For composers of new operas, all too often, after the heady champagne of opening night comes the strong black coffee of “the morning after”—sipped anxiously while reading the first reviews.
Imagine yourself the American composer Robert Ward, whose opera “The Crucible” was premiered by the New York City Opera on today’s date in 1961. Here’s what he would have read in The New York Times the following morning:
“Last night the audience heard an opera that, in philosophy and workmanship, could have been composed at the turn of the century, or before. And, judging from the response at the end of the work, the audience loved it.” Hmmm. Not all that bad so far. But down a few more lines, comes this zinger: “Mr. Ward is an experienced composer whose music fails to bear the impress of a really inventive mind. Melodically, his ideas had little distinction... [The opera’s] powerful subject cried out for intensity, for brutality and shock... Instead, we had musical platitudes.”
Oh well, despite the nasty review, Robert Ward’s opera did well at the box office, and, for the record, went on to win the Pulitzer Prize for Music the following year.