Friday, September 12, 2014

The Second Time is the Charm

Those of us interested in new music have begun to take for granted that fact that just about any opera company worth its salt is going to make some kind of commitment to bringing brand-new works into its repertoire. I have now reached an age at which I can say I have been fortunate enough to experience a generous number of such premiere productions, some of which have left me with some very fond memories. The problem is that, unless someone has taken the trouble to make a first-rate video document, those memories are all I have. I have been straining my opera-going recollections; and, for the life of me, I cannot come up with an opera company that brought one of those premieres back in a later season. There have been plenty of operas that have migrated to other companies, sometimes with a change in the production team, as was the case when John Adams' Doctor Atomic was picked up by the Metropolitan Opera a few years after its premiere with the San Francisco Opera. However, Doctor Atomic has not subsequently returned to the War Memorial Opera House in any staging whatsoever.

I am therefore happy to report that I have finally found an exception. I read today on the Web site of the London Telegraph a review about the return of Mark-Anthony Turnage's Anna Nicole to Covent Garden. Furthermore, it was a very positive review, suggesting that there was more to the opera than the shock value of "first exposure" (pun sort of intended). I take that as a very positive sign, and I am not writing this with tongue in cheek. New music needs for than "first impressions" experiences far more than the classics do, simply because mind needs time to adjust to the fact that it is new. This is not just a matter of in-the-moment adjusting. It also involves after-the-fact reflection. So, when a piece gets revived a couple of years after its premiere, anyone who experienced it the first time around is bringing a whole new set of baggage to the return performance. If such processes are not allowed to kick in, we may as well accept that all new works are to be used once and then simply disposed; and, if that is the case, why bother commissioning them in the first place?

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