Wednesday, December 19, 2007

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.

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