Top Ten Best Things to Happen to Opera in the 21st Century

Opera has changed. Have you noticed? Over the past 15 years the art and its preservers, innovators and admirers alike have had to adapt to a world that’s changing at an exponential rate. Advancements from many corners of the opera world have been indispensable to its success in the modern era.

Below you’ll find the most important things to happen to opera since the start of this millennium.



This company single-handedly organized the audition and application process for the entire opera industry. It not only organizes but it saves companies and artists time, paper and money. And who doesn’t enjoy more of such things?

9. Creation of new composer-in-residence programs


Unfortunately, we can’t quite label this as a trend (yet), however companies like Opera Philadelphia and American Lyric Theater are instrumental in reinvigorating impact to audiences with new works.

8. Live in HD performances


True, it’s not exactly supporting live performance and attendants aren’t directly helping to fill seats in the opera house, but it has helped to spread the word. In a big, big way. It’s a healthy attempt to be seen by the Hollywood influenced.

7. Modern Stage Technology

Video projections, electronics and state-of-the-art machines are making sets highly advanced. Dallas Opera’s 2012 Tristan und Isolde comes to mind as an example: the video-derived waves crashing on the shore in the background and rolling from back to front of the raked stage was nothing short of a mind-blowing theatrical achievement. (Thanks Elaine McCarthy!)

6. The Creation of the National Opera Center

Making good connections since 1949 (legos that is..)
Making good connections since 1949 (legos that is..)

Opera America has provided a service to companies and artists in NYC giving a place to perform, audition, connect and learn. Every big city should seek to produce a center that creates a physical hub connecting so many vital entities.

5. The Rise of Intimate Companies

LoftOpera’s La Boheme – photo – Alessandro Simonetti

The trend of start up, small companies with unlimited creativity in unexpected spaces has propelled a fresh outlook on the future of opera: efficient, intimate and mobile. Companies like LoftOpera, Opera on Tap and Beth Morrison Projects are providing groundbreaking new ways to see opera.

4. Modern Fundraising


Companies have keenly used Kickstarter and Indiegogo to develop new projects or raise funds for their next season. Crowd sourcing will become more and more important to the financial foundation of a company as we move deeper into the 21st Century. It creates a way to track and analyze civic response.

3. New Opera

It’s been an uphill climb not only convincing nostalgic boards, but also communities to embrace new works. But we’re starting to see the pendulum swing in favor of progress. We can thank composers dedicated to preservation like Jake Heggie, Rufus Wainwright, Thomas Ades and Nico Muhly.

2. Broadway, Pop-Culture and Primetime Collaboration

Forte with opera singer Sean Panikkar.
The pop group Forte includes opera singer Sean Panikkar.

Opera has always worked best as a collaborative art form, even with the most unlikely sources. If you ever followed our weekly Saturday Morning Comics you would know just how much we love to see the opera celebs gracing the unexpected stage (oh, how we long for just one more Domingo and Miss Piggy duet). As opera slowly discovers and redefines itself in the 21st Century, it’s finding promising pop-niche categories (Forte, Paul Potts, America’s Got Talent, Andrea Bocelli) and embraces collaboration with high-profile popular creators (Julie Taymor, Rufus Wainwright) to stretch it’s wings.

1. The Internet

Eris Stassi via Flickr

Of course this sounds cliche, but c’mon, the internet is the information highway. Composers, directors, general managers, artists and innovators are all just beginning to see the tip of the iceberg. The new media is the new normal in which we stay in-the-know (thanks Anne Midgette, Huff Post, Barihunks and Opera Chic to name a few). We’ve already figured out how to connect across the world, broadcast performances and build audiences online and we’re getting better at it each year; soon we’ll be unearthing just how crucial all of it will be to the survival of the art.

Giving into platitude I’m sure it’s safe to use the old saying – ‘you ain’t seen nothin’ yet!’

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One thought on “Top Ten Best Things to Happen to Opera in the 21st Century

  1. Much of the above is nonsense, because it deals only with surface phenomena.

    Part of the stupidity of treating Mozart, Rossini, Donizetti, Verdi,Puccini; Weber, Wagner, R. Strauss; Gluck, Berlioz, Bizet and even the Veristi as superhuman divinities magically descended from heaven is that today’s composers don’t STUDY and LEARN from their scores.

    What ALL these composers had in common was that they were BORN INTO A LIVING TRADITION. So they had that tradition IN THEIR BLOOD before attempting to compose an opera. Even a Mozart (fabulously trained from the age of 2) did not write an operatic masterpiece with its own idiosyncratic “voice” until “Idomeneo”, age 25.

    Most of these composers BUILT on the tradition, perfecting it and making striking innovations. They did NOT re-invent the wheel. Even the rebels (Gluck, Wagner, Mussorgsky) first KNEW the tradition before trying to overthrow it. Wagner’s first three operas, “Die Feen”, “Das Liebesverbot” and “Rienzi” were all exercises in received forms.Mussorgsky LEARNED from attending the St. Petersburg premiere of “La Forza del Destino”, and it shows in the sprawling epic of “Boris Godunov”.

    Many. if not most, of today’s “opera composers” grew up with pop and rock & roll. This is undoubtedly fun, but musically it is drivel, and an utterly inadequate background on which to base something as complex as an opera.

    Almost NONE of post-World War Two operas has shown any real staying power past its over-hyped premiere. And the new works that do get further productions get them with great help from media hype. Audiences.timid because they are cowed by the aura of “high art”, no longer react with their gut, so they no longer feel when to boo.

    Verdi’s “Rigoletto”, from first note to last, MOVES like an arrow shot from a bow. It is Verdi’s mastery of THEATRICAL MOMENTUM that pulls audiences to their feet shouting “Bravos”. Who today has that sure control of operatic pacing and timing? Nobody.

    Starting with the Met, La Scala and the Mariinsky, opera companies need to build Young Composers Programs parallel with their Young Singers Programs, and for exactly the same reasons:

    World War One, the Great Depression and World War Two shattered the centuries-long process of passing down operatic tradition from one generation of composers to the next. And just as Young Singers Programs train opera singers who are no longer BORN into the tradition, so Young Composers Programs must do the same with young composers, who could be chosen by competition from among Conservatory graduates in Composition/Orchestration.

    These young composers would attend rehearsals of standard repertory; sit in on singers’ coaching sessions so they could learn what operatic voices can and cannot do; and STUDY “canonic” opera scores with assistant conductors and,yes, international “name” conductors also. The latter should consider TEACHING traditional principles of opera composition as an indispensably important part of a celebrated conductor’s mission, and NOT as a burden.

    Such an effort by major opera companies would also be drastically LESS expensive than the desperate, panicked excesses of “Regietheater”, an unmusical corruption that exists merely to try to make the recycling of the same “50 Greatest Operatic Masterpieces” palatable to ticket-buying opera audiences. It isn’t working; the emperor isn’t wearing any clothes.

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