New Operas To Premiere in US

By , Staff writer of The Christian Science Monitor

LOOKING ahead to this opera season, some fans will be pleased to know there is life after "La Traviata."While Verdi, Puccini, and Mozart still top the charts of opera productions, new-opera alternatives are on the upswing as more companies reach for diverse audiences and seek to employ the talents of living composers and librettists. Stealing media attention first off is "The Death of Klinghoffer" at New York's Brooklyn Academy of Music (Sept. 5-12), which received its world premiere in Brussels last March. The multimedia opera, based on the 1985 hijacking of the cruise ship Achille Lauro by Palestinian terrorists, is the latest project of director Peter Sellars, composer John Adams, and poet Alice Goodman - the trendy troika who brought us "Nixon in China" back in 1987. "Klinghoffer" is just one of several significant premieres on the docket. The Metropolitan Opera, which in recent years has shied away from new American works, will present "The Ghosts of Versailles" (Dec.19-Jan.10), by composer John Corigliano and librettist William Hoffman. The work bills itself as "grand opera buffa," and revolves around the specter of 18th-century playwright Beaumarchais, who tries to change the course of the French Revolution. Other premieres in the United States include American operas "Desert of Roses" at the Houston Grand Opera (Feb.14-29) and "From the Towers of the Moon" at the Minnesota Opera (March 27-April 4). Fresh from Berlin is "Das Verratene Meer ("The Ocean Betrayed"), by Hans Werner Henze, at the San Francisco Opera (Nov.8-23). "The improvement is staggering," says Marianne Harding, an official at Opera America, referring to the increase of new operas. In 1983, only two US companies hosted world premieres, compared to 19 in '88/90, according to the organization's records. More grant money has triggered many of the new operas, says Ms. Harding, project manager for the program Opera for a New America. This year, the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) awarded $868,000 in grants to support new American opera, up from $377,100 in 1980. (That amount has held steady despite recent cuts in the agency's overall funding, NEA officials say.) Continuing its tradition of support, the Lila Wallace-Reader's Digest Fund is giving $5 million to Opera America over the next five years to assist companies in new works. Today's anything-goes cultural atmosphere has made opera companies feel more inclined to program avant-garde pieces. "The so-called postmodern era gives a lot more opportunity for different musical styles to be used in the service of theater," says David Gockley, general director of the Houston Grand Opera. Contemporary works also attract younger, more diverse audiences, Mr. Gockley says. Houston Grand Opera reiterates its commitment to bold programming with "Desert of Roses," by composer Robert Moran an d playwright Michael John LaChuisa. The work takes a hard-edged, post-cataclysmic view of the fable "Beauty and the Beast," Gockley says. For those interested in Asian themes, the Washington Opera will offer the US debut of "Savage Land" (Jan. 18-Feb.9) and the Chicago Lyric Opera's young artists program will present "Song of Majnun" (Sept. 14-Feb.2). In "Savage Land," composer Jin Xiang combines modern Western composition with traditional Chinese music in this tale of Chinese life in the 1920s. The opera's libretto is by Wan Fang and will be sung by a Chinese cast. "Song of Majnun," presented by the Lyric Opera's Center for American Artists, spotlights the talents of composer-in-residence and Bernstein prot Bright Sheng.

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