Short = Good

I recently had the pleasure of attending Chicago Opera Theater’s (COT) double feature of Bartok’s Duke Bluebeard’s Castle & Schönberg’s Erwartung and I have to say that short was good…

COT1.jpg…and I mean that in every positive sense. At approximately 60 minutes in length Duke Bluebeard’s Castle is a one act opera that starts with a bang and builds up from there. The production was fantastic (I especially enjoyed the lighting) and what’s not to like about Samuel Ramey. Following the Bartok, there was a standard intermission and then the next one act opera, the 30 minute long Erwartung, got promptly underway.

I know there has been a strong backlash from traditionalist patrons against cutting concert lengths and managers are quick to point out patrons readily complain that they aren’t getting their “money’s worth” with short programs. At the same time they say patrons complain that the symphonies from Mahler and Bruckner are too long. Damned if you do…

COT2.jpgNevertheless, I thoroughly enjoyed the length of COT’s recent double feature and even with something as [insert your favorite twelve-tone-music-is-hard-to-listen-to euphemism here] as the Schönberg, 30 minutes is a perfect length: if you hate it, it is over soon and if it is something you like then this particular selection will certainly leave you wanting more.

Kudos to COT for refusing to capitulate to concert length conventional wisdom and I hope every orchestra/opera organization will consider making 90-minute-maximum concert events a reoccurring staple in their season.

About Drew McManus

"I hear that every time you show up to work with an orchestra, people get fired." Those were the first words out of an executive's mouth after her board chair introduced us. That executive is now a dear colleague and friend but the day that consulting contract began with her orchestra, she was convinced I was a hatchet-man brought in by the board to clean house.

I understand where the trepidation comes from as a great deal of my consulting and technology provider work for arts organizations involves due diligence, separating fact from fiction, interpreting spin, as well as performance review and oversight. So yes, sometimes that work results in one or two individuals "aggressively embracing career change" but far more often than not, it reinforces and clarifies exactly what works and why.

In short, it doesn't matter if you know where all the bodies are buried if you can't keep your own clients out of the ground, and I'm fortunate enough to say that for more than 15 years, I've done exactly that for groups of all budget size from Qatar to Kathmandu.

For fun, I write a daily blog about the orchestra business, provide a platform for arts insiders to speak their mind, keep track of what people in this business get paid, help write a satirical cartoon about orchestra life, hack the arts, and love a good coffee drink.

Related Posts

4 thoughts on “Short = Good”

  1. I drive about 250 miles, round trip, to hear the KC Symphony play, so I don’t feel I get nearly enough music in the typical 90 minutes (or, often, less) that is played. An opera running maybe 3-4 hours with intermission is more satisfying.

  2. Good for COT. One-act operas, with a few exceptions (the ubiquitous Cav & Pag) hardly ever get performed. “Blubeard’s Castle” is one of the monuments of 20th c. opera, but what on earth do you pair it with? I saw it at ENO years ago with staged Monteverdi madrigals, of all things.

  3. Bluebeard/Erwartung is not an uncommon pairing; the MET has done it over the years and I’ve heard of it being done elsewhere, too.

    Nothing wrong with an occasionally shorter night at the opera, but I do love my occasional 4-5 outings for Wagner and Strauss. But operas already vary considerably in length (Salome, Elektra, Wozzeck being around 90 minutes each, Parsifal nearly 6 hours). More likely it’s time for orchestras to vary more frequently (in both directions) from the standard 2-hour format.

Leave a Comment