The Great American Opera

The vast increase in operatic venues reopens an old unsettled question

Next December, Harbison's The Great Gatsbysprings up at the Met. In October, Bolcom returns to Lyric Opera of Chicago, scene of his McTeaguepremiere, with his new View From the Bridge, libretto by Arnold Weinstein and Arthur Miller. (The work will come to the Met a few years later.) And in September, Daniel Barenboim's Unter der Linden company in Berlin gives the world premiere of Elliott Carter's first opera, a one-act comedy called What Next?Barenboim will bring it to Chicago the following spring in a concert performance with his Chicago Symphony. Carter says his inspiration came from Jacques Tati's movie Traffic. With a libretto by Paul Griffiths, the piece involves six characters in search of what I presume to be normal life after a car crash. The search is hampered by non-communication, but enlivened— if a recent look at some of the score is an indication— by a superimposition of long-held vocal phrases that resemble skywriting.

The recent Glimmerglass production of The Mother of Us All focused new attention on this candidate for Great American Opera.
George Mott/ Glimmerglass Opera
The recent Glimmerglass production of The Mother of Us All focused new attention on this candidate for Great American Opera.

The jury probably will be out forever on what the Great American Opera is, but Carter's new piece is surely part of what's next.

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