There are periods of history when the pendulum swings heavily between opera and oratorio. Students of Handel's London will know the vagaries of public taste.
In the last thirty years or so we have seen a dramatic decline in the fortunes of oratorio vis-à-vis opera. And in this particular case, it is hard to know when the pendulum will swing back. Back in the '6os, a young singer in Britain, say, could sing the Messiah fifteen times in a fortnight. Would it now be once or twice a year?
What happened? Work pressures and social changes perhaps made the running of choirs more difficult. Church-based activities now have to compete with many other attractions. On the other side of the fence, new opera companies have sprouted up, gaining sometimes up to 60% of their budgetary needs from government, and in more recent years they have attracted a lot of sponsorship. So opera has taken the limelight.
In our opinion, the present situation is definitely one of imbalance. A quick look at "searches" on the Internet will reveal that opera is requested 200 times more frequently than oratorio. We even have opera reviews now where to be nasty about a singer they describe him or her as "oratorio-esque"! This is scarcely fair, when present-day opera singing might in fact benefit from some of the classic oratorio virtues. Mightn't it?
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