Reviewers, opinions and opera

Philip Glass is famous and being famous he is under the scrutiny of critics. There will be people that will enjoy his works under the auspice of, "He's famous; he must be good." And there are people who will chide him with "He just does the same thing over and over and over again."

The Metropolitan Opera's most recent product is "Satyagraha" based on the life of Mohandas Ghandi and written by Philip Glass. As religious and political worlds collide with the Olympics in China and the protests concerning the fate of Tibet, this opera couldn't be more timely. Ghandi, a man devoted to peaceful protests and intense meditation is portrayed in minimalist music, repetitive motives that attempt to create a trance like state. How could you find fault with these concepts? And yet...

Critics seem to have taken these polar opposites in terms of their reviews of this production. Ronald Blum, an Associated Press writer, speaks of the music as "an aural jackhammer" pounding the listener into submission. However, Jeremy Eichler, a Boston Globe staff writer, finds the score having a "subdued grace, sensual richness, and hypnotic power." Mark Swed, of the LA Times, says, "To sit in the large, tasteless house in Lincoln Center and, after hours of, say, Wagner, fall under the spell of a soprano or bass as the midnight hour approaches is, for many of us, the definition of opera."

This production is the Metropolitan Opera premier of "Satyagraha", even though it was written in 1980 and is a shared production with the English National Opera. When it was produced in London last year where it received a review from Agnes Kory for MusicalCriticism.com. She spoke of the "stage spectacle well worth seeing. It is entertaining, fascinating and informative. However, it is debatable whether Glass' composition, described as his second opera, can be regarded as opera." Ben Hogwood, of musicOHM.com, wrote of the same production feeling "the opera was a moving, calming experience, yet it transmitted an inner energy, rather like a meditation session - a power that should not be underestimated."

Publicity is a good thing, sometimes. Press can make or break a production. On Broadway, a musical, playing to sold out crowds, can end up closing in a few weeks if it fails to win a Tony - or can close after a few nights if even one reviewer roasts it over the coals. Yet, writers have to have thick skin to make it in this business. Even the most famous are subject to criticism, and will have their detractors. The hope is to write something that enough people enjoy, gaining a measure of success - to eventually become part of the standard repertoire for opera houses around the world. Because, writing a piece isn't enough if it never gets performed.

As Eddie and I prepare to present a work in progress with "It Must Be Fate," we approach the production with the idea that this is what we think opera today ought to be - not what people say opera is. We are attempting some new things in terms of what has done before, both in terms of music and story concept. However, being new doesn't mean it will be enjoyed. Glass' concept of repetitive music has seen both approval and abhorrence. Not everyone believes in Fate, but that doesn't mean she doesn't exist…

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