City Opera's Botched Trans Casting

Sometimes, you have to bend the truth to sell an opera. From the initial casting call, New York City Opera has been advertising their new Stonewall opera, with libretto by Mark Campbell and music by Iain Bell, as the first opera commissioned by a major company to feature a trans character specifically written for a trans singer. It’s a claim that’s been picked up by outlets from OperaWire to the New Yorker, but while the larger claim may be narrowly true, the specific way the role has been cast in this production is a travesty, not a triumph.

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So You Want to Do Otello

The new Met Opera brochure for the 2015–16 season is here! It came on Tuesday, and even tho I don't live in NYC right now, I was still excited about it, because a) simulcasts are a thing and b) the Met is an institution of national significance in the music world I move in, and I like feeling hip to what's going on. Usually I have some gripes with their repertoire selection (predictably, all the operas they're doing were written by men, and the most recent is Alban Berg's Lulu from 1935), and while I have many thoughts about those things, there is a more pressing issue that needs to be addressed:

They're doing Otello in blackface. Again.

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Earnest Absurdity

The stage is lit with eerie blue and purple light. The music is tense and skittish. A crowd of French aristocrats looks on as two ghostly figures — the ghosts of Louis XVI and Pierre-Augustin Caron de Beaumarchais, to be precise — draw swords in a fit of sexual jealousy. After considerable back and forth, the King gains the upper hand and plunges his sword into the body of Beaumarchais. There is a moment of stunned silence as the onlookers crane to see whether he's going to make it. And then, quite abruptly, Beaumarchais straightens up, pulls the sword out, and giddily proclaims "We're all dead!", whereupon the entire company break out in eerie, cackling laughter and begin stabbing each other with playful abandon. So it goes in Ghosts of Versailles, John Corigliano and William Hoffman's "grand opera buffa" which had its West-coast première last Saturday at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion in Los Angeles.

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Weak and Idle Themes

Some pieces of music are really good. They reach down inside you and touch you on a fundamental level, they fill your heart with joy or cleanse your mind with cathartic sorrow. Some works, on the other hand, are just bad. They're melodically dull, or harmonically uninspiring, or any of the other myriad things that can go wrong when putting notes on the page. (And I've suffered all these faults and more in my own writing. Music is hard.) But then there are the works that are almost really good. They have a lot going for them, they almost hit it out of the park, but there's just . . . something where they fundamentally miss the mark. 

And works in that last category are often the most excruciating of all.

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