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.
(I love those David del Tredici songs that he started writing after going to AA.)
You’re up against the masterpiece complex whenever you start talking about an ‘opera’. It’s too loaded of a term.
I can’t recall a new opera that I’ve seen that didn’t suffer from some degree of megalomania.
Eric Edberg says
You do know what a “money shot” is in a porn movie, right? The cover of the novel is quite an interesting reinterpretation of the phrase.
Well, if the New Yorker could have a long feature article called “Waiting for Wood” (some years ago–I remember it because I couldn’t believe it was in the New Yorker, and even before Tina Brown if I remember correctly) about the particular talents/skills required in a male porn actor, why not an opera called “The Money Shot”? (Yes, I understand from your description that the novel isn’t about the kind of money shot Devid Del Tredici would write a song about.)
But why an opera in an opera house? Why not a musical? Hmmm. My favorite new musical in recent years was [title of show] and see how long it lasted on Broadway. (I actually have dreams where I talk with the guys who wrote it about what they should do next.) So I’m not the one to suggest topics for musicals, at least ones that would succeed. And I know you are interested in the future of classical music, not musicals, but sometimes I think the future of opera is something smaller-scaled, something where you don’t need to sell 2000 seats per performance.
Main reason I’m posting is to thank you for the link to Anne’s Del Tredici article, which I missed when it came out. Do you know if “My Favorite Penis Poems” ever got performed? If I was a singer, I’d love to (have the nerve to) perform those songs. Makes me wonder–could I ever get up the nerve to do a concert in one of our hallowed halls of academia in which I improvised cello music interspersed with reading sexually explicit gay poetry? (Maybe I shouldn’t be reading your blog and thinking about these things late at night; it’s giving me ideas that may not go away). I could do it somewhere else, even elsewhere on campus, but I think if I did it in the School of Music, it might create a scandal. On the other hand, what’s tenure for, anyway?
Rosa sounds great, and I understand the issue with the nude character. I was just talking earlier today about something some of my improv students want to do: have a concert in which they play, at least for part of the concert, in the nude, to represent the emotional nakedness of the music they make. We’ve had on-stage nudity in theater productions at the college where I teach, but I can only begin to imagine the reaction if I were to sponsor a concert with nudity in it. Obviously it would become even more a form of theater than a concert is by its nature (even though so many concerts try to pretend there’s no theater involved).
Well, if they ever do it, there’s one thing I’m certain the administration would insist on: no money shots.
Laurence Glavin says
It happened again on Monday, December 8th: the contestants on ‘Jeopardy’ went to great lengths to avoid having to aswer questions about classical music! The category was “Beethoven Sonatas”; Alex gave a sequential number and/or opus number, plus a verbal clue, for those sonatas for piano or piano and violin that have nicknames. (For example…”sonata number 5 for violin and piano in F, opus 24, named for a pleasant time of year”; one respondent said ‘springtime’, not ‘spring’. For some others, no response, one person got the “Pathetique” sonata right. But as so often happens when the category has anything to do with classical music, the contestants go to every OTHER category, including (last night) brickmaking. The contestants on Jeopardy go through a more thorough vetting process that John McCain did when selecting a VP, and they often have astounding knowledge about everything from literature, history, art, geography..you name it. Yet consistently, they seem to be bamboozled by classical music or opera, perhaps because they aren’t exposed to it and/or don’t thinks it’s important.
J's Theater says
As I posted recently on the earlier thread, what about the operas of the early 20th century? Berg’s Lulu is, as you know, based on two Frank Wedekind plays, from 1895 and 1904, so that by the time Berg combined them to create a story for his opera, they were an index of an earlier generation, fin-de-siècle Central Europe. And yet, when we think about the luridness, the licentiousness, the violence of the opera, it seems quite in keeping with the popular culture of the late Weimar period and the horrific violence that occurred under the subsequent regime.
And what about the many operas of the late 20th and early 21st century (in addition to Andriessen, I’m thinking of Adams, Daugherty, Glass, Reich, Adès, Saariaho, etc.) where contemporary themes and popular elements are integral to the librettos and score? Doesn’t Adès’s Powder Her Face come close to Money Shot in some ways? It includes fellatio, among other things. This is pretty out there, but I guess it’s not registering for various reasons (and I can’t see it being performed at the Met or many other mainstream orchestras, though the City Opera under Mortier, had it happened, might have been the place for such a piece).