Thursday, June 30, 2005

A glimpse of the future

Despite some hyperventilating on Opera-L, there's been little reaction to this interesting article in Tuesday's NYT. Extracts below as I can't find a permalink.
The Metropolitan Opera, as part of the labor agreement with its chorus and orchestra announced Monday, said it would stage a limited run of its new production of "The Magic Flute" reduced to about 90 minutes.

The short version [...] is a test of what could become a new way of attracting audiences, said Joseph Volpe, the opera house's general manager. The performances, to take place in the winter holidays of the 2006-7 season, will be aimed at both children and adults.

The shortened production is part of a broader focus on building audiences, an effort that the Met began only several years ago, Mr. Volpe said.
Next season, the house will be dark for over two weeks in January, an innovation that began this year. Interestingly, the break will be interrupted by a broadcast of the Flute. Are holiday performances the season after that to shorten (and move into December) the break, or -- for those of us who care about full performances -- to extend it? If, as I suspect, it's the former, the innovation makes sense.

The model here is surely City Ballet's Nutcracker, a tradition -- and first exposure to ballet -- for countless kids of the tri-state area. At the moment, school groups attend dress rehearsals (after, apparently, much in-class study of the piece), but that probably can't establish the same sort of comfort and sentimental attachment that family ritual might.*

[* My parents took me to the Met at a very early age. I wonder how many of my readers had this experience?]

Peter Gelb, the record company executive who takes over as general manager at the end of next season, was more circumspect about the possibility of other abridged operas. He said he endorsed the condensed "Magic Flute" as a holiday production aimed at families but had no specific plans for other shortened operas.
I'm sure there's a Kremlinological angle here somewhere... Gelb is at least deferring the notion that he'll be as gung-ho a popularizer as his crossover projects at Sony might have suggested.

And as to the new media future,
the parties put off deciding on how the musicians and chorus would be paid for broadcasts and potential recordings or Web-based streaming audio. The issue has become difficult as the market for recordings has dried up while new possibilities are being raised by the Internet.
*     *     *

Incidentally, despite this blogger's concerns, the notion that we 'have to' do works uncut is quite a recent one. Indeed, despite Toscanini's pioneering efforts in this vein, last century's interwar Golden Age showcased some truly butchered performing editions. Not that this is exactly the same, but cuts have a long and sometimes distinguished history.

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Absolutely no axe-grinding, please.