Is Opera In America In Peril?

Apr 25, 2014
Originally published on April 27, 2014 2:09 pm

With the New York City Opera announcing its closing and the San Diego Opera in peril, the state of opera in the United States appears to be tottering.

But as mezzo soprano Jennifer Rivera wrote in the Huffington Post, there’s still much vibrant opera to be found. One place to find it is in Boston, where this weekend, Boston Baroque presents a semi-staged version of Claudio Monteverdi’s “Il ritorno d’Ulisse in patria.”

Portuguese tenor Fernando Guimarães will make his U.S. debut as Ulisse, and Jennifer Rivera plays his wife, Penelope. The two join Here & Now’s Robin Young to talk about the state of opera, here and abroad.

Interview Highlights

Jennifer Rivera on her husband adding a segment to his opera podcast

“It’s called ‘The Weekly Dirge.’ We talk about which company has failed or has closed or shut its doors. And it seems like every month at least, there’s some other company, large or small. The New York City Opera was of course the most enormous shocker. I mean – not, because there was many years of problems going on, but it was a major, major company. And now with San Diego, it’s certainly alarming as an American performer. And I’ve performed in Europe also a lot, so I have the two to compare. Without government subsidies that they have in Europe, we certainly struggle with finding the balance of being a nonprofit organization and finding donors who can sponsor the productions, and also having artistic autonomy.”

Fernando Guimarães on government funding of culture in Portugal

“There is, we can say there is. Although in recent years with this economic recessions, that state funding is being severely decreased. … I can say I hardly ever work in Portugal right now, for instance. We only have one opera theater in Lisbon, the São Carlos Theater was almost on the verge of closing its doors completely.”

Jennifer Rivera on opera company budgets

“I was just singing in Omaha, which is not an enormous company but which manages to produce very interesting works for half a million dollars, whereas the San Diego Opera with this budget of $15 million, was saying they were having to declare bankruptcy because they couldn’t possibly produce four operas on $15 million. And that’s just not a model that’s seeming to work anymore in this country. People have to rethink how they’re spending their money.”

Fernando Guimarães on how to get young people to go to the opera

“Most of all we have to focus on education in school. It all starts from our schools, from the way we build up these young people to love arts, to love culture, a higher form of culture.”


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