View Full Version : A list of worthy contemporary operas

Luiz Gazzola (Almaviva)
February 3rd, 2019, 07:53 AM
I saw this list published by the Washington Post, of good contemporary operas. Some glaring omissions (no Sciarrino?!? LOL), but it is interesting, anyway:

Operas performed in traditional opera houses:

Einstein on the Beach by Philip Glass (1975-6)
Akhnaten by Philip Glass (1983)
Orphée by Philip Glass, libretto based on film by Jean Cocteau (1991-3)
Nixon in China by John Adams and Alice Goodman (1987)
The Death of Klinghoffer by John Adams and Alice Goodman (1991)
Doctor Atomic by John Adams and Peter Sellars (2005)
The Gospel According to the Other Mary by John Adams and Peter Sellars (2013, opera-oratorio)
Susannah by Carlisle Floyd (1955)
Bilby’s Doll by Carlisle Floyd (1976)
Sweeney Todd by Stephen Sondheim (1979)
Europeras 1 & 2 by John Cage (1987)
The Ghosts of Versailles by John Corigliano and William M. Hofmann (1991)
A View from the Bridge by William Bolcom and Arnold Weinstein/Arthur Miller (1999)
Higglety Pigglety Pop by Oliver Knussen and Maurice Sendak (1985-91)
Rosa: the Death of a Composer by Louis Andriessen and Peter Greenaway (1993-4)
Florencia en el Amazonas by Daniel Catan and Marcela Fuentes-Berain (1996)
Il Postino by Daniel Catan (2010)
Dead Man Walking by Jake Heggie and Terrence McNally (2000)
Moby-Dick by Jake Heggie and Gene Scheer (2010)
L’Amour de Loin by Kaija Saariaho and Amin Maalouf (2000)
Adriana Mater by Kaija Saariaho and Amin Maalouf (2006)
Anna Nicole by Mark-Anthony Turnage and Richard Thomas (2011)
Emmeline by Tobias Picker and J.D. McClatchy (1996)
Dolores Claiborne by Tobias Picker and J.D. McClatchy (2013)
Shining Brow by Daron Hagen and Paul Muldoon (1993)
Tea: a Mirror of Soul by Tan Dun and Xu Ying (2002)
Ainadamar by Osvaldo Golijov and David Henry Hwang (2003-5)
Anna Karenina by David Carlson and Colin Graham (2007)
The Bonesetter’s Daughter by Stewart Wallace and Amy Tan (2008)
The Letter by Paul Moravec and Terry Teachout (2009)
Death and the Powers by Tod Machover and Robert Pinsky (2010)
Silent Night by Kevin Puts and Mark Campbell (2011)
The Manchurian Candidate by Kevin Puts and Mark Campbell(2015)
Written on Skin by George Benjamin and Martin Crimp (2012)
Sunken Garden by Michael van der Aa (2013)
The Long Walk by Jeremy Howard Beck and Stephanie Fleischmann (2015)
Cold Mountain by Jennifer Higdon and Gene Scheer (2015)
Cold Sassy Tree by Carlisle Floyd (2000)
Of Mice and Men by Carlisle Floyd (1969)
The Passion of Jonathan Wade by Carlisle Floyd (1962, rev. 1991)
Satyagraha by Philip Glass and Constance DeJong (1979)
The Perfect American by Philip Glass and Rudy Wurlitzer (2012)
The Voyage of Edgar Allen Poe by Dominic Argento and Charles Nolte (1976)
Miss Havisham’s Fire by Dominic Argento and John Olon-Scrymgeour (1979, rev. 2001)
Casanova’s Homecoming by Dominic Argento (1985)
Mary, Queen of Scots by Thea Musgrave (1977)
Lear by Aribert Reimann and Claus H. Henneberg (1979)
The Postman Always Rings Twice by Stephen Paulus and Colin Graham (1982)
Un re in ascolto (The King Listens) by Luciano Berio (1983)
Saint François d’Assise by Olivier Messiaen (1983)
X, The Life and Times of Malcolm X by Anthony Davis and Thulani Davis (1985)
Rappacini’s Daughter by Daniel Catan and Juan Tovar (1991)
Die Eroberung von Mexico by Wolfgang Rihm (1991)
A Streetcar Named Desire by André Previn and Philip Littell (1998)
The Handmaid’s Tale by Poul Ruders and Paul Bentley (2000)
Volpone by John Musto and Mark Campbell (2004)
The Tempest by Thomas Adès and Meredith Oakes (2004)
Lysistrata by Mark Adamo (2005)
Two Boys by Nico Muhly and Craig Lucas (2011)
A Christmas Carol by Iain Bell and Simon Callow (2014)
Two Women by Marco Tutino and Fabio Ceresa (2015)

Operas originated by smaller presenters that have been taken up by traditional opera houses:

Glory Denied by Tom Cipullo (2007)
Paul’s Case by Gregory Spears (2009-13)
Dog Days by David T. Little and Royce Vavrek (2008-12)
Song from the Uproar by Missy Mazzoli and Royce Vavrek (nominated by director) (2012)

Operas presented outside of traditional opera houses:

The Black Rider by Tom Waits, Robert Wilson, and William S. Burroughs (1990)
So Long Ago I Can’t Remember by GAle GAtes et al (2001)
The Merchant of Venice by André Tchaikowsky (1968-82, first staged 2013)
The Singing by Daniel Levy (1997-2000)
Ask your Mama by Laura Karpman and Langston Hughes (2009, opera-oratorio)
Lolita by Joshua Fineberg (2008-9)
Invisible Cities by Christoper Cerrone (2009-13)
Smashed: the Carrie Nation Story by James Barry (2012)
As One by Laura Kaminsky and Mark Campbell (2014)
The Scarlet Ibis by Stefan Weisman and David Cote (nominated by librettist) (2015)
Punch and Judy by Harrison Birtwistle and Stephen Pruslin (1967)
Into the Little Hill by George Benjamin and Martin Crimp (2006)
Here Be Sirens by Kate Soper (2014)
The Difficulty of Crossing a Field by David Lang and Mac Wellman (2014)
The Hunger by Donnacha Dennehy (2014)
The Last Hotel by Donnacha Dennehy and Enda Walsh (2015)

Older “new operas:”

Four Saints in Three Acts by Virgil Thomson and Gertrude Stein (1927-8)
Montezuma by Roger Sessions and Giuseppe Antonio Borgese (1963)
A Month in the Country by Lee Hoiby and William Ball (1964)
Le Grand Macabre by György Ligeti (1974-7, rev. 1996)
Mittwoch aus Licht by Karlheinz Stockhausen (1995-7, first staged 2012)
The Consul by Gian Carlo Menotti (1950)

February 3rd, 2019, 01:29 PM
No Sciarrino, and relatively few composers who are not from one of the English-speaking countries. It would be interesting to see what sort of a list reviewers from Italy, France, or one of the German-speaking countries would come up with. And the Washington Post missing Gregory Spears' Fellow Travelers, which is set in Washington during the McCarthy era?

Luiz Gazzola (Almaviva)
February 3rd, 2019, 05:23 PM
At least they listed one by Berio, as far as Italian contemporary opera goes (although he is dead), but of course, many of the Sciarrino (who is still alive) ones should be listed, most notably:

Luce mie traditrici
Ti vedo, ti sento, mi perdo
Da gelo a gelo
Perseo ed Andromeda
Infinito Nero

These are his most important ones, but he's got 8 more, and is arguably the most important opera composer alive, today, quality-wise.

Some of the operas listed above hardly qualify these days as contemporary if we think of live composers, given that some of these composers have passed away. So, if we list Messiaen and Ligeti, for example, why in the hell are we not listing Britten and Poulenc, just to name a couple? Or people like Hindemith, for example, whose very important opera Mathis der Maler was composed in 1957 and he is just as dead as Menotti whose 1950 opera The Consul is listed. Now, if one lists The Consul as contemporary, then Menotti's other very important works should be there too, like Amahl and the Night Visitors (simply the most performed opera in the United States), and The Medium.

If we list an opera by Birtwistle, why pick the complex and off-putting Punch and Judy, but not the much more recent, more diffused (and better-quality) The Minotaur?

So, this list is quite flawed but I like the effort, anyway. Anything done to prop contemporary opera is good by me.

Oh, and Little Women should be there, as well as probably countless others that I'm failing to think of, right now.

The new George Benjamin one is not listed, Lessons in Love and Violence, and Thomas Adès very good The Extermination Angel is also not included - I guess these most recent contemporary operas might have been released after this list was compiled. Talking about Adès, Powder her Face should be there. Nico Muhly's Two Boys is there, but not his more recent Marnie.

Julie, by Philippe Boesmans, is great. Alice in Wonderland, by Unsuk Chin. By Jonathan Dove, there is The Adventures of Pinocchio, and Flight. Is Wuthering Heights there, by Floyd? More by Glass should be listed. Is Penderecki there? Still alive, and with important operas, The Devils of Loudun, Ubu Rex, and Paradise Lost. I think I saw Emmeline there, but not An American Tragedy, The Fantastic Mr. Fox and Thérèse Raquin, if I'm not mistaken. Is Sondheim there?

There is one I quite like that never gets any recognition, Alagna's Le Dernier Jour d'un Condamné.

And so on and so forth.

February 4th, 2019, 02:06 PM
Germany's Detlev Glanert is a major contemporary opera composer, with 10 operas (among them three chamber operas) to his credit. His Solaris had its world premiere at the 2012 Bregenz Festival. Mieczyslaw Weinberg's Die Passagierin (The Passenger) has received favorable reviews wherever it's been performed (including some U.S. houses), and Helmut Lachenmann's The Little Match Girl (1990-96) has also received positive assessments from reviewers.