Tantalizing progress report by Daniel J. Wakin in the Times today about several opera-theater hybrids that Peter Gelb and the Metropolitan Opera have in the works. Among the theater folks lured to work on the Met's vast and storied stage: Jersey Boys director Des McAnuff, composer-lyricist Michael John LaChiusa, Adam Guettel (The Light in the Piazza), playwright Richard Greenberg and the awesome musical team of Jeanine Tesori and Tony Kushner, who brought us Caroline, or Change in 2004. About the latter, Wakin reports:
Mr. Kushner and Ms. Tesori said they had settled on a large-scale original story that spans five continents and five centuries and moves back and forth in time. Mr. Kushner said he did not expect the piece to be ready for two or three years.
Ms. Tesori said, “What we’re trying to examine is the relationship between art and commerce, but also the story that’s told is a great, wonderful story.” She said she would wait for the text before writing music. Meanwhile, she said she was trying to determine the piece’s “sound world,” partly by attending Met rehearsals to familiarize herself with the orchestra and the house. “I’m listening to a lot of music I wouldn’t normally hear,” she said.
I've been educating myself about this form (previously, I'd flippantly call it "great music set to bad theater"). Thanks to the generous people at the Met, and Gelb's farsighted stewardship, I've seen some fantastic productions of classic repertoire shows, including Anthony Minghella's almost-too-beautiful Madama Butterfly; the severe and elemental Jenůfa starring the sublime Karita Mattila; and Bartlett Sher's boisterous, gleefully silly Il Barbiere di Siviglia. On the down side, I found Tan Dun and Ha Jin's The First Emperor to be a tremendous letdown, narratively and scenically. As a lover first and foremost of drama, then musicals, I find the narrative stasis of opera often unnecessary and maddening. And lovely though Puccini or Leoš Janáček's music can be, after you've heard Sondheim's wizardly fusing of words and music in "Someone in a Tree" or "A Little Priest" or the dark, anthemic exaltations of Assassins, I find standard opera libretti to be slow-moving and unsatisfying. One of the most invigorating new-music-theater-cum-opera projects I have seen is David Lang and Mac Wellman's spooky, unforgettable The Difficulty of Crossing a Field. I've heard rumors it may come to Yale Repertory Theatre next season. Fingers crossed.
All of this leads me to two projects coming up this year: First, with my journalist hat on, I'll be writing a preview piece on the Philip Glass opera Satyagraha, about the life and philosophy of Gandhi. To run in the April 2008 edition of Opera News. I'll be focusing mainly on issues of production history and stagecraft. It's being directed by the wonderful London-based team of director Phelim McDermott and co-director & designer Julian Crouch, two of the geniuses behind Shockheaded Peter.
Last, and very exciting, with my writer-writer hat on, I've started the very initial stages of conceiving a chamber opera with my college classmate, Hell's Kitchen neighbor and friend Stefan Weisman. Long-term and who knows where it will end? For now, I'm researching UFOs, abduction, satanic ritual abuse memories and other juicy topics. Will keep you posted in future months.