The Problem With Today’s Classical Music

I should think by now it should be apparent to those who present classical vocal music in various forms composed by present-moment artists that audiences are not flocking to these performances. Yes, there are some exceptions but opera companies are dying all over the place. Why? No one seems to know.

You could start by taking a look at the number of productions that make no sense whatsoever, and the number of compositions that “heaven forbid” do not have a melodic tune in them. You don’t have to be a rocket scientist to see why people stay away. With the old operas, the idea is you “freshen it up” by changing the location, the time, and the costumes. You leave the notes and the lyrics but that’s all. In the present moment works, you may not even find singable melodic lines (can’t call them melodies, as the composers would faint), and the plot can be “mystical” and the lyrics “poetic”. If the audience “doesn’t get it” well, too bad for them!!!! This is high art.

The idea that giving people melodies and harmonies they can hear, remember and relate to, and presenting productions that honor the human condition seems so incredibly radical that you have to wonder how long it will take before someone, somewhere wakes up and decides to do a “old fashioned” opera that is beautiful, sensible and has wonderful songs — arias — that can stand alone. I would bet people would come back in droves, especially if the singers were fabulous.

I write this because I was able to attend a dress rehearsal of The Death Of Klinghoffer at the Met and I have to say it was B O R I N G. Not controversial, not inflammatory, not provocative, just                       B O R I N G. The set was minimal and dull, the costumes were street clothes, the plot (even though it should have been terrifying) moved at a snail’s pace and the characters were pretty much one-dimensional except for the terrorists who waxed eloquently about the moon and stars. {?} It had a few very nice moments, and all the singers did their very best to make what they were given work, but how can you overcome dull? That this work is considered one of Adam’s best is puzzling.

Come on, composers, stop sleep walking in the wake of 12-tone serialists and John Cage. Stage Directors, stop copying Robert Wilson and Peter Sellars! You are STUCK in the mid-20th century and the rest of the world is passing you by! Mr. Adams has a great reputation, but I wouldn’t send you to this production even if you were curious to see what all the fuss was about. You’d fall asleep.

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