April 13, 2016

Could this be true?

In an advance article for the upcoming 1995 Proms premiere of Elliott Carter's Adagio tenebroso, the distinguished music critic (and later Carter's librettist) Paul Griffiths wrote:

[Carter] tells the story of how [in 1994], when he was working with Daniel Barenboim on the first performance of his Partita, Barenboim half-jokingly suggested he ought to write a comic opera next, and he half-jokingly said he would ... if Barenboim could get him a commissioning fee of a million dollars.  A little later, Barenboim came back from Europe to report success: Berlin would pay the required sum. (Times of London, 12 September 1995, italics mine)

A million dollars for a 40-minute long avant-garde opera?  I found it hard to believe, but then I recalled having read somewhere that only a couple of years earlier New York's Metropolitan Opera paid $325,000 commission fee to Philip Glass for his opera The Voyage.  And if Glass could get this much for stretching a few triads worth of musical material over three hours of rhythmic monotony, Carter's reported commission fee for What's Next does not seem all that striking.

Still, I wonder if the actual fee paid to Carter by Berlin's Staatsoper Unter den Linden was indeed the sum mentioned in Griffiths' article.