Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Is there a City Opera audience?

One learning about opera by reading reviews in the local press might find many aspects of opera blogging puzzling. One is this: why is New York blog coverage so relentlessly Met-centric? Almost every production, new and old, gets scrutinized, while even galas and premieres across the plaza pass with little notice. In print, meanwhile, both -- each in its little compass -- are dutifully covered with the same range of anodyne descriptions and mini-judgments.

Part of it's idiosyncratic, of course: blogs reflect individual tastes, which happen in this case to align a certain way. But such alignment reflects idiosyncratic responses to an unmistakable difference.

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It was in sitting at a recent City Opera performance of Cav/Pag (one with this year's Tucker winner Brandon Jovanovich, who -- as far as one can tell in that juiced house -- sounded impressive despite a certain lack of Italianata) that I put my finger on it. There is certainly, for better or worse, a Met audience: an amalgamation, yes, but a coherent and meaningful one. And OONY, for example, has an audience some might find a bit too characteristic. But City Opera? True, at times it's a venue of Flanigan fans or the like, or the city's traveling pack of event-hounds encamps at some production. Yet the general impression is something else -- more living room than theater. They -- we -- watch, and applaud, and often seem pleased or moved afterwards, but there's an oddly detached undercurrent. It's an audience that's perhaps heard rumors about its own shape and existence and gives them some credit, but chooses mostly unconcern about such things. And so -- because every performance is also the story of an audience -- life-and-death urgency hardly ever makes it past the footlights here.

Sometimes I think it's the State Theater, a place seemingly designed to turn a public into a mass -- look at the undifferentiated sea of humanity in that huge rectilinear expanse of the only real intermission space... How different from the curves and niches of the Met. Or perhaps it's the inevitable outcome of running the country's biggest regional opera next door to the world's biggest international opera. Or...

Or maybe I'm wrong. But I think I'm onto something.

Is Gerard Mortier, then, the best person to get New York City Opera's audience to recognize themselves as such? I'd be surprised if he is -- assuming it's the current audience he at all wants. But we'll see.


  1. I'm probably no more typical an audience member than I am typical at anythng else (and proud of that) but I go to both the MET and NYCO and OONY, for that matter, because I am interested in seeing/hearing a particualr opera, or production or what a given group of singers might b e able to do with a particular opera.

    At NYCO, I think there's lessdiva/divo worship and more interest in a broad-based repertory. The MET is changing fast, however, and it will be watching both houses as they virtually simultaneously remake themselves under new leadership.

    As for me, I find the NYCO audience easier to sit in, with less talking during the music and far fewer annoying manners than the MET's audience in terms of intrusive, unwanted applause during the music and less competition to be the first one to ruin the occasional soft ending of an aria or act by being the first one to yell, "Bravo!" and destroy the mood the singer has been working so hard to create.

    By the way, I found your blog last week and am enjoying reading through your back posts very much.

  2. You guys totally haven't been reading us. Counter Critic has been providing play-by-play coverage of the Lincoln Center opera wars, with original NYCO reviews of Margaret Garner, Don Giovanni, Carmen, the Cav&Pag double bill, and just today, Vanessa! Come check us out. NYCO is totally winning, btw.


Absolutely no axe-grinding, please.