One of the valuable things the Bard Music Festival teaches its audiences is just how arbitrary the classical canon is. While that can't be said of Wagner or Elgar, we learned that Prokofiev and Sibelius are most visible in concert programs and recordings through works which are not necessarily their most personal or interesting, or perhaps even their best. As managers, virtuosi, and critics grind the classical sausage from a noble saucisson de Lyon into a hot dog, the nature of the classical loses its individuality and becomes uniform and bland. The fame of Camille Saint-Saëns, on the other hand, is linked to virtually no work at all — perhaps the Carnival of the Animals or the "Organ" Symphony, which is not really performed all that often today. This immaculate work acquired a bad reputation among critics, largely because it is extraordinarily loud in places — just the right places to produce wild applause from an audience — far too effectively for the tastes of the snobbish American critics of the late 1950s and 1960s, when it had two especially potent advocates, Charles Munch and Paul Paray. Curiously, Saint-Saëns has a bad reputation as an opera composer, although another one of his few works in the standard repertory, his Samson et Dalila, is an opera.
The story has been well told in the musical press by now about the delay in production of Lewis Spratlan’s great opera Life Is a Dream — commissioned in the late 1970s by an opera company that went out of business before the opera could be produced; rejected numerous times by other American and European companies; awarded the Pulitzer Prize a decade ago for a concert performance of Act II; more rejections for a full staging… Congratulations and thanks are due at last to General Director Charles Mackay and the Santa Fe Opera for taking a new look at this work, seeing its intrinsic worth and its great potential as staged music drama, believing in it, and now giving it a committed and brilliant production. This occasion is a triumph for all concerned. Here palpably, for the eyes and ears and mind, is one of the great American operas, one of the great modern operas, one of the great operas.