Seance for Stephen Schwartz

Posted on September 30th, 2009

Josef Woodard’s review of the World Premiere of Stephen Schwartz’ first foray into “Opera” – “Seance on a Wet Afternoon” – in the Los Angeles raises once more the spectre of divisive attitudes to music theatre – the them and us, Opera and the rest attitude. I haven’t yet seen Schwartz’ take on the 1964 Bryan Forbes film but when Woodard writes….

“This piece, in which arias behaved more like Broadway songs and orchestration as glossy as it is substantial, clearly belongs to the current blurring of lines between the traditionally considered domain of grand opera and the domain of musical theater, a distressing trend.”

….I immediately start to bristle. Why “a distressing trend”? It seems to me that a healthy cross-fertilisation of talent from all walks of musical theatre is the only way forward. Leonard Bernstein once said that he hoped that out of the American musical would evolve a more sophisticated progeny. Why should Opera remain the exclusive domain of the contemporary music network? Why shouldn’t major and emerging figures from the world of the musical not spread their wings into a more challenging form? As to “arias behaving more like Broadway songs”, why the disparaging inference? Isn’t that what arias are – songs? Isn’t that what Italian audiences have been cheering on for generations? That’s part of the problem with contemporary opera – no-one writes songs anymore.

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