The situation of opera at this time is interesting for more than the light it throws on the usual concerns of composers, performers, and audience. Precisely because opera unites music and words, because for its conception and staging it draws upon so many different arts and crafts, because it possesses such a rich repertory of acknowledged masterpieces, and (last but hardly least) because it is so expensive to put on, what is now happening in opera—and what has been happening for the past generation—is a reflection of the place of art in our culture as a whole.

The chief presenting symptom of opera today is easy to see: at a time of larger audiences, more performances, and escalating budgets, there aren’t any widely successful new works. This fact is no less apparent to opera administrators than it is to audiences. As a result the repertory has become increasingly constricted, marked...


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