To the outside world, this premiere — along with this month’s announcement that three more composer-librettist teams are being added to what has been rechristened the Met/LCT New Works Program — is the first sign that anything is happening with the Met’s commissioning program.
And yet things have been happening all along. The Met’s program — now described as a “collaborative workshopping program” — was created in partnership with the Lincoln Center Theater. The workshopping process was said to help determine whether a given work was more suited to performance by one company or the other (or neither; the $50,000 commissioning fee did not include guarantees of performance). With such a murky goal, and no concrete deadlines, it was small wonder that things took a while to materialize, and yet materialize they did. There have been read-throughs of work in early stages. There has been mentoring of composers and librettists. And there have been a few workshops, most recently in May, when Scott Wheeler’s “The Sorrows of Frederick,” set to the late Romulus Linney’s adaptation of his own play, was performed by professional singers for a handful of people, all of whom were involved in the project.
The Met has not been known as a champion of the new in recent decades, though Peter Gelb, its general manager, has worked to bring more recent opera to the Met stage. “Basically I said [when I took over] that we were going to try to have one major new work on the stage every year, and we’ve done that,” he said by phone earlier this month, citing Philip Glass’s “Satyagraha” and John Adams’s “Doctor Atomic,” as well as the world premiere of Tan Dun’s “The First Emperor,” a commission Gelb inherited. The Met is also co-commissioning Thomas Ades’s “The Exterminating Angel,” which will come in the 2017-18 season, and it has long been in discussion with Osvaldo Golijov about a new work, which Gelb says will be staged in 2018-19.
“The commissioning program is one aspect” of the Met’s commitment to the contemporary, he says, adding, “it never was a guarantee that new works were going to end up on stage at the Met.”
Most of the readings and workshops so far have ended at best inconclusively and at worst with a hint of acrimony. Michael Torke’s opera on the race car driver Ayrton Senna hit a roadblock: “As sometimes happens, there were things that we differed on,” says Paul Cremo, the Met’s dramaturg and director of new-work commissioning, who oversees the program. Rufus Wainwright’s opera “Prima Donna” encountered a similar obstacle: The official cause for it being turned down was that the libretto was in French, and the Met/LCT program sought to encourage new American works.