramatically, can be very powerful. It involves a conscious and deliberate attempt at examination by perversion: You twist something on its edge so that you can look at it in a different way. By doing so, the sound takes on a heightened element which makes it very different from the spoken word."

Composer Libby Larsen (whose Frankenstein: The Modern Prometheus premieres at the Minnesota Opera in May 1990) claims that the music in her head repre­sents certain kinds of energies and representative rhythms which resonate with American English. That curious term, "American English" offers the key to understanding one of the most formidable obstacles to creating operas within a contemporary context. In the opera world, most funding comes from conservatives who find it difficult to tolerate the use of gutter expletives on the sanctified operatic stage. Those who have grudg­ingly accepted the social changes wrought by the sex­ual revolution readily acknowledge the fact that a typical teenager's vocabulary could make Miss Manners blush.

Founded on the basis of freedom from religious oppres­sion, our nation now finds its arts community under siege from conservative Christians. Although perverse thoughts and vulgar sentiments are rampant throughout the operatic literature, when expressed in "American English" such ideas become anathema to the conser­vative operagoer. How can an art form filled with raw passion continue to grow if it ignores the overt sexuali­ty which has infiltrated every level of our society?

It cannot.

The reason why operas like Power Failure and Where's Dick? are chock full of sexual epithets is the same reason why, in Act III of Nixon In China, Chiang Ch'ing turns to her husband, Mao-Tse-Tung, and sings "We'll teach these motherfuckers how to dance!" Like it or not, sex sells.

At present, prudes like Senator Jesse Helms are eager to deny funding to artists whose sexuality and sexual expression take on any form other than the missionary position. What these people fail to understand is that many artists, liberals, and true Christians find the hypocritical morals and perverse politics of the New Right to be offensive and obscene. Just think how much poorer the operatic and musical theater art forms would be without the contributions of composers like Samuel Barber, Leonard Bernstein, Marc Blitzstein, Benjamin Britten, Jerry Herman, Gian-Carlo Menotti, Francis Poulenc, Stephen Sondheim, and Peter Ilyitch Tchaikov­sky. Without gay people working in the field and without them as our audiences, the fine arts in America would dry up and go away.

Back in 1985, when former Editor-in-Chief of Opera News, Bob Jacobson, was co-producing the opera community's first AIDS gala, he stressed that: "The gay audience is a very strong, vocal and even power­ful part of the opera public. In addition to all of our gay conductors, directors, and singers, there are a tremen­dous number of homosexuals who are now running opera companies. While it's possible that a conservative, backward board of directors might say no to an artist who was openly homosexual because they didn't want him in their community, it would be extremely foolish for any opera house not to recognize its gay constituency."

"A lot of gay people work at Houston Grand Opera and, in many cases, my supervisors are gay while the people who work under them are not," notes HGO's general director, David Gockley (who is also president of OPERA America). "An extremely important factor here is that the long hours and personal commitment required of peo­ple who work in opera make it very hard for someone raising a family to attend all of the rehearsals, perform­ances and social events that take place on a regular basis."

Although for many years opera's marketing profes­sionals have done their best to recruit minority audiences with special outreach programs aimed at blacks, Hispanics, Asians, seniors, and the handicapped, they can no longer afford to overlook that extremely sup­portive minority which has previously been avoided like the plague. One of the most interesting things about our current situation in the arts is how it compares to the 1950s, when a lot of Caucasians learned to overcome their prejudices against blacks by working with them, side by side, in the Army. In the arts, gays are simply inescapable.

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This article originally appeared in the November 1989 issue of Opera Monthly magazine.

Opera Monthly Editorial - July 1988

During the summer, opera finds itself on stage in some of America's most interesting dramatic venues. Instead of being presented in auditoriums designed to hold a minimum of 3,000 people, opera can be experienced in arenas ranging from Santa Fe's dramatic 1,775-seat semi-outdoor theater to the Des Moines Metro Opera's summer home in the 488-seat Blank Performing Arts Center. Whether one attends performances at the Opera Theater of St. Louis's 950-seat Loretto-Hilton Theater, with its thrust stage and three-quarter in-the-round seating, or travels to Central City's historic 800-seat Victorian Opera House, the operatic experience is framed within excitingly different physical dimensions.

Each of these theaters lends an exceptional sense of intimacy to its productions by bringing the audience closer to the performers and reminding those on both sides of the footlights that opera, as an art form, finds its greatest strength in the power of communication. Last fall, while attending a performance of Tosca at Opera San Jose's 535-seat Montgomery Theater, I was pleasantly surprised to observe a well-heeled audience actually hissing Scarpia because he was the villain of such an obviously melodramatic work.

My experience in San Jose reminded me how frequently we are prevented from enjoying opera on such intimate levels because of our fanatic concerns with size and technology. Even though videotapes allow for closeups (and can bring a great deal of opera into the privacy of our homes), when viewed on a television screen the most exciting live broadcast still lacks the musical intimacy and dramatic immediacy experienced with an audience in a theater.

It's true that opera is a grand form of artistic expression, but when experienced on a smaller scale its dramatic impact can be incredibly stimulating. More and more American companies have begun to experiment with presenting opera in alternative environments. On July 8th, the Houston Grand Opera will present the world premiere of a new Philip Glass work, The Making of the Representative from Planet 8 in the Wortham Arts Center's 1,100-seat Cullen Theater.

Prior to the opening of the Wortham Center, the physical limitations imposed on HGO by the Jesse H. Jones Hall for the Performing Arts forced the Houston Grand Opera to perform in a severely compromised situation. "Acoustically and visually, our audiences were not getting the full impact of our work," recalls HGO's General Director, David Gockley. "Every premiere we did prior to 1987 -- whether you look at Philip Glass' Akhnaten, Carlisle Floyd's Willie Stark, or even Maurice Sendak's production of The Magic Flute -- would have knocked people right out of their seats if they could have experienced it in a smaller theater."

The quality of an operatic experience remains of paramount importance. Despite the pressures of box office economics, many impresarios now understand that when it comes to producing exciting opera, size isn't everything.

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This article originally appeared in the July 1988 issue of Opera Monthly magazine.

Opera Fans From Out of Town

For many business people, the last weeks of August represent the slowest time of the year. However, because opera is such a labor-intensive art form, anyone employed at the Santa Fe Opera or New York City Opera this month will tell you that things are far from dull. The restaurants, boutiques, bars, and parking lots that surround an opera theater receive constant and very loyal patronage from subscribers, performers, stage crews, and administrative personnel. And yet, opera's marketing personnel continue to ignore the business travelers whose demographics so neatly coincide with the economic profiles of their regular donors and subscribers.

When the Seattle Opera inaugurated its Pacific Northwest Wagner Festival, studies demonstrated that each tourist dollar coming into the city during the two weeks that Wagner's Ring of the Nibelung was performed got recycled at least seven times within Seattle's economy. The Santa Fe Opera's box office sales have had such a strong impact on the city's tourist industry that hoteliers once lobbied General Director John Crosby in hopes that he would embrace a less daring repertoire.

Beverly Sills struck gold several years ago by reformatting City Opera's Lincoln Center season so that her company could take advantage of New York's ample summer tourist trade. Opera companies in Houston, San Francisco, Los Angeles, and Chicago are now trying to attract out-of-town opera lovers who can fly in for a long weekend.

On a recent flight to Atlanta, I sat beside a traveling salesman who, although he insisted he was not a diehard opera fan, told me he had been so impressed by the Carmen film starring Placido Domingo and Julia Migenes that he will now fly anywhere in the United States that he can schedule a business meeting in order to hear Migenes perform. After I gave him the dates of her scheduled appearances in Los Angeles and St. Paul (and told him how to get tickets to the soprano's performances in Tales of Hoffmann and Salome) he thanked me profusely and said, "Mister, you just sold a subscription to that new opera magazine you've been telling me about."

Many people whose professions require a frequent flyer lifestyle would much prefer to attend a live performance than sit alone at night in some hotel room watching CNN News, the same old re-runs of Love Boat, or Hulk Hogan and Andre the Giant beating each other to a pulp. Like my seatmate on the flight to Atlanta, these people are conducting lives that have recently earned the description of "upscale." Yet opera companies pay them little attention. The economic ripple effects of Charleston's Spoleto Festival, Seattle's Pacific Northwest Wagner Festival, the Santa Fe Opera's summer season, and the New York City Opera's revised schedule have made hundreds of opera professionals reexamine the relationship between tourism and the arts. But they routinely overlook the segment of the arts market which has become the mainstay of the travel industry: the frequent flyer.

It's time for America's professional opera community to wake up and smell the coffee -- especially the brew that's being served every day at an altitude of 30,000 feet.

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This article originally appeared in the September 1988 issue of Opera Monthly magazine.

Opera Monthly Editorial - December 1988

While the more innocent souls in the audience might like to think that the arts stand above and beyond petty politics, the hard truth is that arts administration embraces the full spectrum of decision making in styles ranging from democratic vote taking to rigid autocracy. Important judgments about casting, budgeting, donations and suppliers -- even such seemingly petty decisions as to who gets to sit at the general director's table during a fundraising dinner -- often hinge upon considerations of who owes who a favor.

Anne Murphy, the exceptionally well-spoken executive director of the American Arts Alliance. loves to tell the story of a wealthy society matron who once paid a visit to her local congressman in an attempt to engender support for her regional opera company. As long as the dowager kept describing how beautiful opera was and talked about how important the arts were to society, the congressman (a consummate politician) remained evasive and noncommittal.

Realizing that her arguments were being brushed aside, the old woman decided to change her tactics. Rising from her chair, she crossed to the opposite side of the room and said, "Congressman, I am now putting on my other hat. Opera means jobs and, as the head of your local Democratic committee, I'm here to tell you that if you don't deliver the support I'm requesting, I'll break your goddamn legs the next time you come up for re-election!"

If the congressman instantly grew more attentive to the old woman's demands it was because politicians are. by nature, reactive rather than creative people. And, if the legislator was shocked to hear a respectable society lady mouthing such indelicate threats, it was because most people in the arts are perceived as being political lightweights who are far too refined and genteel to indulge in the type of crude coercion which has become a standard practice in the business and political sectors. It is extremely important for legislators to be aware that their constituents are scandalized by the fact that the amount of money spent by our government on military bands each year is greater than the entire budget for the National Endowment for the Arts. It is imperative for members of Congress to understand that support of the arts means much more than lip service.

There are many ways in which a person can take political action on behalf of the arts. Individuals can make each and every politician more sensitive to the role the arts play in our society by demanding to know how these people will vote on arts-related issues. People can write letters on behalf of an arts organization or donate volunteer hours to assist that organization with its educational outreach programs. If the need arises, ordinary people can help organize a massive community effort aimed at tying up a congressman's phones (a tactic which can net surprisingly felicitous results).

Elected politicians must never be allowed to forget that our votes give them their votes, To that end, a political action committee has recently been formed which will help the arts maintain a more forceful lobbying position in the nation's capitol. We urge our readers to support the Alliance of Arts Advocates and help it grow stronger as it lobbies the incoming administration.

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This article originally appeared in the December 1988 issue of Opera Monthly magazine.

Opera Monthly Editorial - December 1989

One of the most ridiculous and persistent myths to dominate the opera world lately has been the concept that no opera company can truly be considered "great" unless Luciano Pavarotti's name appears on its roster. If one examines the number of opera companies currently in business, the number of days in any given year that Mr. Pavarotti can perform, and the cost of contracting Luciano's services, it becomes obvious that numerous opera companies are forced to survive without the superstar tenor.

While some people insist that Pavarotti's presence is worth any price, others are not so sure. Several years ago, when performing in concert for a regional opera company in the Midwest, the tenor's contract stipulated that the opera company contribute a horse to an Italian polo team and pay the costs of shipping the animal back to Italy. The San Francisco Opera (which, for Pavarotti's appearances in Ernani, plastered Luciano's picture all over its posters, brochures, and marketing materials) suffered a severe loss of credibility when the artist canceled his performances during its 1984 season.

In recent years, the only American opera companies contracting Pavarotti for fully-staged productions have been the Metropolitan Opera, San Francisco Opera, Greater Miami Opera, Lyric Opera of Chicago, and Opera Company of Philadelphia (where the tenor's name is the driving force behind OCP's annual voice competition). In November 1988, when Pavarotti returned to the San Francisco Opera as Puccini's Rodolfo, his rudeness and rigidity during rehearsals became the talk of the town (one singer was embarrassed to call him a professional colleague). The tenor's withdrawal from several sold-out performances of Boheme (ostensibly so that he could make his directing debut in Italy) incurred the wrath of many ticket buyers including those impresarios and arts administrators who were in town for OPERA America's annual conference.

In May, the Pittsburgh Opera was forced to cancel its new production of Werther (Pavarotti's first outing in the role) and substitute a production of Tosca in order to accommodate the tenor. After the dates for the Tosca performances had been rescheduled (at great expense to the company) on opening night Pavarotti could not deliver the high note in Cavaradossi's final aria. After apologizing to the audience, he walked off the stage of the Benedum Center. When Luciano left town, Ermanno Mauro was called in as a substitute for the remaining four performances.

Every singer's biological clock keeps ticking and, to quote Shakespeare's Macbeth, "Tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow creeps in its petty pace from day to day." Pavarotti recently bowed out of a new production of Pagliacci promised to him for the opening night of the San Francisco Opera's 1990 season and, at 53, one can only assume that his prime time is running out.

In recent seasons, several general directors have had to acknowledge that their primary responsibility is to the community which supports their opera company rather than to a star performer's whims or the peculiar demands of his agent. Lately, several impresarios have begun to question whether it's still worth jumping through the hoops dangled in front of them by Pavarotti's management.

After cancelling his performance dates with the Lyric Opera of Chicago this fall, Luciano joined the ranks of popular celebrities who have fallen from public grace. Having canceled 26 out of 41 performances in the past decade at Lyric Opera of Chicago, the tenor was labeled as "a bad risk" by Lyric's General Director, Ardis Krainik, and informed that he was no longer welcome to perform with one of America's leading opera companies. We applaud Krainik -- who has withdrawn from any future negotiations with Pavarotti -- for having had the courage and good sense, when faced with yet another cancellation by this artist, to say "Basta!"

The bottom line is that no artist -- not even the great Pavarotti -- is indispensable. Several years ago, when the devaluation of the dollar spurred a rash of double bookings and domestic cancellations by opera singers, Columbia Artists management consultant Matthew Epstein (who serves as an artistic advisor to the Santa Fe Opera and Lyric Opera of Chicago) insisted, "This is immoral and has got to stop. If you look at the really big stars, you'll see that they have got to be operating on both sides of the Atlantic. They cannot have major international careers without America. If artists are going to play games, then we have got to say 'Sorry, but we really can't invite you back for two years. Do without us!' because, if we close down Artist X in this country for several years, you can be sure that every other artist will start to toe the line:'

An old adage claims that "The bigger they are, the harder they fall." As we ring down the curtain on a tumultuous decade, several public figures whose intense media visibility has fostered mind-boggling displays of arrogance and hypocrisy have been taken to task for their double standards.

People like Oliver North, Bess Myerson, Jim Bakker, Pete Rose, Samuel Pierce, Jimmy Swaggart, Zsa Zsa Gabor, and Leona "only the little people pay taxes" Helmsley, have been subjected to intense media scrutiny with less-than-flattering results. Perhaps that's why, in reporting on Lyric Opera's rift with Pavarotti, one of San Francisco's daily newspapers ran a picture of the tenor with a caption that read: "The opera's over before the fat man sings."

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This article originally appeared in the December 1989 issue of Opera Monthly magazine.

A Time For Celebration

The merry month of May is a perfect time to celebrate new life. Just as Gilbert & Sullivan's Nanki-Poo found great joy in singing about "the flowers that bloom in the spring," we're delighted to inform you that the copy of Opera Monthly that you're now holding marks our magazine's first anniversary. We feel that this is an important milestone in a segment of the publishing industry where most start-up ventures bite the dust after their second issue. What is the secret of our success? Opera Monthly is an extremely well-targeted special interest magazine which made its debut at a fortuitous time in America's cultural development. And, as an independent publication which is not designed to support the marketing needs of any one opera company in particular, this magazine is in a perfect position to focus its attention on the achievements of the vast army of American artists who now dominate the international opera scene.

The editors of Opera Monthly are firmly convinced that there is a tremendous amount of excellent opera happening today and tomorrow in cities throughout North America. More than half of the professional opera companies in the Western hemisphere were started during the past two decades. Our readers are hungry for news, curious about opera's future, and eager to learn about any and all facets of the art form they love so much. Our mission, simply stated, is to cover as much of the operatic turf as possible.

From introducing you to the creative talents behind upcoming world premieres to exploring some of the thornier issues confronting the opera industry, we aim to produce a magazine that is exciting, entertaining, controversial, and informative. Most importantly, we understand that opera fans relish what's known in the trade as "a good read" because people who cultivate an interest in opera have already developed fairly complex minds. In addition to their intense passion for music, our readers exhibit strong interests in opera's subsidiary disciplines (history, theater, dance, literature, and the visual arts). Rather than being satisfied with encapsulated news items, television "sound-bites" or sensationalistic headlines, these people want substance. Their ongoing thirst for knowledge can hardly be satiated by the superficial arts coverage provided in today's mass media.

Although futurists claim that, as our society grows more affluent, people will become more sophisticated and therefore be drawn to opera (the educational background and buying power of our readers makes them the cream-of-the-market crop for potential advertisers) the sad truth is that we live in a society where one out of every five adults is functionally illiterate. A quick flip of the television dial reveals that more people are tuning in to Oprah Winfrey, Phil Donahue, David Letterman, Geraldo Rivera, and Morton Downey than are watching "Live from Lincoln Center." More people seem interested in soap opera than opera and TV shows like Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous and World Heavyweight Wrestling offer far more titillating rewards than any programs broadcast over the PBS network.

Despite the in¬roads made by live telecasts of operatic performances (as well as the bountiful side effects of the video revolution) the best way to build new audiences for opera is through intense, multi-disciplinary educational efforts which are part and parcel of a strongly-supported arts curriculum in our nation's schools. But adults also need education and, in an age when so many magazines have opted to publish shorter, slicker articles (on the false assumption that people lack sufficient attention spans to survive any article which requires them to keep reading for more than three minutes), we're convinced that our readers crave intellectual stimulation.

Why does a special interest magazine devoted to a complex subject like opera need to set its sights higher than the "fast-food news" style of journalism embraced by USA Today, People Magazine, and the National Enquirer? Because, whether we like it or not, the mass media tends to seek out a lower common denominator. And when Vanna White is hailed as one of the nation's leading cultural icons, you just know that there's trouble on the horizon. In a recent study, 21 percent of the people polled thought that the sun revolved around the earth. Is it any wonder, then, that Barbara Bush has made adult illiteracy one of her primary concerns?

To help ensure a brighter future for opera, we ask any and all opera lovers -- from our very first subscriber (Rose Elaine Solomon of Los Angeles) to those of you who are reading Opera Monthly for the first time to join us as we explore America's rapidly expanding operatic frontiers. As we celebrate our first anniversary, we invite you to toast all of the performers, artists, writers, photographers, adver¬tisers, and readers who have helped to make our publication a success.

Why are we so confident that you and your friends will want to become regular subscribers to Opera Monthly for years to come? Because we think you'll get as much of a thrill from picking up each issue of our opera magazine as we do from sending it to the printer.

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This article originally appeared in the May 1989 issue of Opera Monthly magazine.