The New Masterpieces
What's the best new opera of the twenty-first century? HEIDI WALESON polls a group of opera-industry insiders – and gets some surprising responses.
Twenty-five years ago, brand new operas were few and far between. Today, we find them everywhere. I've seen eighty-three world and U.S. premieres of new operas since the beginning of 2000 – a remarkable number, considering that, with one exception, they were all seen in the U.S., and I don't include the two dozen or so revivals of recent, pre-2000 works. What is more, I'd be interested in seeing about half of them again.
Which ones are the best? I asked a sampling of knowledgeable operagoers to choose. Some could base their opinion on only a small number of pieces; others had seen many. The only restriction was that they not include any opera in which they had been personally involved. Will these be the works that stand the test of time? Only if someone puts them on again – and again.
Michael John LaChiusa
Composer, librettist, lyricist
Osvaldo Golijov's Ainadamar [heard on recording] has to top everything. It's spectacular in so many ways – rich, beautiful and exciting. I love it! It's romantic and filled with passion. I like the experimental harmonies, and the rhythms are always surprising. It's all about texture and layering – a thrill ride from beginning to end. And Dawn Upshaw is splendid on the recording.
Runner-up: Ricky Ian Gordon's Orpheus and Euridice, if we can count that as an opera. He captured the soulfulness of the characters, and it was playful, too, with a great deal of humor, which is hard to do in music.
My favorite is Ricky Ian Gordon's Grapes of Wrath, which I heard on recording. I liked that it was extremely theatrical and heartfelt. I respond to his writing a lot – he's wonderfully talented! I'm anxious to go back and discover more in it. I'm eager to hear whatever William Bolcom writes next. I loved A View from the Bridge [world premiere in 1999, just outside the decade]. It's odd that in New York, being the center that it is, we don't get the opportunity to see that many new operas. The regional houses commission operas, but they don't go anywhere else.
- Heidi Waleson, Opera News, January 2011