A week from tomorrow, August 9 at 10 AM, I’ll be delivering a lecture on American opera at the Glimmerglass Festival. It’s a favorite subject of mine, and one I rarely get to talk or write much about. Other professors than myself teach copiously about opera at Bard, and one dream course I’ve never ventured is a completely non-overlapping one on experimental American opera: Virgil Thomson, Harry Partch, Robert Ashley, Philip Glass, Mikel Rouse, maybe Cage’s Europeras. But then I start thinking how reluctant I’d be to omit Copland’s The Tender Land, and The Cradle Will Rock is way too important to leave out, and Porgy and Bess would be so fun to talk about, and Nixon and China, and I have a score to Carlisle Floyd’s Susannah, and a rare recording of Bernard Herrmann’s Wuthering Heights, and I get an itch to cover the entire canon – if indeed anything as neglected as American opera can be called a canon. In any case, next week I’ll be playing brief examples from:
The Mother of Us All (my favorite opera ever)
The Tender Land
Delusion of the Fury
Einstein on the Beach
Nixon in China
and trying to wax clever about them. Toward this end I recently spent much of a day playing through the vocal score of The Tender Land, and then in the evening listened to all of Copland’s most famous pieces – a juxtaposition that convinced me that The Tender Land is his greatest work. I can’t understand why it’s not performed in this country far more often than La Boheme, it’s so fabulous. Critic Andrew Porter, late of the New Yorker, shared so few of my opinions that he refused to speak to me the one time we met, but we both considered The Mother of Us All the greatest American opera. And I don’t know whether Bob Ashley and Harry Partch are what the Glimmerglass audience expected to be exposed to, but the people who invited me said they were looking for something different. Meanwhile, my wife and I will get to see Tobias Picker’s An American Tragedy, Ariadne auf Naxos, Madame Butterfly (well I’ve never seen it), and Carousel.