From the letters page of USC Trojan Family Magazine, winter 2007:
Opera Opprobrium My husband and I attended the April production of Miss Lonelyhearts at USC (Autumn 2007, “Arts & Culture,” p. 26). Appalled, disgusted, shocked and terrorized by the unnecessarily graphic and downright pornographic gestures, gesticulations, language and Christian-bashing plot, we were forced to leave after the first unfathomable act. We could only assume the director (Ken Cazan) had forgotten that this was supposed to be a student production for educational purposes, edifying and building the careers and skills of the finest young singers that come to USC. I did not see any “NC-17” posted warnings upon entering the theater, on the tickets, on the cover of the program, or posted on the doors, as there should have been. Audiences must be warned in advance – we have a right to know whether to expect graphic violence, graphic sexual scenes, objectionable language and adult situations before entering the theater. That is the law for movie theaters, rented DVDs and CDs for purchase today – why are Ken Cazan’s opera productions exempt from such guidelines? Were any children under 17 admitted to any performances of this opera? If so, he should be charged with endangering the welfare of a child with what he shamelessly instructed college students to do on that stage. Opera fans go to the opera to have a higher artistic experience than we can find in the movie theater or on television. We go to be uplifted, to be moved, to be taught, to laugh, to cry, but we do not go to watch the beautiful art form we so cherish be treated with irreverence, disdain, mockery, smut and hatefulness. While my letter only “officially” represents the opinions of two audience members who attended that performance, there were many more people who left the theater (in disgust) at intermission, not to return for the second act. Arts audiences need to stand up and be heard when they witness something that is an endangerment to students, audiences, university opera programs and the operatic art form in general. Many opera patrons oppose the downward-spiraling moral trend spearheaded by Cazan and other university opera directors. I urge those patrons to voice their opinions and protest a little louder when they are offended by the “entertainment” they see and hear on college stages. Perhaps then administrators and directors will begin to listen. Tricia Oney DMA ’07 and David Gibides VALENCIA, CA USC Thornton School of Music Dean Robert Cutietta responds: The Thornton School is one of the finest music schools in the country. As such, it is critical that we provide students in the opera program experiences that are not available at other institutions of higher education. Therefore, when the occasion presented itself for us to collaborate with the Juilliard School and the College-Conservatory of Music of the University of Cincinnati on a world premiere of an opera, it would have been irresponsible of me to deny our students this unique opportunity. As artists they had to conquer demanding contemporary music while creating characters for which they had no former role models. Professional opera singers will be confronted with this dual challenge, but very few schools of music are in a position to provide such an opportunity. We signed onto the project before the piece was composed (as is always the case with commissions and premieres) but we were aware of the story line. Ms. Oney seems to have missed the point that Professor Cazan did not write the story. Instead, it is the accurate portrayal of the classic 1933 book by Nathanael West, Miss Lonelyhearts, by one of today’s major living composers, Lowell Liebermann. Prior to this production, the book has been made into a Broadway play and two movies. It is read and studied in college-level English classes at USC and many other universities across the country. Last, Ms Oney is mistaken when she states that no warnings about adult content were present. We took extreme measures to assure that audience members were clear that the performance contained adult subject matter and was not appropriate for children. This included a letter from me to all of our regular opera audience members specifically to make this clear. The mission of an academic institution is to provide top educational experiences for its students. The mission of an outstanding educational institution such as the USC Thornton School is to provide an unparalleled array of professional experiences that are not available at other schools. I think we succeeded very well in fulfilling this mission.
1) To all who had the misfortune to miss Miss Lonelyhearts: Aren't you kicking yourself now? I know I am. This show sounds awesome, all of a sudden.
2) To Dean Cutietta: Ummm, didn't someone else help the composer and the director adapt Miss Lonelyhearts? I seem to recall that the dismayingly prolific J.D. "Sandy" McClatchy, America's Librettist, had something to do with this. Let's give the man his props.
3) To Ms. Oney & Mr. Gibides: Kids, you just wrote a letter to the editor of your alumni magazine, complaining about a naughty opera staging. I mean, DMA '07? According to my calculations, that makes you wayyyy too young to be a bitter old person. Please, please get out more. Let's start with a stroll to the lovely Los Angeles Public Library and work up from there.
Okay, that's all. Fight on, Trojans!