Wednesday, September 15, 2010

San José National Opera Pinch-Hits For Struggling Washington National Opera By Staging Eight Performances Of American David Carlson's Anna Karenina

Opera San José/San José National Opera

The eight productions (two casts) of this new American operatic masterpiece are sponsored by the Carol Franc Buck Foundation.

Interview with American composer David Carlson on his opera based upon a libretto by Colin Graham.

Photo credit: (c) Copyright controlled.


Blogger said...

I'm really curious what this means! Was Washington National Opera supposed to be doing this? Do tell! :-)

9:56 PM  
Blogger Garth Trinkl said...

oi, thanks for your question.
The Washington National Opera, since being granted the title of National opera by Congress in 2000, was supposed to be doing -- according to the name change enabling legislation -- an American opera each and every season.

After a few seasons in which the company kept this exciting promise to Congress and to the American people, the company began to stretch this to include Britten's 'Peter Grimes' and 'Billy Budd', and the late Nicholas Maw's (a D.C. area resident) 'Sophie's Choice', in lieu of an American opera. No one protested this, but we in the area held our breaths.

This season, the company substituted 14 performances of 'Madama Butterfly' for the American classica opera the company promised Congress. Next season, I suspect audiences will get 14 performances of 'Girl of the Golden West'. In lieu of an American opera, we get Domingo starring or conducting each and every season, and the new American premieres tend to be elsewhere such as LA, Santa Fe, or San Jose.

Now, no one expected the WNO to do an American world premiere each and every season. The company's track record for world premieres is very poor. (Ask me if you want more info.)

Instead, the WNO -- working gloves in hands with Marc Scorca's Opera America and the National Endowment for the Arts -- was supposed to become the leading center for second productions of highly promising American operas already given world premieres but not second productions. Artists and intellectuals in the nation's capital expected productions of Picker's An American Tragedy, Imbrie's Angle of Repose, or ... an additional reprise of Ghosts of Versailles.

David Carlson comes into the picture as he is exactly the type of American composer (here teamed with the expert Colin Graham) who was supposed to be trusted by the WNO, Opera America, and the National Endowment for the Arts to create highly singable and dramatic new American operas. (By the way, the last WNO world premiere was a two performance staging of Boston's Scott Wheeler's Democracy at a university auditorium and not the Kennedy Center.)

I don't know if you are following the WNO, but it is supposed to now be folded into Michael Kaiser's Kennedy Center structure, as was the NSO orchestra several years ago. It would lose its separate board. Whether the merged organizations would continue or drop the promise to stage American operas is an open question. On Sunday, I was contacted by the WNO, and the woman hinted that the company, now in contract talks, wanted to drop National from its title and revert to the name Washington Opera. Whether the Kennedy Center board presses for American opera each season is an open question. It is now rumored by such observors as Anne Midgette in the Washington Post that the company will no longer aspire to an international-class level, but will stage a few budget operas each season on both the opera house stage and the smaller Eisenhower Theater stage.

I will look for David Carlson's AK -- and one of your works -- on the smaller national art center stage in the future. By the way, David Carlson was a featured composer -- along with John Adams -- when the Kennedy Center staged a San Francisco Bay Area Arts Festival back in June 1990, I believe. Also, Christoph Eschenbach is now the music director of both NSO as well as the Kennedy Center as a whole.

6:33 AM  
Blogger Garth Trinkl said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

6:33 AM  
Blogger Garth Trinkl said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

6:33 AM  
Blogger Garth Trinkl said...

oops .. I push submit one time and it prints three times.

6:35 AM  
Blogger said...

Thanks for the info! I had no idea ... I don't really follow companies all that much, aside from the one I work with and San Francisco Opera. Just too much going on.

My dream would be something at least "newish" every year here, but San Jose audiences would most likely not approve. At least a summer series where we tackle contemporary works ... well ... i can dream, yes? I'm sure it'll never happen. Doing contemporary works usually loses subscribers. (Heck, to many here Stravinsky is too modern!)

10:39 AM  
Blogger Garth Trinkl said...

Until now, I've followed the San Francisco Opera much more than I've followed the San Jose Opera (or the Los Angeles Opera), but that may change.

A friend, Randall Packer, is having an experimental music theater work (involving electronics and video) staged at a black box theater in San Jose -- I believe this week.

I also follow the Berkeley Opera Company which tries to do an American opera every season, and has done a few intriguing world premieres as well over the past decade. That company will have a new physical home starting this season.

Oh ... and Cal Performances has just started multi-season collaborations with both the Ojai Festival and with Lorin Maazel's new Virginia chamber opera company. The young Virginia company is focusing this season on Britten. Thus, there seems to be some action in both the South Bay and the East Bay (as well as the normal perculation in SF proper).

Thanks again for reading and commenting.

10:54 AM  
Blogger lindyspice said...

Fascinating backstory- thanks for sharing. Now I'm even *more* grateful that the production came to California this fall!

FWIW, Opera San Jose is definitely worth following, but for a different reason. The company does not have a reputation for producing modern works or for featuring American composers, but for being unique in the United States with the only full-year resident company of (young!) principal artists. You can read more here:

Now if only the WNO or NEA would share some of that extra American-opera funding... ;)

12:19 PM  
Blogger Garth Trinkl said...


Young principal artists!! Isn’t that reason, in and of itself, for Opera San Jose annually to feature American composers, to produce some modern works, and to commission world premieres from American composers and librettists!!

The Washington National Opera has a strong young artist program (modeled, I believe, on the long-standing San Francisco Opera Merola Young Artists program!)

In fact, the singers in the WNO young artist program were used to stage the world premiere, in Washington, of Scott Wheeler’s opera “Democracy: An American Comedy” five years back.

You might want to suggest to your San Jose company Scott’s new opera.

Lorin Maazel’s Castleton Chamber Festival Opera – coming to Berkeley this winter – also features superb young professional singers. While, I haven't attended, I heard two delayed broadcasts which were superb.

(I have quasi-lapsed rights to a John Steinbeck novel set just south of San Jose. So yes, where is that round of American stimulus funding ….)

12:33 PM  
Blogger lindyspice said...

I'd love for OSJ to do Little Women, but personally, I keep hoping that someone will answer my wish for a Mozart-inspired opera based on Three's Company. It's *perfect* material, it just needs good music! :)

3:01 PM  
Blogger Garth Trinkl said...

I hope that Dolly Parton is still willing for your Three's Company.

Three's Company ... now what opera does that title remind me of?

5:23 AM  

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