Bachtrack – The Year in Statistics: Why Opera is Failing & The Need For Relevance

This_Why_You_FaiSimply put – Opera is in trouble.  Yes, yes, I know you’ve read such leaders before, but these latest infographics from Bachtrack (go to the downloadable link at the bottom of the Bachtrack page) are, in all respects, damning.

Top_20_Operas_2018

©2018 Bachtrack

Fun_Fact_Opera

©2018 Bachtrack


Whereas, we are all familiar with the disparaging quotes about statistics such as, “There are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies, and statistics” commonly attributed to either Mark Twain or Disraeli,  it’s hard to refute these simple numbers to show that a significant statistical percentage of opera companies are complicit in hastening the demise of this artform.

You cannot skirt around the fact; irrespective of the protestations and excuses commonly offered up by General Directors (or their equivalent in different countries) that a diet of only Verdi, Puccini and Mozart – accounting for 33% of all Opera presented – is untenable in 2019!

These infographics from Bachtrack would have been equally enlightening if they had showed the 20 least operas performed in 2018, as statistics on these would probably point to companies and works that are deserved of more attention.

Cases to highlight the current paucity of innovation in Opera production choices would be Conrad Osborne’s recent article about the demise in productions of Gounod’s Faust in the latter half of the 20th-Century (at least at the MET). In no respects is Gounod’s masterpiece a curio to be heard once in a blue-moon. It is simply a case that it has, for whatever reason, fallen out of favour in New York. But, more importantly, why does the inexplicable demise of a ‘Faust’ consequently subject audiences to yet another ‘Bohème’ or ‘Traviata’ as probable (although not exclusively so) production alternatives?

Conversely, innovation in opera production in Europe is omnipresent. Let’s take the offerings available on Operavision as one example. In January alone you could delve into the incredible Káta Kabanová by Janácek; Libuše by Smetana or Korngold’s sublime Die tote Stadt as just a small selection of operas free to watch on-demand.  None of these three operas made Bachtrack’s Top 20 list.  Why, when all of these operas embody qualities that make them utterly producible on any given day?

Osborne implies in his informative blog that much of the repetitive offerings of the same Top 20 operas can be ascribed to a decline of mature voices with the power, resonance and depth to undertake heavier roles often required in less performed operas. Although this lack of talent depth is indisputable at the meta-level of the industry; with an increasing reliance upon, and abundance of, young singers eager for opportunities, it is too facile to suggest this is the major cause of decline in a vast number of operas being overlooked for production.

Of course the perennial argument being that if some combination of the usual top 20 suspects in any season, year-on-year, are not rolled out the likelihood of company insolvency (or some concomitant form of financial collapse) will inevitably ensue.  But this is not a reason to maintain the status quo. Continue Reading →

Orchestras – start living more dangerously! ( seasonal “bah humbug”)

A 21st Century orchestra – Photograph: BBC – Sydney Symphony/BBC

With apologies to Ebenezer Scrooge, I’m surprised how much this puerile article by Igor Toronyi-Lalic in the 13 December issue of The Guardian (UK edition) rankles my otherwise cheery Christmas bonhomie.

At best it is about the worst submitted op-ed piece I’ve read all year; most probably, to drive reader traffic toward the author’s currently running performance project in London, the Contemporary Music Festival. Conversely, it maybe just be a manifestation of woeful ignorance if not outright stupidity?

The basic argument put forward in the article is that composers who have not studied with the ‘right’ people or at the right school or university, or without the right publisher or, heaven save us, have the wrong profile (what does that actually mean?) remain outsiders ignored by both the orchestral establishment and classical music publishers – who apparently according to Toronyi-Lalic constitute a cartel – and can therefore, by definition, clearly be up to no good whatsoever.

Why there is a picture of the Sydney Symphony Orchestra attached to this piece when clearly the author’s criticism is supposedly linked to UK orchestra sector is a further anomaly.

At this point, the article seems to diverge into an unsubstantiated critique of composers not working within the orchestra idiom being shut out from being performed by the identified same denounced orchestras.  The avant-garde composer, Jennifer Walshe is cited as an example with linked reference to her chamber opera XXX Live Nude Girls as evidence of “living great” composer being sidelined.  At this point, we’re on pretty shaky ground.

Preposterous as this article is, it is this quote that finally sends me over the edge: “Music too, it seems, has fake news. It seems to me a perfect example of the kind of straw man set up by marketing departments, whose vanquishing can be used to claim an orchestra is being groundbreaking.”

Why am I so incredulous? Because this is the non-sequitur that follows this admonition: “It’s an attitude that is based on the presumption that the audience is dumb. If orchestras believed that audiences were normal, curious human beings, like you and me, they would not spoon-feed them or talk down to them. They would not think that music constantly needs propping up with screensaver films and light shows.”

Whoa! Continue Reading →

Changes To This Website

Big_Change2019 is likely to be a watershed year for many people in the orchestra world. The industry has been positioning itself for several years now to be prepared, at least partly, for the seismic changes to event curatorship and diverging patterns of audience take-up for Classical Music and Opera.

Orchestras and Opera companies are struggling.  This is an established fact for significant numbers of organisations around the world, not the least in Australia. There is very low audience retention and new audience capture for these increasingly arcane artforms as perceived by the post-Boomer generations.  There is a tipping point for where existing audiences and no new audiences change the balance in perceived wisdoms about how the live concert classical music business can be sustainably maintained.

This tipping point is likely to be felt first as a tremor and then more harmfully beginning in 2019-20.  At least that is my prediction.

So, I have decided that we should similarly make further concerted and focused changes to this website from early in 2019.  I’ve also decided that it would be beneficial to cross-reference more of my work with the Australian Discovery Orchestra here as well moving forward.

This has meant abandoning some approaches to information on this site we have previously always provided to help other conductors, composers and musicians in general, in favour of highlighting how some of the more seismic events referred to above can be used by orchestras and performing arts organisations to their advantage – and hopefully ameliorate some of the challenges we will all be facing.

I wish everyone joyous and peaceful Season’s Greetings.  See you next year.

Kevin