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calm after the storm

By the Editor A

s 2014 heaves into view, there must be some opera-lovers who are quietly relieved that the big anniversary year of 2013 is behind us. Not that there can be many grounds for complaint when our stages have been awash with Britten, Verdi and Wagner—though in the case of Verdi, one might ask not only whether they have really been any more awash than usual, but also why he seems to have been positively shortchanged, in this country at any rate. For audiences abroad, there have certainly been new Britten adventures thanks to the promotional activities of Britten 100, but at home— where he was, arguably, already over-exposed—we have learnt little new. And can anyone really claim to have deepened their understanding of Wagner thanks to the bicentennial celebrations? Indeed, do we ever truly learn anything much from these anniversaries, or are they merely good business for halls and houses, publishers and record companies?

Putting aside the whole issue of whether composer anniversaries are best marked in such an intellectually lazy, wall-to-wall fashion, and whether programming shouldn’t evolve more naturally anyway, there must be lessons for us here as we approach Gluck’s tercentenary and Richard Strauss’s 150th birthday in 2014, or contemplate the anniversaries of such less prominent operatic composers as Niccolò Jommelli (300th), Józef Michał Poniatowski (200th) or Eugen D’Albert (150th). Experience shows that it is only the lesser-known figures who benefit from being programmed in such a focused fashion, and I am sad that nothing significant was made last year of the 50th anniversary of Paul Hindemith’s death; one of the most neglected—unfairly if not unaccountably—major composers of the 20th century, he could certainly have done with some help. Nor does it look as if the anniversary of Meyerbeer’s death—no connection, but he exited just as D’Albert and Strauss came into this world—is going to be widely commemorated.

Just as we don’t really need to be forced to listen to Britten, Verdi or Wagner, it could be said that Gluck and Strauss can take care of themselves, though of course there are other issues here. Gluck suffers from prejudice at the box office, and too many rare revivals are unlikely to change that, but surely our opera houses owe this great opera-reformer some duty of re-examination? Indeed, given the sizable number of Gluck’s under- or neverperformed works, such attention could in fact do his case some good. Strauss might well be one of those composers whose greatest works are justifiably famous and whose more rarely done pieces sometimes expose limitations, yet the remoter corners of his huge output deserve to be explored. It would still be nice to see the major houses being a little more adventurous here, but while they are all doing their Salomes, Elektras, Rosenkavaliers and Ariadnes, it is being left to more enterprising theatres to set an example: Palermo this month, for instance, with its Feuersnot, or Toulouse in June with Daphne. In this year of all years, when it is difficult to know how the 100th anniversary of World War I should best be marked, surely his pacifist opera Friedenstag demands to be seen again?

here are only a few months to go until our second Opera Awards, to be held in central London on April 7, so don’t forget to have your say in the nominations. There is a special new category this year—Best 2013 Anniversary Production, for a staging of Britten, Verdi or Wagner that did make a difference—and nominations close on January 6. Please see www.operaawards.org for more details. In the meantime, a very Happy New Year to all opera readers.

Opera, January 2014

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