When life gets me down, I open up Nicolas Slonimsky’s Music Since 1900, a day-by-day chronology of what Leonard Bernstein once called the “century of death.” What I like most about this book are the brief descriptive entries for hugely obscure operas that somehow caught the compiler’s eye. For example, “25 September 1929: The Woman Who Laughed at Faery, fantastic opera in one act by the 55-year-old English composer Fritz HART, is produced in Melbourne, Australia.” I'm scared to know what happened to that woman.
I once had the honor of interviewing Slonimsky for my college radio show, which was called, not coincidentally, "Music Since 1900." He talked about giving piano lessons to the Tsar's nieces and walking around Petrograd on the day of the Revolution. Some years later, he did a solo at a Zappa show.
I'm struggling to stay awake after reading the following headline on Andante: "Carl Michael Bellman, Sweden's Robert Burns, To Be Subject of New Opera." Apologies to any Swedes for whom this is really big news. More gripping is a report of Calixto Bieito's scandalously violent production of The Abduction from the Seraglio in Berlin. "When the prostitutes were massacred on stage I had to leave," said an angry official from Komische Oper's chief sponsor Daimler-Chrysler. Bieito has used this motif before: his production of Verdi's Masked Ball featured the gang-rape and garroting of a hustler. How will he shock us when he stages Lulu, the one opera that actually calls for the murder of a prostitute? Perhaps Jack the Ripper will turn out to be a kindly country doctor who gives everyone a hug.