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date: 07 July 2022

Abstract and Keywords

Can opera as drama save classical music? Pierre Boulez famously proposed “blowing up all the opera houses” in 1967, and the relationship between the avant-garde and opera has been adversarial for most of the twentieth century. But in recent years interest in contemporary opera has exploded, leading critics like Joseph Kerman to proclaim that music drama proves the continuing vitality of the classical music canon. A study of the two major US productions of John Adams’s Doctor Atomic shows the pitfalls of relying on literature and drama to “sell” twenty-first-century opera as classical music: weaknesses in the libretto and staging led many intellectuals who attended the opera to dismiss it—and opera as a genre—in the harshest possible terms, reopening questions about the propriety of setting dramatic texts to music that composers had thought settled in their favor by the end of the seventeenth century.

Keywords: John Adams, Joseph Kerman, Pierre Boulez, Doctor Atomic, contemporary opera, drama, classical music, canon, text

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