Wednesday, January 04, 2006
Opera vs. Broadway
A story in my local daily newspaper on January 3, 2006, (the "Denver Post") reported that “Phantom of the Opera” was poised to pass “Cats” as the most performed musical ever on Broadway, with something close to 7500 performances. What shocked me more was learning from the same article that “Phantom” has played before an estimated 80 million people worldwide.
Don’t get me wrong—I have nothing against Broadway musicals. Although I’ve never actually seen one ON Broadway (or anywhere in NYC for that matter—New York is strictly for the Met, New York City Opera, and maybe OONY), my wife and I once took a trip to Minneapolis to see the musical, “Titanic.” We also saw “Guys and Dolls” in Denver at the old Auditorium Theatre. In high school I sang in the chorus in both “Brigadoon” and “Music Man.” And I don’t find anything objectionable about the music in “Evita” (high praise indeed, eh?).
Given all that, I’m appalled that “Phantom” has done so well while mainstream opera struggles. Let’s think about 80 million for a sec, shall we?
Puccini’s “La Boheme” has been around since 1896. Arguably it’s the most often-performed opera around the world, don’t you think? If the average theater holds 2000 patrons and was sold out for every performance, it would require slightly more than one performance a day anywhere in the world for the entire 109 years this opera has been in existence—actually 366-point-something performances per annum—to reach the 80 million mark.
Is that likely? I’m inclined to say yes, but it’s a staggering number just the same. Some researcher with more time than I on his or her hands will have to pass judgment on this concept, I’m afraid.
The appalling part in all this involves the sheer number of folks who’ve been bitten by the Andrew Lloyd Webber bug. The aforementioned “Evita” aside, all I can say is: yuck. Such insipid music; so many lame lyrics—and such crappy stories. With all the novels Victor Hugo wrote upon which opera librettos were based (“Rigoletto” being the best by far), is it any wonder that “Phantom” languished for decades until set for Broadway? I admit that there are some pretty lame story lines out there in opera-land. One that springs to mind is Verdi’s “Ernani,” where the premise involves the hero of the story promising to kill himself if ever the father of his beloved blows some trumpet. Oh, please!! And what do you know, THAT story is from a Hugo novel, too! And don’t even get me started on “Le Miz.”
When I started writing this post, I was hoping to come up with some notable conclusion or to dazzle my readers (both of them) with a brilliant analysis of the situation. But I guess this will have to stand alone as nothing more than a rant—not that there’s anything wrong with that, of course. Meanwhile…80 million? I just don’t get it.