Permit me to indulge in a one-sided argument…or a rant, as I believe it's called in the blogging world—which is not ours at New York Arts and The Berkshire Review! Opera in the United States is particularly unsettled at the moment, if not in trouble. Both audiences and sources of funding are on a downward curve, although the better-managed companies seem to be coping. The biggest beast of all, The Metropolitan Opera, compromised by the bad judgement of its General Director, Peter Gelb, is the most worrisome of all.
For its annual opera, Bard Summerscape has chosen Carl Maria von Weber's seldom performed masterpiece, Euryanthe. Der Freischütz had been a great success at the Kärtnerthortheater in Vienna at its premiere in 1821, and the impresario Domenico Barbala lost no time in asking Weber for another opera of the sort. Weber, however, wanted to compose something different. He wanted to grow beyond the popular Singspiel alternation of spoke dialogue and sung numbers in favor of a freer flow of recitative, sung dialogue, and arias. Weber had considerable difficulty in deciding on a libretto, and he eventually persuaded Helmine von Chezy to take on the job—against her protests. She wrote the libretto for Schubert's even more unsuccessful Rosamunde at the same time. Both premiered in 1823.) Euryanthe's failure in spite of Weber's splendid music is generally blamed on the poor quality of Chezy's verse and the involved, hard-to-follow plotline. Over the years, Euryanthe receives only occasional performances, but it has also aquired a passionate cult following, mainly on the basis of the excellent 1975 recording with the Dresdner Staatskapelle playing under Marek Janowski, and Jessye Norman and Nicolai Gedda, among the cast. Director Kevin Newbury and his team have worked hard to overcome Euryanthe's challenges, as Mr. Newbury likes to call them, and his discussion of them in this interview gives us every reason to be optimistic.
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.