Schoenberg in Hollywood, Opera by Tod Machover
Arnold Schoenberg, one of the 20th century’s most intriguing and unique composers, was a walking contradiction. He loved composing music that virtually nobody enjoyed hearing, but in secret he too wished for the mass approval many of his peers regularly received. In his opera Schoenberg in Hollywood, Tod Machover imagines a world where the composer got a chance to embrace mainstream and took it. The work debuted at the Boston Lyric Opera in November of 2018, and its exploration of an alternative reality reveals a deeper conversation about integrity, egomania and the relationship between the artist and his audience.
The storyline of Schoenberg in Hollywood is . It takes us to the United States in the 1930s. The Austrian-born composer has recently fled Europe to escape the Third Reich’s persecution; his Jewish lineage and his ‘degenerate music’ have made him highly undesirable. Known for his twelve-tone technique and fierce rebellion against established musical canon, Schoenberg is torn between his commitment to his artistic instincts and his desire to be accepted by critics and the public. An opportunity presents itself: Metro Goldwyn Meyer’s high-powered producer Irving G. Thalberg invites the migrant composer to offer him the opportunity to score a Hollywood film.
For the avant-garde innovator Schoenberg, a movie score sounds almost like an insult. It is among the most constrained of genres, and its very purpose is to please – two things that decidedly do not agree with his style. And yet, Schoenberg accepts. The opera then slowly morphs into a biography, with scenes from the composer’s life presented in different popular movie genres. With Tod Machover’s inventive music and stage production designed by Boston’s own MIT Media Lab, Schoenberg in Hollywood delivers an intriguing take on the life and legacy of one of the most important composers in modernity and overall. The performances at the Vienna Volksoper are an excellent occasion for Arnold Schoenberg to come home.