One of the most important advocacy groups for Opera as an artform in the UK is the OMTF. Their self-stated mission is to be …a network of companies working to create an environment in which opera and music theatre can flourish.
One can only applaud both the sentiment and the ambition.
OMTF’s 2013 conference entitled, ‘FUTURE TENSE? – What will the world be like in 2030?’ was held on November 13 in London. The invited speakers, including playwright/librettist, Mark Ravenhill, were a pretty stellar group of informed individuals, not the least being Royal Opera House artistic director, Kasper Holten.
Then today, I saw this little precis of the conference in an E-blast from Rhinegold Publishing (not my favourite company in this world for their absolutely appalling customer service – which, apropos, they outsource – tells you everything!)
The piece itself is fairly innocuous, other than for this one paragraph paraphrasing Mark Ravenhill who noted that, “opera needed to have a new pact with audiences to ensure that it doesn’t become a closed shop: ‘There’s no drying up of young talent in the making of the arts. But today’s composers need to understand the workings of the stage and value showbiz.”
The italics are mine. Why, you ask?
Never a truer word was spoken. If only I could take back all my attendances at opera productions over the last decade of new operas in which the composer / librettist team clearly escaped via the back door, in order to avoid taking ‘workings of the stage and value showbiz’ 101 class. And I do mean performances at major opera houses around the world, and a few regionally.
It is a curious paradox that the words ‘music theatre’ in the OMTF use does not really intend commercial musical theatre (Musicals), but, in fact, this is where composer-librettist teams (Music/Book/Lyrics) cut their teeth on NOT BEING BORING and, even more importantly, learning how to write for the voice.
So when both contemporary and established opera can be boring; as exposed in this recent delightful little piece in The Guardian by John Crace, why do we accept it? God knows, no-one lets it become the elephant in the closet with a Musical – and therein is also a problem, albeit a different one (“too many cooks…” etc.).
How many opera composers have also written musicals? I don’t know the answer to this, but I would certainly like to know (Weill, Gershwin….hmm?) Apropos, did you know Stephen Schwartz has written an opera ? And it’s fabulous!
My advice to the constituents of the OMTF, send your composers and librettists to Broadway, or the West End; and before they start on their new commission for ‘opera composition bootcamp’! It might not help outright, but it certainly won’t do any harm, and a greater proportion of new operas may be far less tedious.
Lastly, the OMTF doesn’t seem to have a ‘Giving’ page for donations or sponsorship, but you can join as an individual member. It’s an organisation very worthy of support – and they’re going to need it.
Take care and Season’s Greetings,