What is Gonzo Opera?
1) First of all, despite its subject matter, it is real opera, and not a parody of the genre as are many works in the last few years that call themselves “opera.” It uses beautiful classically-trained voices and allows them to demonstrate all the marvelous attributes of traditional vocal technique. The Gonzo style is full of melody (something sorely lacking in most contemporary opera)—memorable melody that shows off the voices in the best possible light.
2) Gonzo Opera takes as its subject matter outrageous comedy/satire, subjects heretofore completely foreign to opera. It is as contemporary as the movies. No pathetic, dying heroines here. Shannon Wheeler’s Too Much Coffee Man was made into an opera with great success. It was not so much the traditional opera audience who came to see it, but Shannon’s audience (the 20-40 year olds). This was the first of the Gonzo operas.
3) Gonzo Opera is designed to be portable and inexpensive to produce. This should prove a boon to smaller opera companies as
a) It attracts a new, young audience (which all companies are crying out to do) and,
b) It can be produced with simple sets, and a small combo of instrumentalists (as opposed to a full orchestra).
Opera as an art form, desperately needs a swift kick in the pants—the same kind that was given it by the verismo movement in the late 1800s. When the overwhelming percentage of works in standard repertoire are 100-300 years old, something is severely wrong. One need only compare the quantity of good and memorable new operas from the second half of the 20th century with the second half of the 19th. The 21st has so far fared little better.
Gonzo Opera is intended to breathe new life into a music genre that is in danger of becoming a museum attraction, despite the enthusiasm of its devotees, and the exceptional quality of its singers.
Daniel Steven Crafts