One of the most exciting things about the arts is experimentation—and that includes the occasional brave failure. I realize this is America, where some consider failure to be akin to some kind of moral deficiency, but bear with me for a second and please read on! You see, experimentation means boldly going where blah blah blah. Sometimes it pays off, sometimes it doesn’t, but what’s interesting about the arts—and, come to think of it, about life—is seeing someone try to make sense of the unknown. Not to mention that something imperfect can leave more of a mark than a glossy, fully-rounded production. It’s the problem that may stay with you, waiting to be solved. As an audience member, experimentation can mean going out of your comfort zone and seeing something you may not have thought you’d enjoy; it can mean juxtaposing wildly divergent shows or experiences on the same day.
For someone running an arts institution or a company, experimentation can involve bringing together people who may not, on the surface, have that much in common, or bringing together artists whose followings don’t tend to mix.
This week, for instance, our show talks about choreographer Stephen Petronio, whose new dances are set to music by the likes of downtown avant-crooner Antony and flamboyant pop singer Rufus Wainwright. You’d think the constituencies for these artists don’t necessarily mingle, but Petronio is right to think dance fans could very well respond to the aesthetic universes created by Antony and Wainwright—and vice versa.
Coincidentally (or not), Wainwright is one of the new voices the Met has approached to write operas. The Met’s Peter Gelb has also reached out to Broadway directors like Jack O’Brien for Puccini’s Il Trittico and Bartlett Sher for Rossini’s Il Barbiere di Siviglia. And earlier this year, you could have seen Tatiana Noginova’s costumes and George Tsypin’s sets both in Prokofiev’s War and Peace at the Met and in Disney’s Little Mermaid on Broadway in the same week. It was really fun to compare how they handled these vastly different universes.
Some of the announcements (like provocateur film director Michael Haneke directing Mozart at City Opera in a few years) are bound to frighten some people. But at least there is palpable excitment on the New York opera scene. It does not feel completely disconnected from the culture at large anymore.
Some would prefer to see opera, dance and theater frozen in pretty, separate pieces of amber, but I for one love seeing them engage with each other—and with our times.