Stuck in the kaleidoscope

Butterflies are everywhere this time of year, and even as I write this in the spring sunshine, at least half a dozen monarchs and fritillaries have come to peek over my shoulder.  Apparently it’s a big week for flutters of all kinds, and yes — we checked.  A group of lepidoptera is indeed called a “kaleidoscope”, among other things.  (“Swarm” isn’t nearly as charming.)

But this weekend marks one junction of the Puccini mania that seems to have seized the nation, and may deserve that latter term. With LA Opera continuing their run of Madama Butterfly through this Sunday, April 3, and the Met’s live broadcast happening in movie theaters Saturday morning (and repeating on April 6), we have a rare opportunity to compare and contrast the productions. Then, San Diego Opera‘s run starts April 16, confirming the theory that Puccini is a favorite at the box office, at least in the minds of company planners.

On the one hand, we must say “not that there’s anything wrong with that…”.  Butterfly” is, after all, one of Puccini’s most beloved operas, and for very good reason. But we at the List aren’t the only ones noticing the overfocus on this one masterwork:  even the LA Times’ critic, Mark Swed, recently expressed some frustration with the lack of programming diversity, and he’s just one detractor. Thankfully, the old wisdom that old music is king is wearing thin, and artists, critics and audiences alike are starting to get more vocal about a thirst for something new.

So, is Cio-Cio San the only character in danger of wearing out her welcome?  Probably not.  But what is usually referred to reverentially as the “canon” of the repertoire has become a short list of seriously overdone operas, too often filling seasons with repetition rather than fulfilling artistry.  This year at LA Opera, three out of eleven mainstage shows are by Puccini (and it has been quipped, Moby-Dick could be considered a fourth).  Of San Diego’s four scheduled shows this year, two are Giacomo’s.  Luckily, LAO has a more diverse season planned for 2016-17, and we can hope that others (including smaller, regional companies!) will follow suit.

The list?  According to our informal research, here are the shows most often repeated over the last ten years in Southern California — they’re listed in no particular order. Usually selected because of their familiarity with cast and audience, they’re assumed to be strong box office draws, but often fail in that role, regardless of conventional wisdom. How many could you stand to take a hiatus from?

  • Don Giovanni
  • Carmen
  • The Merry Widow
  • La Bohème
  • Cosi fan tutte
  • La Traviata
  • Madama Butterfly
  • Tosca

In case you missed the link above, take a good look at mezzo blogger Jennifer Rivera’s excellent article for the Huffington Post from March 14, outlining three viable models for a better operatic mousetrap.

We also particularly like this take from the creative thinkers at NewMusicBox, telling us to “Sing a New Song:  How Contemporary Vocal Music Will Save the World“.  We all deserve better, don’t we?

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