Audra McDonald and Norm Lewis in the current Broadway production of \"Porgy and Bess\"

What's the Great American Opera?

The Dallas Opera asked critics and opera writers, including ours, and here's what they said.

published Friday, July 13, 2012

Last week, for the Fourth of July, the Dallas Opera released results of its unscientiffic poll on American opera. As in, what is the best opera composed by an American? The American-ness of the subject matter was not necessarily a criterion.

From an informal poll sent to critics and opera writers in Texas and around the country, including TheaterJones' critic Gregory Sullivan Isaacs, they got 28 ballots. The respondants listed their top operas, with some comments. You can read what they said on the Dallas Opera blog, here.

Other local writers included Scott Cantrell of Dallas Morning News and Wayne Lee Gay of D Magazine/FrontRow, plus David Shengold (a Philadelphia writer, contributer to Opera News and more), Katherine Baltrush of Opera America, freelancers Maria Nockin, blogger/critic Olivia Giovetti and William Burnett of Opera Warhorses.

By a wide margin, the Gershwins' Porgy and Bess came in at number one. The work is currently being revived on Broadway with Audra McDonald (she won her fifth Tony for playing Bess) and Norm Lewis, and the ensemble includes former Dallas actor Cedric Neal.

There was apparently a lot of discussion over how the rest of the list would turn out, and the most recent opera of the bunch, Jake Heggie's Moby-Dick, which debuted at Dallas Opera in 2010, made the top 5. Again, the poll was pretty unscientific, but c'mon, can you argue here?

Here's the Top 5:

  1. George and Ira Gershwin's Porgy and Bess
  2. Carlisle Floyd's Susannah
  3. Samuel Barber's Vanessa
  4. Douglas Moore's The Ballad of Baby Doe
  5. Jake Heggie's Moby-Dick (which premiered at Dallas Opera in 2010)

Runners up and other works talked about include:

  • John Adams' Nixon in China and Doctor Atomic
  • Virgil Thompson's The Mother of Us All
  • John Corigliano's The Ghosts of Versailles
  • Philip Glass' Einstein on the Beach
  • William Bolcom's A View From the Bridge (Arthur Miller contributed to the libretto and lyrics)
  • Tobias Picker's Emmeline
  • Floyd's Cold Sassy Tree
  • Heggie's Dead Man Walking
  • Aaron Copland's The Tender Land
  • Lee Hoiby’s Summer and Smoke (based on the Tennessee Williams play; Lanford Wilson wrote the libretto)

What do you think? What is your choice for best American opera? Thanks For Reading


Amber Guest writes:
Saturday, July 14 at 2:18AM

I'm thrilled that Copland's The Tender Land is on here. It's not done often enough! I would have added Mark Adamo's Little Women. The story may not be everyone's cup of tea, but his score is fantastic.

Amber Guest writes:
Saturday, July 14 at 2:28AM

I'm really terrible about commenting multiple times, and for that I apologize. I should add that I might have put Nixon in China in the top five. If you've seen Act II in person--you'll know why. Every singer has that one aria that they'll never pull off (but wish they could), and Madame Mao's is mine. I'm also not the least bit surprised that Porgy and Bess tops the list. A milestone musically and culturally. Long may it reign.

Jennifer writes:
Saturday, July 14 at 9:30AM

Stravinsky's THE RAKE'S PROGRESS and Robert Ward's THE CRUCIBLE should be on the list. No Menotti is indicative that this list is reflective much more of current trends, than a more realistic survey would be.

Beth Greenberg writes:
Saturday, July 14 at 10:24AM


Christopher Harrison writes:
Saturday, July 14 at 7:26PM

I'm surprised that nothing by Menotti made the list... maybe because of his Italian heritage? But I would think that 'The Medium' would've made the list if for no other reason than Menotti was bringing opera into the realm of television.

Amber Guest writes:
Sunday, July 15 at 3:32AM

Jennifer--The Rake's Progress came to my mind as well. I assumed Stravinsky's place of origin disqualified him.

Russsell Windle writes:
Tuesday, July 17 at 9:28AM

An opera that has seemed to have disappeared, that was last performed in its entirety in 1972, ragtime composer Scott Joplin's Treemonisha. The opera's theme is that education is the salvation of the Negro race, represented by the heroine and symbolic educator Treemonisha, who runs into trouble with a local band of magicians who kidnap her. I love the Gershwin's Porgy and Bess, along with the operetta Blue Monday.

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What's the Great American Opera?
The Dallas Opera asked critics and opera writers, including ours, and here's what they said.
by Mark Lowry

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