America has some of the most enthusiastic opera audiences in the world and boasts several stunning opera houses, such as the Metropolitan Opera in New York. But actually composing the operas themselves – that hasn’t always been top priority in the USA. With so many wonderful operas to import from Europe – from Handel to Wagner to Britten – why would they need to compose their own?
But an American Opera has been the dream of many important composers over the last 100 years. Opera in America is very tied into its Musical Theatre tradition – Kurt Weill even called Broadway the home of “American Opera”. Composers like Weill and Bernstein wrote both classical and popular music, and made an art of composing really high-class yet accessible works.
From George Gershwin’s jazz-influenced “Porgy and Bess” (1935) to Kurt Weill’s Broadway-style “Street Scene” (1946), and from Gian Carlo Menotti’s beloved children’s opera “Amahl and the Night Visitors” (1951) to Leonard Bernstein’s idiosyncratic “Candide” (1956), based on a novel by Voltaire, American Opera is colourful mix of backgrounds, styles and interests – much like the country itself!