‘Tis the season for season announcements for the country’s fine arts purveyors, the annual February-to-March moment when opera and ballet companies, symphony orchestras and performance venues tell us what they plan to present over the next year. This ritual of reveal used to be a major event for a city and it remains exciting, though for a smaller crowd of citizens who still consider this sort of art to be their own.
In Denver, the news is good. The Colorado Ballet and Opera Colorado are out with their lineups first and they are strong on tradition — if not innovation — and tradition is the core of what they do.
The Colorado Symphony announces next week, and you can be sure it will match its classical peers by promising lots of material driven by the music of familiar names, such as Beethoven, Tchaikovsky, Mozart and Wagner.
The seasons are derived from a combination of artful ambitions, the personal tastes of each organization’s decision-makers and — most of all — a bottom-line business sense that demands programming things people will attend so they can stay solvent. In the end, we get the art we are willing to pay for.
As much as this fare can be predictable, it is still astounding in the way it almost never changes, even in a time of great cultural upheaval in the U.S. and beyond. With very few exceptions, the material is all white male composers, all the time, with what we know about next year so far. That is not meant as a criticism, but as an observation that many people continue to want to make and experience this same-old art, while at the same time have come to value a more multicultural world.
Clearly, the classical fare on tap here will almost certainly be delivered with distinction by these respected presenters who make programming decisions under great pressure.
For a solid century, European art was American art. That is to say, the music and dance traditions developed in Italy, France, Germany, England, Austria and Russia, and imported to the New Word by generations of immigrants who held them on high, were ensconced at the top levels of culture.
Opera, ballet and orchestral music — the holy trio of high art — were more than just entertainment. Their presence in this country made it feel sophisticated and enlightened, equal in prestige to those old countries across the Atlantic. Every big U.S. city had to have a solid offering of all three, or it was considered backwater.
No matter that the masses were getting their kicks listening to big band, jazz, rhythm and blues and rock ‘n roll, or consuming dance via performers like Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers or Michael Jackson, civic guardians felt compelled to support the less-attended fine arts and diverted large sums toward the infrastructure of opera houses and symphony halls.
And people came out. Ballerinas and opera singers used to be stars, and conductors acted as ambassadors for their cities.
Now, you never know. Most people probably couldn’t name the music director of their local orchestra or recognize a single dancer if they saw them in the grocery store. Their attention span for multi-movement symphonies is limited and their interest in new works of classical art — freshly-written operas or dances developed by living choreographers — is never guaranteed, even when the pieces are very good and relevant to the times.
Then there is the social pressure — and it is fair that it exists — to present works created by more diverse composers and choreographers. This is a challenge for old-school art-makers and one they sometimes live up to, and sometimes do not. The traditional material is within easy reach, and it makes for sold financial hits. The new material needs to be developed and marketed and presented with some risk and considerable expense. It would be easy to criticize the organizations for their less-than-diverse schedules, but again, they present the things they know people will support with dollars. If there is blame, we all share it.
And so they move forward, confidently, in ways that feel safe.
For the Colorado Ballet, that means mixing next season’s sure-fire offerings, like full-length versions of tried-and-true story ballets, such “Swan Lake” and “The Nutcracker” with something from this century, the sensational and scary “Jekyll & Hyde.” Notably, the company will also present the classic “Coppelia” for the first time in 15 years, making it an event.
The ballet will also, once again, perform its “Masterworks” concert, which presents shorter, of-the-moment creations by contemporary (or at least somewhat recent) dance makers. This is always one of the best moments of the year for local ballet fans who prefer art from their own era. The company has worked hard to build an audience for this fare, and it has been rewarding for both the dancers and audiences.
For Opera Colorado, it means giving people what they know they want, like “Don Giovanni,” and reminding them of the things they forgot they wanted, in this case the well-liked but less-performed “Samson and Delilah.”
The company also creates excitement by going big with a new production once each season, a move that catches the attention of audiences and brings them to the theater. In the current season, that was “Die tote Stadt,” which is just wrapping up a successful run.
Next year, it will be a blow-out of Wagner’s “The Flying Dutchman.” The piece gets all new sets and costumes and a complete rethinking. It’s the one to watch.
While none of this fare truly qualifies as innovative, the lineups are artful and clever, and loaded with masterpieces that deserve to be preserved, performed and experienced by new generations. It may not be everything that is necessary in a city like Denver, which likes to think of itself as progressive and enlightened, but it is full of things Denver surely needs.
Colorado Ballet 2023-24 season
Swan Lake, Oct. 6-15
The Nutcracker, Nov. 25-Dec. 24
Jekyll & Hyde, Feb. 2-11
Coppelia, March 8-17
Ballet Masterworks, April 12-21
Opera Colorado 2023/24 season
Don Giovanni, Nov. 4-12
The Flying Dutchman, Feb. 24-March 3
Samson and Delilah, May 4-12
Subscribe to our weekly newsletter, In The Know, to get entertainment news sent straight to your inbox.