Something very exciting has been happening on the performing arts scene in the United States and abroad for several years now. The established model of presenting new works to audiences is changing and the audiences are changing dramatically too. An entire generation of composers and performers are taking the presentation of their works into their own hands. The model is proving to be successful and has also demonstrated a remarkable ability to exist in harmony with the older establishment. I'm thinking about this as I travel to Boston in preparation for Boston Opera Collaborative's presentation of my first opera, Sumeida's Song.
Boston has been without an permanent and lasting opera company since Sarah Caldwell's days with the Opera Company of Boston. So in Boston, the presence of a company like Boston Opera Collaborative is particularly encouraging. The company operates from the ground up. Its administrators are also working musicians in their own right and they are involved with the organization because of their vivid passion for music-making. The company is a nimble entity, capable of moving quickly to present ambitious productions with a youthful verve. This is a company started and run by musicians that believes in the ability of their art form to connect with broad audiences.
The model of grassroots performing arts organizations is a worldwide trend and I believe that it is contributing to a golden age for the performing arts. This new wave coupled with an increasing emphasis on vision from the larger companies (think of the success of Metropolitan Opera's HD Broadcasts for example) paints an uplifting vision of opera and "classical" music in the new millennium.
Another important company based on this collaborative model is Yuval Sharon's The Industry in Los Angeles. Having just worked with The Industry a few months ago, I'm struck by the similarities in organization and passion between them and BOC.
But it would be difficult to talk about this trend without talking about Beth Morrison. This firebrand creative producer has been the spiritual leader of creating new operas in new ways for almost a decade now. Her relationship with composers has been an inspirational model for all these collaboratives and, as a composer, I can say that is has been inspirational to us composers. After all, the first fully-staged production of my first opera in New York could not have happened without the vision of this woman.
Beth Morrison presented the premiere production of Sumeida's Song together with HERE Arts Center as the opening event of the first-ever PROTOTYPE festival and now this festival of new opera-theatre and music-theater has become a major yearly occurrence on the NYC arts scene.
What impressed me most about Beth Morrison's approach to the production was her care and presence. Opera is an art-form that requires the collaboration of many different professionals from lighting designers and directors to conductors and set designers. Beth, as the producer, was at all the meetings with directors, costume designers, music and tech rehearsals and everything else. She was actively involved in offering her input and passionate about her ideas. The approach is anything but hands-off.
This is not too dissimilar to the approach of the collective at Boston Opera Collaborative. I can see something of the spirit of Sarah Caldwell in their young artistic director, Andrew Altenbach. There is a vision matched by talent and a desperate desire to share something important with as many people as possible. Much has been made of the changes happening in the dissemination and distribution of music. There's no doubt that the move to digital media is one of the most vital things happening in music today but the changes in the attitudes of making music and presenting performances are at least equally striking. And I am seeing this change even in the administrations and directors of the established symphony orchestras, opera companies and major recording labels that I work with. The energy is irresistible. The future could not be more exciting.
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