in: News & Features

December 23, 2011

Opera Lovers Stunned by Opera Boston’s Closing

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Opera Boston Board Chair Winifred P. Gray and Board President Gregory E. Bulger announced today, two days before Christmas and halfway through Hanukkah, that the company, facing an insurmountable budget deficit, is closing its doors on Jan. 1, 2012. The news has stunned the Boston opera-loving community, as it was widely believed that Opera Boston always managed to balance the budget by the end of the year. And as recently as 2010, when former General Director Carole Charnow left, the company had zero debt.

“Over the years, we have never had a big loss; we have raised enough money,” explained Bulger. “Unfortunately, in the last fiscal year that ended in July, we had the biggest budget deficit in our history — over $200,000. Normally, we have an end-of-the-year campaign which in this year did not go well. Some donors just didn’t come through.”

Also, Bulger said, a donation from a major foundation, which had been a major regular supporter, was denied this year. Boston Musical Intelligencer was told that it is believed to have been a company that moved some of its facilities and therefore some of its allegiances, to New Hampshire. That seems to spell Fidelity.

According to another reliable source, however, that is not the full picture. Special funding last year in two cases came as a one-time extra gift so that the new director could come on board with no debt. For both donors, those gifts were “emergency, supplemental,” and “in no way had the donors later withdrawn their regular  support.”

Opera Boston has its origins in the Boston Academy of Music “re-founded” by Richard Conrad in 1980. He was ousted in 2003, and Carole Charnow, who had run Glimmerglass Opera, was hired with the mandate to revivify Conrad’s organization. The name was changed to Opera Boston, Gil Rose was hired as artistic director, and a strong board was developed under the chair of Bulger. Under Charnnow’s leadership, Opera Boston had a spectacular growth. When she left in the summer of 2010 to become director of the Children’s Museum, Lesley Koenig was hired as general director, but never got the chance to lead.

Repertoire under Charnow and Rose has been adventurous and challenging; some productions were successful, some less so. BMInt, since its inception in the fall of 2009, has reviewed eight:

Although there was “bel canto in abbondanza at Opera Boston’s production of Rossini’s Tancredi  in the fall of 2009,” the review noted, the staging was “park and bark.” In March 2010, “Opera Boston now has to its credit Boston’s first operatic world premiere in two decades, Zhou Long’s attractively scored Madame White Snake, … a huge undertaking, not least in diplomacy and marketing, and if the work finally proved interesting rather than deeply memorable, it was a worthwhile effort, well led by Music Director Gil Rose.” Offenbach’s La Grande-Duchesse de Gérolstein, reviewed in May, 2010, was a “generally satisfying and wholly entertaining performance successfully [that] avoided the pit-and pratfalls often associated with this genre.” Cardillac, reviewed in February 2011, “is a troublesome work, a richly kaleidoscopic, multi-layered feast of the fraught that requires equally varied music that the young Hindemith was unable to deliver.” Maria Padilla, reviewed in May 2011, “is a troubled work, riddled with beautiful music and a single damning flaw — an opera whose entire dramatic impetus is a setup for a tragedy that never occurs.” For Beethhoven’s Fidelio, reviewed on October 22, the audience “was treated to some superb singing and playing. The cast was excellent throughout,…” and Béatrice et Bénédict  had many fine elements, although “[a] work like this, however, needs a bit more daring for it fully to come to life.”

Yet that opera left Opera Boston with a $30,000 shortfall. The production slated for this coming February, Tippett’s Midsummer Marriage, was to have cost $500,000. “We just didn’t see enough money coming in to pay the bills,” Bulger said.

Paul Buttenwieser, whose Catherine and Paul Buttenwieser Foundation has been a major supporter of the opera company “under its different incarnations since the beginning,” had not yet learned of the closure when contacted. “I’m saddened by the loss of this wonderful company,” he stated.

Neither the current General Director Lesley Koenig, nor Artistic Director Gil Rose could be reached for comment.

In the closing days of this holiday season, Opera Boston is offering its final presentation, Mozart’s Bastien und Bastienne, featuring some of the company’s younger singers, for First Night on December 31.

66 Comments

  1. Sorry to hear it. I had the dates of “The Midsummer Marriage” and “I Capuletti ed i Montecchi” on my calendar. Circumstances permitting, I hoped to be able to attend.

    Comment by Joe Whipple — December 23, 2011 at 4:26 pm

  2. This is a terrible loss for Boston. It shows a lack of civic leadership and ambition.
    When will people realize that Boston is quickly becoming a second rate town with a few first rate legacy institutions? I can’t imagine this happening in Atlanta or Dallas.
     
    Shame on you, Boston.

    Comment by Ida Dunham — December 23, 2011 at 6:10 pm

  3. What devastating news! This can’t be the whole story. Please investigate, BMInt.

    Comment by Anonymous — December 23, 2011 at 6:38 pm

  4. I believe you have confused Carole Charnow with Esther Nelson at the BLO: as far as I know, Carole never worked for Glimerglass.

    Comment by Graham — December 23, 2011 at 10:20 pm

  5. *** I can’t imagine this happening in Atlanta or Dallas.

    Which might be just a lack of imagination on your part, Ida.Boston is for quite a while does nothing else than milking own cultural legacy,  and if you feel that an local opera house needs go to dark in order makes the process notable then you just refuse to read the signs. Of cause it is sad but not necessary unpredictable. People get older, loosing ambitions and losing interest to put up with the things that they have no interest. If it has become too hard for them to stay out of red and if they do not have any interest do develop the business financially then they close the doors. Do you think your Atlanta or Dallas are immune from this? It is not US of 50s or 60s. We are economically third world county with big stadiums for stupid games and some kind of military that converted the glob into US football field. You will see more and more cultural intuitions collapse in future and in 10 years or so you will see talented artists will begin departure from USA. The times when any more or less worthy in musical world artist in one way or another showed up in US had gone. It is what it is. Play Shostakovich string quartets and enjoy observing how at the location of Opera Boston will be opened a bar serving 435 brands of beer.   

    Comment by Romy The Cat — December 23, 2011 at 11:27 pm

  6. Graham –
    You are correct. I was careless. If I gave an excuse, it is preparing for Xmas, for which I am always behind schedule, for four children, six grandchildren, five god-children, and cooking a menu of antipasto, chestnut soup (from our own chestnuts), steamed artichokes, home-made ravioli, goose and three vegetables, , salad, and figgy pudding with VERY hard sauce. If you are footloose, you are welcome to join us, but you might lose out on an artichoke, unless I choke up my portion as a thank you.

    Comment by Norton, Bettina A — December 24, 2011 at 11:20 am

  7. Kudos to BMInt for its insight into the “why” as well as the (downright sad) “what” of this news.  This is a huge loss for the arts in Boston and the United States, as well as the many artists and staff this organization employs.

    Comment by Andrew J. Sammut — December 24, 2011 at 11:47 am

  8. Sad but…

    Go back and check that review of Fidelio again. Worst production ever.

    BLO’s Emperor of Atlantis was a far more successful and adventurous work than anything OB ever presented.
    Maybe one company with broad rep and flexibility can make a go if it.

    Comment by Bill — December 24, 2011 at 12:18 pm

  9. Thinking about Boston….

    For sure we are not Atlanta or Dallas and we have something else that distinct us from Georgia and Taxes, something else beside the stupid Green Monster and 350 years old graveyards. We have quite good education here in Boston, lately thanks mostly to Asian students…. I wonder why local financially-straggling cultural institutions do not take advantage of it?

    Let take the Opera Boston as an example but it might be anyone at their place, I suspect even BSO in a few years. Pretend Opera Boston build up alliance with some kind of local university, business administration faculty. The faculty specially designs a lab in there where the best students under supervision of faculty professors try come up with ideas, recommendations and management patterns how to propel Opera Boston to financial profitability. I am taking about the undergrads. Not the graduated schools where students have minds already screwed by misery of institutionalized education and corporate indifference. I am taking about young and incredibly talented kids who has zeal, desire and still have unadulterated talents. It might be very much win-win arrangement as somebody like Opera Boston would have a powerful and creative source for management of business and the kids in the colleges would have tangible practical experience that they would not be ashamed to put in their first resumes.

    Of cause there are many details in this but strategically it might be a good direction to look before shut down the lights….

    Comment by Romy The Cat — December 24, 2011 at 4:12 pm

  10. After last season’s truly DISASTROUS production of Beethoven’s “Fidelio”, which I attended on a Sunday matinee, so there was a forum after the performance, I excoriated the director for his willful sabotage of the work!  Besides being a sports town, Boston is a BEETHOVEN town.  I wonder how many people attended that production due to their love of LvB, only to be so disgusted that they wrote off the Company altogether.

    Comment by Laurence Glavin — December 24, 2011 at 4:38 pm

  11. From what I’ve read elsewhere..there seemed to be an air of resigned inevitability around this.I would like to hear more of why the elder board members seemed so adamant about blocking fundraising initiatives from more junior members..i really hope this wasn’t about Pride and power trips..That would be really sad…Insult to injury…I’m also curious as to whether The Met broadcasts are helping or hurting regional opera companies..maybe too early to tell.
     

    Comment by Steve Brown — December 25, 2011 at 2:24 am

  12. “You will see more and more cultural intuitions collapse in future and in 10 years or so you will see talented artists will begin departure from USA.”
    Well, I hope this pessimistic assessment is wrong,  but I do see quite clearly where the writer is coming from.  None of us wants to see 435 beers crowd out the Beethoven quartets;  however,  there does seem to be a trend line in that general direction.
    As to talented artists leaving,  it’s no secret that for years American arts companies that have been in a position to do so have toured abroad,  where fees can be higher and the overall social/cultural context more welcoming than at home.  Consult, as examples,  the recent NY Times article on the Merce Cunningham dance company, or the Boston Camerata’s 2011 tour schedule (five overseas tours between February and November). It doesn’t mean that we American artists want to forsake the place where we come from,  but we do need to survive and, if possible, thrive. 
    Whatever the particulars of this specific institutional collapse may be, we all need to reflect on how to make our own beloved country more hospitable to reflective thought, culture, and art.  “The more piano,  the less wolf.” — Ralph Waldo Emerson.  Merry Christmas!

    Comment by Joel Cohen — December 25, 2011 at 4:34 am

  13. *** Laurence Glavin : “Boston is a BEETHOVEN town.”  

    Laurence, can you expend why you feel that Boston is Beethoven town?  I truly do not think that Boston has ever been, at least in large symphonic repertoire. Koussevitzky was a good interpreter of very few selected symphonies but since him BSO take on Beethoven was spotty and not too triumphant, in my view.  The last BSO musical director was not too big with Beethoven and his Beethoven cycle a few years ago was very tedious. The play of the “kids” from Tanglewood Festival Orchestra were probably the best Beethoven that I heard in Boston for 15 years that I live in Boston and they played if I am not mistaken ether 2nd or 4th symphony…  I think a city might be called “Beethoven town” if the city resources persistently deliver high level of Beethoven interpretation. I do not think that it is in Boston.

    *** Joel Cohen: “Well, I hope this pessimistic assessment is wrong, but I do see quite clearly where the writer is coming from.”

    Let face it. The only valuable thing that we had in US were money. I very much not degrade American culture:  there is nothing wrong with money and money let us to attract enormous cultural resources from around the world.  Great musicians, great conductors, great teachers, great own brewed traditions – all of it became available because we had money to attract talented people. But we did know where we were going. Before 90s, when US patents were worth to file, over 85% of all US patents were issued to first-generation immigrants – it was very emblematic and indicative. I am very much not a Feline Nostradamus but we are “there” anymore and we most likely will not be able to afford to pretend to be some kind of “cultural epicenter”. With outflow of money from US I think we will see the outflow of creative people from US, unfortunately we DID NOT have anything else to offer them besides money to begin with.

    Comment by Romy the Cat — December 25, 2011 at 9:44 am

  14. ..i don’t find Boston to be i a Beethoven..i.e. “Warhorse” town more than anywhere else..,
    I do expect there would be a lot less new music without the university and conservatories..that’s for sure.
     
    Back to Beethoven..i still think of the BSO as having a slightly French flair..Usually its Ravel is more striking that it’s Austrio-german fare.
     
    hey Joel..Have really enjoyed all the Camerata Christmas themed music..particularly The Mediterranean Christmas..and The American discs..outstanding…Just picked up a used recording of Tristan and Iseult..looking forward to a close listening of that too.
     
    Is it of any value to offer the rather facile observation that Boston does seem to be much more of An Early Music hub than an opera one.
    Obviously The BEMF has nourished this over the years.
     

    Comment by steve Brown — December 25, 2011 at 9:56 pm

  15. *** Steve Brown: i still think of the BSO as having a slightly French flair..Usually its Ravel is more striking that it’s Austrio-german fare.
     
    Very much agree.  BSO is more Debussy/Faure/Ravel type of orchestra.  Koussevitzky I heard brought a lot of French musicians into BSO. Then Munch took BSO and continues its prime. The few years of Leinsdorf and Steinberg did not change a lot. Then 30 year of the Ozawa occupation, who was not too good with anything beside the “abstract music”, at least his last 2/3 of his affair with BSO. But it all might not relevant.  It is very interesting subject – what makes an orchestra to have affinity to specific music: heritage of musicians, style of musicians training, playing techniques that has been established within sections, instruments used, willpower of long-staying conductors, recording traditions, acoustics and humidity of a permanent performing space…. and many many other factors.

    Comment by Romy the Cat — December 26, 2011 at 8:21 am

  16. In recent years, THREE performing organizations//; The Chiara SQ@ Harvard;  the Muir SQ @ BU; and the Borromeo SQ @ NEC  essayed the complete Beethoven String  Quartets + “Grose Fugue”.  Levine scheduled at big Beethoven/Schoenberg traversal recently.  The BSO will be doing the “Missa Solemnis” for the second time in the past few seasons. (Masterworks just did it recently).  Recital and chamber music groups haves been doing all- or mostly-Beethoven concerts for quite a while, soon at Arlington Street Church in January.

    Comment by Laurence Glavin — December 26, 2011 at 4:55 pm

  17. Many comments here talk in lofty and misty-eyed terms about the great loss to Boston and the Nation etc etc. Opera Boston never was a nationally respected company. Au contraire, the idea, I believe, was to be a big fish in a small pond and to avoid any critical comparison with a real opera company. Judging by the standard of their productions this is no surprise.  The premise of this incarnation of Opera Boston was to present little-known works by great composers (with the occasional exception like Fidelio). There is a reason why these  works are little known, and it would usually take spectacular artists and stage direction to make them other than novelty value. By avoiding the standard operatic repertoire OB were self-evidently side-stepping comparison with bona-fide artistic standards and intent on remaining parochial. They set themselves low standards which they failed to achieve.

    Comment by Philip Johnson — December 27, 2011 at 9:21 am

  18. Philip Johnson, I can’t express a valid opinion on how well Opera Boston did what they did. All I know is whether I like something. But as for “There is a reason why these  works are little known, and it would usually take spectacular artists and stage direction to make them other than novelty value,” this brings up the “warhorse v. unfamiliar” discussion. I’m solidly on both sides. For example, apart from the fact that the humming chorus in “Madama Butterfly” can easily move me to tears,* if I never hear another Puccini opera, it will be soon enough. OTOH, they can give me “Don Carlo” or “Il Trovatore” anytime they want. But sometimes the little known works are undeservedly neglected. I think “Macbeth” was such until the Met revived it in the 1950’s. And IMO there can be others (e.g., “Luisa Miller”?) which are worth an occasional hearing even if one would not want them every year. So I think the premise of OB, as you stated it, is a valid one — even extending it to little-known works of little-known composers. And I’m not so sure that the direction and artists need to be “spectacular” to give a worthwhile evening in the opera house — something that deserves more than a dismissive “novelty,” as long as the work itself has some real value.

    *And “Vissi d’arte” is good music with a thought provoking text. 

    Comment by Joe Whipple — December 27, 2011 at 10:08 am

  19. On the other hand, Philip, I’ve seen some appalling productions at ‘nationally respected’ companies. Without getting into specifics, I think Opera Boston’s batting average has been better than many and some of their international press has been very positive.

    Most upsetting to me is the loss of work for hundreds of artists, technicians and administrators whether they meet your high standards or not. 

    And I must say, I can’t think of anyone in the business ‘intent on remaining parochial’.  

    Comment by Michael Beattie — December 27, 2011 at 11:12 am

  20. Michael, my standards are no higher or lower than anyone else’s and I don’t claim them to be. Of course, the majority of performances by major companies benefit from having money thrown (wasted) at the set and costumes, with little or no concentration on the character development, interaction and drama of real people  showing the truth of the common elements of the human condition. imho the real reason for the existence of opera. Without belaboring the point, it si to say that, in my opinion, any opera company with ambitions of national prominence, and I include Boston Lyric in this, would first of all present their operas in the major venue in the city ie Boston Opera House. Second, they would present more standard repertoire and less, (however worthy) little known pieces by well-known composers. Both of these elements, as demonstrated by  BL and OB indicate little ambition to be anything more than parochial. I totally agree with you that the loss of employment anogst artists is a tragic for them and the profession as a whole.

    Comment by Philip Johnson — December 27, 2011 at 11:43 am

  21. sorry for the typos! Written in haste and passion

    Comment by Philip Johnson — December 27, 2011 at 11:47 am

  22. Interesting… I can’t quibble with your definition of what opera at its best should be. Let’s hope, for the sake of opera’s future here and elsewhere, that these kinds of conversations are happening all over the city – preferably over good food and wine!

    There simply is no great venue for opera in Boston. The Opera House has better acoustics than the Schubert and more seats and pit space than the Cutler Majestic, but it is still far from ideal for the presentation of opera. In fact, the Cutler Majestic trumps the Opera House both in terms acoustics and theatrical intimacy. So I fail to see how a change of venue would have affected Opera Boston’s standing.

    There is nothing more satisfying than hearing the standard rep universally well-played and well-sung in the context of a superb staging. Nevertheless, the choice to do less standard rep seems the very opposite of parochial. You suggest that this choice is calculated to mask poor quality work. In Opera Boston’s case – despite some misses – this seems unfair. 

    Thank you for passion and provocative comments.  

    Comment by Michael Beattie — December 27, 2011 at 5:30 pm

  23. Always a pleasure to lock horns with you Michael – you are very articulate, clear-thinking and a real gentleman!

    Comment by Philip Johnson — December 27, 2011 at 5:41 pm

  24. *** There simply is no great venue for opera in Boston. The Opera House has better acoustics than the Schubert and more seats and pit space than the Cutler Majestic, but it is still far from ideal for the presentation of opera. In fact, the Cutler Majestic trumps the Opera House both in terms acoustics and theatrical intimacy.

    Depending of what kind of operas. I think Boston operatic orchestras always play smart in term of “size” – they know that they work in small and intimate houses. No one would run a full production “Boris Godunov” in Wang Theater (actually why not?) but some operas are fun to get in cozy or VERY cozy environments. In fact some of them need to be only in cozy theaters and MET-like grandiose and pompous take most of the time only annoys me. Acoustics? Nowhere there is any good acoustics, but we kind of use to it…

    Comment by Romy The Cat — December 27, 2011 at 9:03 pm

  25. the selection of sub-standard repertoire might sound like a good idea only in Boston, where over-educated people are big percentage of the population.

    It is a privilege to be a music instrument player/singer/… as a profession

    If people truly understand the sublimity of Fidelio, they would not put it on the programme when they could not keep the performance standard high enough.

    Comment by Thorsten Zhu — December 28, 2011 at 12:06 pm

  26. Thorsten, you’re absolutely right.  Being “over-educated” is a scourge!  I’m going to stop learning new things right now!  I’m going to return “1493” by Charles Mann to the library immediately.  Too much stuff I never knew before, and I’m only on page 70!  Pardon me while I turn on Fox “News”.

    Comment by Laurence Glavin — December 28, 2011 at 2:32 pm

  27. Thanks to everyone for keeping the content flowing during this slow musical news period.

    My own perspective on the Boston opera scene has always been one of skepticism. Since Puritan times we have been afflicted with the notion that vocal music belongs in the church. Later our worthies declared that only abstract instrumental music rose to the level of art. Thus Opera never had a place here as it did in New Orleans and New York except for a brief period during the first third of the twentieth century.

    Absent some large outpouring of major philanthropy or generous State aid, I’m afraid Boston will remain a B-class opera town.

    Yet we have wonderful, compensatory opportunities to experience great productions via HD at home and in theaters. Such shows also raise expectations beyond what our local providers can reliably satisfy.

    We will nevertheless miss Opera Boston. May it re-configure and prosper

    Comment by Lee Eiseman — December 28, 2011 at 2:35 pm

  28. On my bookshelf is a circa-1760 compilation of the laws of the Massachussetts colony. Prominent among these edicts is the one forbidding theaters and theatrical performances. So yes. Lee, the curse of the Puritans seems to weight still upon us, somehow.
    Now as concerns choice of repertoire. As someone who has spent his career performing nonstandard  works, ranging from the somewhat lesser known to the “OMG,  where did you turn up THAT one?”, I’d like to suggest that the monotonous Hit Parade of the standard classical repertoire fails miserably to chronicle the incredible breadth and depth of human musical creativity.  So any performing company that attempts to explore that wide world of music history beyond the overly-familiar gets my moral support, right off the bat.  Of course, we are all called upon to do full artistic justice to those scores.  Just like the familiar works, little-known good music must be treated well in the recreation —  otherwise the dead will not be grateful.  Nor the living,  for that matter.
     

    Comment by Joel Cohen — December 28, 2011 at 4:46 pm

  29. “the monotonous Hit Parade of the standard classical repertoire fails miserably to chronicle the incredible breadth and depth of human musical creativity” is a self-evidently oxymoronic statement. They are in the Hit Parade precisely because they do! What these pieces do not have any control over is the treatment they receive from performers without sufficient expertise or directors trying to make their name with wacky productions. The universal truths regarding the human condition are encapsulated in pieces like Figaro, Don Giovanni, Macbeth, Traviata etc etc. You will be telling us that you think that a “concert performance” of opera makes sense to you. Saints preserve us!

    Comment by Philip Johnson — December 28, 2011 at 5:51 pm

  30. Perhaps works are in the Hit Parade (or “classical top 40”) because they represent the lcd. You may interpret lcd as “lowest common denominator” or “light consuming diode.”

    Comment by Joe Whipple — December 28, 2011 at 7:47 pm

  31. OK, I seem to be in the minority in assuming that works in your self-styled “top 40” or “10” or 19 or whatever are worthwhile. I look forward to hearing lots more of Spontini’s work, and I hear that Max Reger’s rather austere middle-period is well worth a listen.

    Comment by Philip Johnson — December 28, 2011 at 10:54 pm

  32. Philip, that is the rhetorical fallacy known as “straw man:” attributing to your opponent a position he doesn’t espouse. Nobody is saying that the “top 40” aren’t worthwhile. All we are saying is that there can be works outside the standard repertoire which are worth hearing too. And we are going one step further and saying that for an organization to seek out such works and present them is a worthy endeavor. Is that something you really can’t accept (quite apart from the question of how well Opera Boston presented the works they chose)?

    Comment by Joe Whipple — December 28, 2011 at 11:33 pm

  33. Nice try Joe but I am not attributing  a position that was not espoused. Read it for yourself – “the monotonous Hit Parade of the standard classical repertoire fails miserably to chronicle the incredible breadth and depth of human musical creativity”. That is the position being espoused. Therefore, it IS being said that the “top 40” aren’t worthwhile. You are attributing the straw-man fallacy to me,  when you are, in fact, doing the same to me! Can’t remember the name for that one, but it exists! Nice one! I reiterate that the view propounded – “the monotonous Hit Parade of the standard classical repertoire fails miserably to chronicle the incredible breadth and depth of human musical creativity” is, in fact exactly what I indicated. I believe that Marpurg wrote an opera which should be heard, and a friend of my cousin’s step-dad’s friend wrote one too. Let’s do them all!

    Comment by Philip Johnson — December 29, 2011 at 9:36 am

  34. In answer to your question – no I have no problem at all in seeking out and presenting lesser known works of merit from the past or worthy contemporary pieces. Who could object to that? My issue with OB is that standard repertoire was studiously avoided. Obviously a big mistake. Taking the esoteric line is fine, but does it pay the bills? The world’s most popular opera is, I believe, Carmen. A production of this or other “top 40” now and again might have helped the budgeting for other works. A parallel can be drawn with EMI records.  Some years ago,EMI’s classical division  yearly made collosal  post-production losses. Sir Simon Rattle and many of it’s other great artists were being subsidized entirely by a few rappers! Abbey Road Studios has now closed down btw

    Comment by Philip Johnson — December 29, 2011 at 10:15 am

  35. Interesting points. Perhaps as BLO moved away from all standard rep (as it has in recent years) OB needed to include the occasional chestnut. I guess we’ll never know, but it does remind us that Boston’s relationship with opera remains fragile, at best. 

    Comment by Michael Beattie — December 29, 2011 at 11:24 am

  36. Worryingly so.

    Comment by Philip Johnson — December 29, 2011 at 11:53 am

  37. Philip, I don’t see, “the monotonous Hit Parade of the standard classical repertoire fails miserably to chronicle the incredible breadth and depth of human musical creativity” as implying that it is not “worthwhile,” only that it is not enough, that there’s lots more creativity than what is to be found in the “Hit Parade.” I think you may have misunderstood what Joel Cohen was trying to say. It seems that one of us has.

    Comment by Joe Whipple — December 29, 2011 at 3:03 pm

  38. I would interpret “fails miserably to chronicle the incredible breadth and depth of human musical creativity” to be a negative statement whether you are talking about opera, politics, origami or underrwater basket weaving. 

    Comment by Philip Johnson — December 29, 2011 at 3:21 pm

  39. This isn’t the time or place for discussions on semantics!

    Comment by Philip Johnson — December 29, 2011 at 3:22 pm

  40. “This isn’t the time or place for discussions on semantics!”

    Well, then, Merry Christmas, 5th Day. 

    Comment by Joe Whipple — December 29, 2011 at 5:22 pm

  41. Cute Joe – but a semantic battle is unwinnable. For example, I prefer to say Happy 363rd Day of the Year to you! To some a glass is half-full, to others, half-empty. To an engineer, it is just under-designed!

    Comment by Philip Johnson — December 29, 2011 at 5:42 pm

  42. And to a depressed person it’s empty.

    Comment by Joe Whipple — December 29, 2011 at 7:27 pm

  43. Always empty.

    Comment by Joe Whipple — December 29, 2011 at 7:28 pm

  44. Oh dear! Just shoot me now!

    Comment by Philip Johnson — December 29, 2011 at 7:42 pm

  45. My statement about the Hit Parade was indeed negative. But I love the Beethoven Fifth.  Now off to weave some baskets….

    Comment by Joel Cohen — December 29, 2011 at 9:22 pm

  46. Pacem, Bros.

    Comment by Lee Eiseman — December 29, 2011 at 10:50 pm

  47. I’m not entirely sure I want to wade into this, but I think the statement that the standard operatic cannon of 15-20 works “fails miserably to chronicle the incredible breadth and depth of human musical creativity” means exactly what it says. It is not in any way a criticism of Carmen, Boheme, Figaro, Aida, et al, but a criticism of the notion that these few works are the only operas worth performing. There’s a lot of great music out there and it deserves to be performed. Sure, any company that wants to remain viable needs to program those works with some regularity, but expanding the repertoire is important as well. 

    Back to the article:

    The loss of Opera Boston is lamentable, and I feel it personally as I have many friends and colleagues who work for the company. I am confident, though, that as long as Boston lacks a large opera company there will be enterprising musicians trying to bring opera to Boston. This is a tradition which dates back to Boris Goldovsky, Sarah Caldwell, and before, and I think it is a tradition which will be continued by the present generation of young, energetic, and naive musicians.  

    Comment by NL — December 30, 2011 at 2:46 am

  48.  “I think the statement that the standard operatic cannon(sic) of 15-20 works “fails miserably to chronicle the incredible breadth and depth of human musical creativity” means exactly what it says. It is not in any way a criticism of Carmen, Boheme, Figaro, Aida, et al,

    Then what could it possibly men? The original statement doesn’t even say “operatic canon” by the way, it says “standard classical repertoire”. Doesn’t mention opera. The writer would no doubt not allow such a statement by a college student to pass by unmentioned. I understand what is meant of course – my issue is that it was not said.  It is an ill thought-out, pseudo-intellectual statement which is self-evidently ridiculous. The writer purports to “like” Beethoven’s 5th. I assume Beethoven’s symphonies and quartets fall under this umbrella of  miserable failure to”chronicle the incredible breadth and depth of human musical creativity” – these works being part of the “standard classical repertoire”. I am now taking my ball home and retiring from commenting here. It is ultimately pointless beyond words. Ciao!

    Comment by Philip Johnson — December 30, 2011 at 8:49 am

  49. I’m convinced that many are not aware of an important period of opera in Boston, when the Boston Opera Company was founded by impresario Henry Russell. Alice Nielsen, who had made her fame in the Victor Herbert operettas was the leading star, and the building that housed these productions from 1909 to 1914 was built, if I remember correctly, with funds from Eben Jordan. Its destruction more than 40 years later is cited in the comments above. Quaintance Eaton wrote a very entertaining book about the Boston Opera Company in 1963 which can be viewed here:
    http://www.archive.org/details/bostonoperacompa00eato
    Note the level of singers and conductors in some of the production listings!
    Also in the above comments has been talk about Boston and its relations, or current lack thereof, with Beethoven. Boston was once very much a Beethoven town, as a certain orchestra played all nine Beethoven Symphonies, in order, in each of its first 3 seasons. You know this ensemble as the Boston Symphony Orchestra. They did it with a 7-foot statue of Beethoven looking down at them — this statue, by Thomas Crawford, had been on the stage of the Boston Music Hall since it was dedicated on March 1st, 1856. Perhaps Mr. Eiseman or Ms. Norton might be able to find that photo of the BSO with Nikisch conducting, where Beethoven is looking over the ensemble. Since the BSO moved to Symphony Hall, Beethoven also moved to the Back Bay, he now monitors the hallways of the New England Conservatory. Also, I believe that the Handel & Haydn Society once contacted Beethoven about a commission. If memory serves correctly, Beethoven did reply with his regrets.
     

    Comment by Brian Bell — December 30, 2011 at 8:59 am

  50. Brian- My comment alluded to that period at the beginning of the twentieth century when Boston had two real opera houses. Here’s a link to a relevant thesis. BMInt will ask for permission to publish it.

    http://scholarworks.umass.edu/theses/470/

    Comment by Lee Eiseman — December 30, 2011 at 9:43 am

  51. All this discussion and no one has been so crass as to ask if subscribers will get refunds. Quite high-minded, these BMInt readers!
     
     
     
     

    Comment by Bill — December 30, 2011 at 2:50 pm

  52. If OperaBoston DOES stiff subscribers, it might be a wise move for Boston Lyric Opera to offer deals for OB ticket-holder towards upcoming BLO performances.

    Comment by Laurence Glavin — December 30, 2011 at 3:51 pm

  53. I asked that crass question in the Globe comments to their first breaking news bulletin.
    There was also an excellent recent Globe editorial on the whole debacle, emphasizing that the decision to close was made without any outreach to Menino, the Cultural Council or any other organization which might have offered aid or advice.

    Comment by perry41 — December 30, 2011 at 9:30 pm

  54. Brian Bell, I enjoyed your Beethoven comments.  Has no one mentioned Beethoven’s name etched over the stage of Symphony Hall because it was so obvious?  Talk about LvB “looking down at them”! 

    Comment by Josh Nannestad — December 30, 2011 at 11:40 pm

  55. *** Has no one mentioned Beethoven’s name etched over the stage of Symphony Hall because it was so obvious?  Talk about LvB “looking down at them”! 

    Josh, yes, for sure the LvB above the Symphony Hall’s stage and a great legacy of Beethoven playing… 100 years back – that all for sure makes Boston to be the “Beethoven Town”. Ok, Ok, OK…. my New Year resolution would be to have less sarcasm when I talk about those things as I can help myself as I listened too much Schnittke’s suites from “The Census List” recently… Now for next 5 year I will not be qualified to be a witness in court or to be called for jury duty…

    Comment by Romy the Cat — December 31, 2011 at 5:39 pm

  56. There is nothing wrong with the pieces on the classical Hit Parade. I’m a Carmen fan myself. But these works are not the whole story of music, or of human experience. And the very notions of Hit Parade — Canonic Repertory — Official Masterpieces can limit us way too much in our understanding and enjoyment of what is out there.  To cite the late Mr.  Halévy, “L’amour est enfant de bohéme, il n’a jamais connu de loi.”
    Sorry if my diction is deficient; it seems to have led to some fairly radical misunderstanding/misintepretation of my intent. I’m trying to be simple and clear.  Happy New Year to all :-)

    Comment by Joel Cohen — December 31, 2011 at 6:44 pm

  57. Malgre le Puritanisme—and fully cognizant, I hope, of the gravitational pull of history—geography has more to do with it. Boston has retained (with whatever justification) a sense of otherness and equality (once “superiority”) which other cities, of considerable standing during the 18th and 19th centuries, have long since put aside. Boston—even in the 19th Century—could never cobble together an opera company to compete with New-York; it assuredly will not be doing so now. No one (particularly the good burghers) expects Baltimore to compete with Washington, nor Richmond, for that matter: yet 200 years ago there was some hope. Brooklyn, Heaven knows! waged a quite formidable battle in the 1880s against the Metropolis across the water…but not only lost, but was absorbed with all her grand institutions, now rendered second-rate by reduction to borough status. Boston would do well, IMHO, to stop indulging the “provincial/world class” dichotomy and accept what geography has given it: an opportunity for excellent local institutions which—if conducted with intelligence and a conscious forswearing of hubris—can be not only ornaments to our city and region but also significant stepping and stopping loci for those whose careers are in the process of growth. This (it seems to me) is the great weakness of the American system for young singers: you are either waiting tables, or you are at the Met. The only thing in between is called—Europe. Boston has the audience; the venues; and a continuously changing cast of young talent brought by our many educational institutions. For my money, it is time to put away the dreams of being a world-class contender: it never could, and never will, happen. Let those that rebuild do so on more realistic—and far more valuable—grounds. ‘Tis only one man’s opinion, to be sure.

    Comment by Kevin McDermott — January 1, 2012 at 3:59 am

  58. One of the natural desires of the human heart is friendship. Friends are everything to us – they make us laugh, cheer us up, and stick with us through the tough times. This is why it can be so hard to live your life without many friends.

    Comment by Thurston Howell III — January 1, 2012 at 4:36 pm

  59. Joel, thank you for clarifying your statement and I am sorry that there was a crossed wire. i would like to apologize and say that I now  totally understand your stated positions which are  “the monotonous Hit Parade of the standard classical repertoire fails miserably to chronicle the incredible breadth and depth of human musical creativity” and ‘There is nothing wrong with the pieces on the classical Hit Parade”. Let’s move on!

    Comment by Philip Johnson — January 1, 2012 at 4:50 pm

  60. I would like to take the “monotonous Hit Parade of the standard classical repertoire” to another perspective. The over popularity of Hit Parade Music is not necessary what it is.  You can schedule 1001 times something like “Eine kleine Nachtmusik” but when did you hear the Eine kleine Nachtmusik performed well last time? The frequency of performance or popularity of work unfortunately has nothing to do with “frequency or popularity” but only with quality of performance. Many people would not hear again any “Le quattro stagioni” but how frequently you heard the work played interestingly? They can do each week Beethoven Fifth, Carmen or 1812 but it will be another come and go event with no SERIOUS ATTEMPT to play the celebrated works. From the same perspective if we look at some work that has no publicity and if they performed very seriously then it sends all conversations about Hit Parades to a garbage disposal. The point I am trying to make that it is kind of semi-irrelevant “what” was played but rather it is relevant only “how”. There is a tone of contemporary classical music that I would not come closer than light mile. Still, I have to admit the sometimes, not frequently, it is possible to come across to a level of performances that redefine my attitude. So, I am for “quality” of interpretation and performance; the interpretation and performance at the LEVEL that would open new opportunity for the work and for a listener.

    Comment by Romy the Cat — January 1, 2012 at 11:07 pm

  61. 60 comments and counting! Is this a BMint record? 

    Comment by Michael Beattie — January 2, 2012 at 10:36 am

  62. 60 comments on this article have not surpassed the 62 and 65 on a couple of WGBH themed articles. Those also had many more individuals involved, rather than the  many personal back and forths between three or four persons above.

    But keep ’em coming- especially when they are on topic!

    Comment by Lee Eiseman — January 2, 2012 at 12:49 pm

  63. Statement from Opera Boston Board Regarding the Closing of the Company

    January 4, 2012

    We are touched by the outpouring of feeling regarding our decision to close the company, announced on December 23, 2011. All the expressions we’ve seen – sympathy, anger, concern and sadness – speak to the company’s place in the heart of Boston’s arts and the world’s opera communities. We are grateful for the extensive media coverage of the closing, as well as the years of coverage of the company’s artistic innovation. As we have said before, ours was not an easy decision to make, but we feel strongly that it was the right one, and want to correct a number of mischaracterizations in media coverage of the closing, and clarify our position.

    The board voted unanimously to cease operations on December 20, 2011, to avoid compounding a deficit situation that had grown dire. Nine of the 11 members were present for the vote.

    Like many small arts organizations, Opera Boston has always operated on a tight budget. During the many years of innovative and critically acclaimed programming, the company tried to balance its budget annually. Some years there were small deficits, and some years there were small surpluses. In the fiscal year 2011, ending July 31, the company had its largest deficit ever, in excess of $225,000. This was the result of several factors converging at once: a tough economy; weak individual ticket sales; diminishing individual, foundation and corporate support; growing overhead and rising production costs.

    This set the stage for the very serious financial situation that faced the board in December. At this point, we found ourselves with over $500,000 in payables, including payroll and contractual commitments related to the next two productions scheduled in the 2011-12 season plus $250,000 in bank debt. This combination of deficit and liabilities represents almost 1/3 of our annual budget, and, given other administrative issues the organization faced, is insurmountable, despite what the unnamed experts in a Boston Globe editorial claim. Compounding these challenges, our October 2011 opera fell well short of sales goals, and we found ourselves unable to pay some bills, including the musicians’ invoices referenced in the Boston Globe article. Board members have since contributed funds to pay these musicians, crew and staff.

    The Board considered many options, including major budget cuts and the cancellation of this season. Had we moved forward as planned, we estimated our deficit would have grown to at least $1,000,000, given the emerging pattern of diminishing support. Although we formed a committee to explore financial options when the growing deficit became a concern, its main focus was refinancing the debt over the long term, and it was unable to identify a viable solution to the current and growing deficit.

    Opera Boston would have needed at least $750,000 to move forward with the next scheduled production, and over $1,000,000 to finish the season as programmed. We saw no hope of attaining those numbers given the economic downturn and current donor patterns.

    As the people entrusted with the fiduciary responsibility of Opera Boston, we voted to cease operations. We did so with heavy hearts, but know we made the responsible decision. We will spend the next few weeks working with the company’s creditors.

    We will miss producing the novel and innovative programming the company had become known for, and we appreciate the support we enjoyed from our subscribers, donors, fans and the media.

    We are open to a rebirth of Opera Boston in years to come, if the funding climate changes

    Comment by Opera Company of Boston — January 4, 2012 at 3:42 pm

  64. We’ve been enthusiastic season ticket-holders with Opera Boston for years.  Our reward is throwing away $500 due to the impulsive shut-down of Opera Boston by its board of directors.  They raised ticket prices considerably last year, a really bad move on their part.  Now this bizarre deed.  We were happy to support the creative staff of Opera Boston:  they earned and deserved it.  The Opera Boston board of directors deserves only censure.  “Fiduciary responsibility”?  Pfft.  As if.

    Comment by constancew — January 5, 2012 at 3:22 pm

  65. Oh, and in answer to questioner above, we received a letter today officially letting us know we (as esteemed season ticket subscribers) were being stiffed for the tickets for the remaining 2 performances for which we had, of course, paid well in advance.

    Comment by constancew — January 5, 2012 at 3:27 pm

  66. I received my “no refund latter” yesterday. I especially like its reference to “unused subscription tickets.” Unused? As if I failed to show up for the performance. There’s a vague promise of efforts to arrange for complimentary tickets from BLO or ArtsBoston. Or we can get credit for a charitable contribution if we return them. That would be a credit we could claim on our taxes a year hence. One wonders to what charitable cause that contribution is credited. A defunct company?
    Minutes after opening that letter I saw a prominent member of the board on the street. I restrained myself. He has been quoted in the press saying that he and his colleagues will return with new ventures. One wonders what advance ticket sales will be like?
     
     

    Comment by Bill — January 6, 2012 at 10:47 am

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