Call Me a Purist . . . But . . .

I recently had the pleasure of seeing Bastien und Bastienne performed in its entirety by students from the University of North Texas and the Dallas Opera Orchestra at NorthPark Centre. I suspect this might also be tied in with the Linda and Mitch Hart Institute of Women Conductors as a woman was at the podium, although this was not advertised (and if so, it should have been!).

The singers were professional, even when plagued with recurring technical problems, and covered for each other when necessary to obscure the technical problems. I very much enjoyed the twelve-year-old Mozart’s work, and it was amusing to see the trademark “everyone involved in the opera comes together on stage and sings at the same time at the end” so early in his composing career.

The audience comprised people of all ages and ethnicities, and it would be just too cute to say that everyone was mesmerized (the opera was commissioned by Franz Anton Mesmer). With the exception of one infant directly behind me, everyone seemed quite engaged. (Note to the mother: I’m not complaining; I’m perfectly willing to endure a seemingly unhappy infant making noise if the parents are willing to drag an infant to the opera.)

I’ve often said that there is far too much unexplored existing classical music and opera. Bastien und Bastienne is merely one example (I also had the pleasure of seeing La Finta Semplice, another early Mozart opera, in Avignon, some years ago). This production is very much a step in the right direction.

Now I’m a purist, in some senses. The first time I see an opera performed, I want to see it how the composer intended. For La Finta Semplice, it didn’t matter so much that the child Mozart was present on stage. It didn’t matter that he was wearing full court dress, sporting Mickey Mouse ears, and riding a skateboard. I found it amusing to see the composer chide singers whose ornamentation strayed too far from what he had written, or pushing reluctant lovers towards each other. But I loved hearing it sung in the original language (yes, they used subtitles).

I realize that reading subtitles (even though they could have been projected) might be too much to ask of young children. But I’d love for the Dallas Opera to consider putting on lesser-known works of Mozart, Haydn, and other opera composers (dare I mention Vivaldi, Scarlatti, Rameau, and Lully?) in their regular programs, especially their simulcasts, instead of the faithful ABC (Aida, La Boheme, Carmen). I was excited when they performed Iolanthe and I wish they would do more of the operas we can’t buy on DVD from a dozen different companies. I know Verdi and Puccini are popular, but so might some of the other operas be if given proper exposure. It’s said that the popular works are performed often because they’re great, and that’s true. But that doesn’t mean the lesser-known music isn’t great, too; after all, people’s cultural criteria change over the years, and what might have been panned in previous generations may be considered great by today’s standards.

With all that in mind, I’d like to recommend 104 Great Symphonies You Haven’t Heard Yet, by Alonso Delarte. Even better, the author has kindly agreed to guest post on a regular basis here, so look for his first post next month!

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