I hope one thing’s clear — that when I said Christa Faust’s noir thriller The Money Shot would make a good opera, I wasn’t just trying to be provocative, or to break any barriers. I didn’t say, “OK, I’m going to go out and find an opera subject that could turn opera upside down.”
Instead, I was naive, as I almost always am. I read the book, loved it to death, and thought, with no ideological spin at all, that I’d love to make an opera out of it. In the same breath, of course — because I think about these things so much — I stopped being naive, and understood that the opera world would probably never stand for my idea, any more than the classical world outside opera has much room for David Del Tredici’s gay and explicit song cycles, like My Favorite Penis Poems.
Ideally The Money Shot (opera version) would play in repertory with a killer production of Il Trovatore, so we could feel how outrageously violent Trovatore is. (With its talk, for instance, of a baby’s skeleton, smoking in a fire.)
The existing opera (at least among those I know) most like The Money Shot is Louis Andriessen’s Rosa, my favorite of all the new operas I’ve ever encountered. ( (I wrote liner notes for the Nonesuch recording, which I see that Amazon offers as a download as well as a CD. Though if you don’t have the libretto, you won’t have any idea what’s going on.) Like The Money Shot, it’s full of sex and violence (along with the sounds of rock and jazz), and almost certainly will never be staged by any opera company in the U.S., at the very least because one of the woman characters is nude onstage for most of the piece. And gets paint thrown at her. She also has to blend jazz and classical singing in ways most singers can’t manage. (It’s also an obscure piece, with a hard to figure out libretto by Peter Greenaway.)
What classical music doesn’t have — at least in its dominant mainstream form — is a hip/noir/alternative wing., such as we find in other mainstream culture. Tarantino’s films are mainstream, just for instance.
And in the mainstream, the alternative is growing stronger. Just look at WNET, New York’s stuffy public television station, Channel 13, which now shows cult films. One night I watched Psycho Beach Party. It also has a show called Reel 13, a weekly package that starts with a classic film (Laura, the night I watched), followed by a new indie short, chosen by people who go to WNET’s website, and an indie film. The last two segments, like Psycho Beach Party, are aimed at the younger listeners who wouldn’t otherwise watch WNET, but whom the station knows that at last it has to cultivate.
Meanwhile, back in classical music, the New Jersey Symphony offers a winter festival called (I’m not making this up), Paris: Fantasy and Discovery, as if it were a 1950s travelogue. No wonder younger people stay away.