Opera's Youth in Revolt

Monday, May 07, 2012 - 10:00 AM

Lena Dunham in 'Girls' (Jojo Whilden / HBO)

Like many who have known the shock of being financially cut off from one’s parents, the pratfalls of navigating post-graduate life in a rocky economy and the galvanizing belief in art for the sake of art, I too was let down by the television premiere of Lena Dunham’s "Girls," a comedy about four 20-something women in New York that debuted on HBO last month.

Yes, those of us born in the 1980s were given the short end of the stick when it came to job stability, financial resources and a general sense of comfort, but even I felt queasy when Dunham's character, Hannah, sits her parents down in the pilot and asks for $1,100 a month for two years in order to finish her book without having to get, you know, a job.

When Hannah says, “I don’t want to freak you out but I think that I may be the voice of my generation... or at least a voice of a generation,” you realize that she is neither of those things (in fact, she's never actually shown writing or doing anything remotely creative). What we were promised in the press blitz leading up to the premiere of "Girls" was incongruous with the final product. It is not the voice of our generation; it’s barely the voice of an exclusive niche. Cue the eye rolls and the Internet backlash.

A similar feeling set over me on Friday while waiting for the start of The Armida Project, billed as a "Baroque pastiche" with original music by Jakub Clupinski and directed by Russian choreographer Igor Konyukhov. Tickets for the event were, at their cheapest, $30, and organizers created a too-cool-for-school aura somewhat askew with its mostly traditional opera audience members. It was hard not to become restless before even entering the Angel Orensanz Center on the Lower East Side: the start time was listed as 7:30pm, but doors, via a bouncer were opened at 7:35 pm, creating an entrance process on par with the fall of Saigon or boarding at O'Hare.

Somewhere around 8:10 pm, with no start to the show in sight, I texted a friend and noted a troublesome thought: For years, writers and administrators have fretted over the future of opera with the underlying idea that one has to limn the genre’s implied elitism in order to pull in the youngs. But this operation, helmed by a jury of my peers, came with its own set of pretensions. My friend, writing from a prog rock show, replied: “There surely exists a cadre of cognoscenti for whom opera implies a license to put on airs.”

Heartbreaking, too, was that this was airs for the sake of airs, confusing sophistication for elitism. The creator of the show advised us at the onset not to "take it too seriously," because it’s a comedy. However, that isn’t a carte blanche for the producers themselves not to take their art, sold as it was for ticket prices higher than the lowest seats offered at Lincoln Center, seriously either.

What's more, a vodka sponsor illuminated their product mere feet away from the audience throughout the first act, often creating more light and noise than onstage. Soon it became more interesting to locate a radio playing too loudly offstage (I swear I heard WQXR announcers) and to watch a woman across the aisle go to the rows sitting in front of her and asking, at full-voice, audience members to stop moving their heads so she could see the action unencumbered. It was what the kids these days call a cluster-bleep.

To its credit, the company sought to bring an ambitious, serious concept to a non-traditional opera audience. Why, then, did the evening fail to satisfy? Even if the Project hadn't failed to transport or create a compelling plot with a stronger connection to the eponymous myth, the evening seemed focused more on pomp than on substance. And with every little distraction continuing to stymie and stagnate, was I still taking things “too seriously?"

Either way, the only real solution seemed to be leaving at intermission and going to the nearby Bowery location of Veselka for a different brand of vodka.

Nursing a flight of Eastern Europe’s finest brews and being transported by a trio of pierogi, I felt like Hannah’s hapless parents in "Girls," seeing something I was meant to support with the same commitment of $1,100 a month flounder and fall and not seem to care. The problems of opera in the 21st century have nothing to do with age and everything to do with maturity. Fortunately, there are plenty of producers, composers and performers out there willing to pay their own rent.

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Comments [7]

Kenneth Bennett Lane, Lake Hiawatha, NJ from Richard Wagner Music Drama Institute, Boonton, NJ

Composing operas is a total theater project. Anyone who has managed to construct a work that combines a single theme with music that both entertains and communicates a drama's essential message and gets the attention wand cooperation of others to mount a production, deserves an audience. The multiplicity of options for entertainment and for work projects precludes much that in earlier times,less competitive for attention days, would be properly received. Let us realize that sophistication does not equate with eliteism or snobbishness.
MY BEST WISHES TO THOSE INVOLVED IN PRODUCING THE OPERA ! I am a Wagnerian heldentenor, an opera composer ["Shakespeare" and "The Political Shakespeare"] and the director of the Richard Wagner Music Drama Institute, where there is voice training and coaching in all the roles of the Shakespeare plays and the operatic roles of Wagner's oeuvre.

May. 09 2012 11:29 PM
WQXR

Folks,
A reminder to please observe our comments policy, to "stay on topic, be civil, and be brief." As the policy states, we reserve the right to edit any comments that don't adhere to this. Thanks for your cooperation.

May. 08 2012 10:13 PM
Sabrina Ferris from New Jersey

I just read this review and am simply outraged by it. There is a major differnece between a critic and a blogger and here is a perfect example. A critic is educated and researches about the project they are seeing. They understand the history and the basis of it and report with a seasoned eye what they are watching. A blogger is simply someone who thinks that others need to know their opinion and care, and this seems to be a perfect example of such. I too was at this performance on Friday and am so sadded by the fact that Ms.Giovetti failed at her responisibilies to provide a review of the performance. Represeting a radio station, one might think that its listeners would be curious and responsive to learning about what exactly was HEARD, and PLAYED in such an opera and not to comment on the behaviour of the audience or a light that was on in the back of the house. The line was around the block upon my arrival to the theater but how wonderful for the director and crew to have gotten such an exciting turnout on their first showinging of this piece. Every listing i saw about the performance had a start time of 8pm. It is a reviewers job to at least have the start time right. Nowhere in NY does the house open more than 35 minutes prior to curtain, and to even complain about having to wait an extra five minutes shows a real disdain for social events. Surely one who feels that way should stay home and not venture out into a public setting. A BLOGGER should not feel too elite to wait on a line that moved fast. I also think the comment about the projects funding is highly innapropriate, as I was personally on the receiving end of a donor letter and happily contributed to the project. Did you do your home work Ms. Giovetti? The cheapest seat in the house was $30. In fact, there are no tickets at Lincoln Center for that price. $30 for a ticket and an open bar is the absolute basement and is a more than acceptable price for a Friday night evening out in New York.

Do you get paid to write these things? Because if so, you are a thief. You did not at all do your job and and in no way represented anything valid about the actual performance, which i might add, as a vocal teacher who has trained MANY MET STARS, was techincally wonderful.

Next time, maybe YOU should do your homework Ms. Giovetti.

May. 08 2012 06:00 PM
Anthony.A

also thank you F linongi for your review a little misunderstanding on my behalf
hope there is no hard feelings

May. 08 2012 05:05 PM
Anthony. A

I am not an opera person cause people that go to opera's are a bunch of arrogant rich ass holes.I tried to read a review about this opera but everybody seems to be so mad that it wasn't the cliche opera set up that they go and spend a shit load of money on.
what is amusing to me is that people like F linongi from NYC criticizes the Vodka and liquor being there, i didn't see a single person without a glass in there hands, not to mention the drunken old lady that stumbled around trying to find her way back to her seat was also very interesting. at least everyone left with a drunken smile on there face, and i was one of them. All of this a side the music wasnt bad at all in fact i found it very modern and well composed. Also i want to thank the writer for her sentimental review and i hope you got it all off your chest.

May. 08 2012 05:00 PM
F. Linongi from NYC

I agree John B. from NYC! I actually was at this performance and i thought i was there to see an opera not to critique the kind of Vodka that was being served (for free no less). I would be curious to hear this reviewers reviwew of the actual OPERA-- you know, the music and the singing? Im pretty sure that thats what I paid my money to see. And i stood on that line outside and was not bothered in the least by it. The entry way was a very narrow corridor- i was happy not to have to stand inside of that. If someone is going to trash an entire evening for having to stand on a line for 5 minutes more than originally expected, how can i take a word of this seriously? I am so sick of these reviewers who are just bitter and don't say anything valid or relevant about the evening. Maybe I should start a blog-- i would certainly write with more insight.

oh, and "There surely exists a cadre of cognoscenti for whom opera implies a license to put on airs.” Really? Who's calling whom elite? People actually text things like this? And please, do not text during the performance, it is quite distracting.

F. Linongi, NYC

May. 08 2012 03:02 PM
John B from NYC

I am wondering if the reviewer has anything to say about the music and singing that night?

May. 08 2012 10:51 AM

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