The 1977-78 cultural season schedule is out now. There's great news for people who forgot the tune to "Tosca" from not having seen it all summer, and for those who only saw two different productions of "The Sleeping Beauty" last year and want a third crack at it to catch the fine nuances of the plot.
But for those who crave something new in the way of good old-fashioned opera and ballet, it looks bleak. They're just not writing them that way any more.
This is because there is only one subject fit for modern high culture, and that is the inner conflict of the soul striving against itself. Comes with no costumes, no scenery, no plot. Pure, or, as we say now, No Frills.
After all, what do you do if you find yourself in unbearable inner turmoil? Well, what you do is to get yourself all gussied up and head for the nearest exhibition-opening party at an art gallery in the hope of meeting someone new. But when a dancer experiences soul trouble, he doesn't go anywhere. He searches until he finds a spot with nothing on it but bare floorboards, puts on his oldest black leotard, the one with the leggings and feetsies and probably the trap door in back, and writhes in agony, as who wouldn't under those conditions?
Also, we have that grand old futuristic tradition which says that people who live in a space age will want their clothing and surroundings to be all stark white and streamlined. We know this because the very year that man landed on the moon, taffeta ruffles were revived below, and all those newly-designed culture centers were busy ordering thousands of hand-blown crystals for their foyer chandeliers.
But it is not true that psychological conflict is the only valid plot of our age. There are plenty of outer-directed people engaged in moral conflicts which would make splendid material for ballets or operas.
You could do a consumerism ballet, beautifully set in the housewares department of Bloomingdale's. The heroine, under a magic spell preventing her from finding her way out to the parking lot, lies lovely but listless on a bedspread display. Sharing her fate are 24 maidens, identically dressed in tiny nipped-in tweed jackets, flowered challis ballerina length skirts and ribbed tights. They gracefully appear and re-appear from time to time, on a variety of escalators which go out in all directions from the set but always lead back to the housewares department.
Enter the hero. He has been waiting outside for the heroine and has correctly divined that she is under a spell or worse. An evil clerk appears to him, arousing the jealousy of the other dancers, who have been unable to attract any clerk at all. The clerk tells him he must perform several impossible feats if he is to reclaim the heroine. He must find something he wants to buy; he must produce his charge card; and he must wait in silence while the clerk goes away to verify his account.
Being a hero, he does all this, purchasing the simplist thing he can find, which is an electric dough puncher for those who bake their own electric bread at home. But there is a catch. He has forgotten to take a ticket telling him which level he is parked on. As the curtain falls, he falls, too, on the bedspread display.
Or how about an opera on urban development? We open to a magnificent set, showing an old apartment building on one side, while on the other, against a crimson sky, is seen, poised, a wrecking ball.
Singers begin to appear at each of the windows. The women are all dressed in Diane von Furstenburg wraparound prints, but in a variety of colors, and the men are in matching leisure suits. They sing of their determination to hold their rent in escrow until the air-conditioning system is fixed.
Little do they know that below them stands their landlord, a good man but one subject to temptation. The devil befuddles him by showing him his land as occupied by 1) townhouses, 2) and office building, and 3) a mall of boutiques. He succumbs, while the chorus is away for the weekend at the beach, and tears the building down.
But virtue triumphs. When the occupants return to find their home leveled, they march off and return in victory, with a permit establishing it as an historical landmark.
Suppose you have a ballet in which the heroine is a beautiful bird, and the hero a brave hunter. Just as he is about to shoot an arrow into her breast, she whispers to him that she is an endangered species. He whispers back that he is with the National Rifle Association. This is a very short ballet.
Or an opera which takes place on the Concorde. What magnificent opportunities it provides for enriching the operatic set with the latest film techniques, as the airlines is showing the first reel of "Star Wars" during the trip. The heroine, beautiful but frail, with a wracking cough, slowly makes her way down the aisle to the Smoking Section. The hero spots her. He is immediately captivated by her fragile charm. But he is in the Non-Smoking Section, and not about to give up his seat. This opera, too, is short.
But at least it has a message you can take home with you.