NZ Opera receives hate mail over chief executive’s views on standard repertoire

NZ Opera has been seriously criticized – with hate mail – by New Zealand opera lovers for daring to stray from the standard repertoire and provide a mix of classical and contemporary offerings.

Proof of circus impresario PT Barnum’s true saying that “there is no such thing as bad publicity”, the company’s ticket sales are booming despite the dust.

The opera currently provoking the vehement reaction is “The Unruly Tourists”, a story about a heinous group of British tourists who went on a rampage during a visit to the country in 2019. A September 25, 2021 article on the website of Radio New Zealand said that “a third of the board have resigned in apparent protest at the company’s new artistic direction”. The show is currently in rehearsal.

The uproar, however, is less about the subject of opera and more about the controversy over staging new operas at the expense of standard repertoire, a balance many companies struggle with as they seek to challenge the limits of the form. of art without alienating fans of the canon.

Thomas de Mallet Burgess, chief executive of NZ Opera, believes that not all standard performance operas should remain in rotation, particularly as the body of new, high-quality opera grows. Something has to give way, and Burgess’ view is that some of the old has to give way to the new for the art form to remain alive and vibrant.

“I recognize that within available resources, some established opera audiences want the Company to prioritize what is familiar over new works. Political and social commentary such as ‘The Unruly Tourists’ – which is about mirroring aspects of ourselves – has sparked an unprecedented level of discussion as it appears at first glance to be very different and somehow ‘anti-opera’. ‘ In fact, it builds on the foundations of opera and honors the tradition of satire dating back to ancient Greece, as it examines how New Zealand reacted to this group of people as a newly arrived anomaly. on our doorstep,” said De Mallet Burgess. in an opinion piece provided to OperaWire. He goes on to say:However, there is a balance to be found. It can be a controversial point of view, but I believe that some operas, even the most beloved ones, should be set aside, at least for the time being, even though many people simply want productions they already know and love. I’m sympathetic to that, but Opera as a whole form must support the writing of new operas if the art form is to remain relevant in time and place.

The shade thrown at NZ Opera is extreme, given that De Mallet Burgess has no intention of throwing the baby out of the bathwater; rather, it shows that the classics can rub shoulders with the modern, and by incorporating the traditional and the contemporary, New Zealand opera can elevate a strong local opera scene. For those who resent the controversial views of De Mallet Burgess, the idea of ​​beloved operatic standards being cut seems to go too far.

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