On November 14, the Boston Lyric Opera will present the World Premiere of Schoenberg in Hollywood, a new opera by Tod Machover, the Muriel R. Cooper Professor of Music and Media and director of the Media Lab's Opera of the Future group. Performances will run through November 18.
Schoenberg in Hollywood is inspired by the life of Austrian composer Arnold Schoenberg after he fled Hitler’s Europe in the 1930s. After moving first to Boston and then to Los Angeles, Schoenberg sought connection with his new culture through music. He forged a friendship with famous comedian Harpo Marx, who introduced him to MGM’s Irving Thalberg, who in turn offered him the opportunity to compose a score for the film The Good Earth. Schoenberg ultimately turned down the commission, rejecting the lure of more money and greater fame in favor of his artistic integrity (and after proposing highly unrealistic artistic and financial terms). In doing so, Schoenberg chose a path of fidelity to his heritage and his musical identity—a decision that pitted change against tradition, art against entertainment, and personal struggle against public action.
Machover’s opera is bookended by the Thalberg meeting, after which the fictional Schoenberg goes off to make a film about his own life. This imagined creation follows the narrative of Schoenberg’s historical journey up to a point, then diverges in a wild fantasy to imagine a different path had Schoenberg been able to reconcile opposing forces. Drawing on inspirations ranging from Jewish liturgical music to Bach and a WWI soundscape to contemporary 20th century music, Machover illustrates Schoenberg’s personal evolution through a synthesis of shifting influences.
“I immersed myself in Schoenberg’s world through his extensive (and incredible) writings, his music, his paintings, through visiting his amazing archives in Vienna, and by speaking with many people who knew him,” Machover explains. “But I grew up with Schoenberg’s music, so have been thinking about this for a very long time. It is part of me.”