Dumas VS Toni Braxton

It’s nice to imagine that the prime reason composer Louis Karchin chose Dumas’ Romulus as the subject for his first opera because of the sheer quality the novel inspired. It would have been nicer if, in his review of American Opera Projects‘ recent production the opera at the Guggenheim, critic Steve Smith would have looked at the implications of choosing to base a contemporary opera on a novel that is out of date and in the public domain.

Choosing a subject is just one of the many complications facing composers of opera. It can be difficult to the point of being prohibitive for composers to gain rights to use literature that is under copyright, even if the author is long dead (a composer friend of CounterCritic was looking into setting a Lorca play as an opera and was asked to sign a contract with Lorca’s estate to split all proceeds from the opera 50/50: Lorca died in 1936).

This is also further evidence of opera’s reluctance to tell truly contemporary stories, stories that are not period pieces and that apply vernacular language to the operatic voice. There has to be a better solution than Il Divo singing “Unbreak My Heart.”

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