The inaugural New York Opera Fest kicks off today, 1 May, and it's kicking off in a big way with an ambitious two months of programming. Among events this evening is Bronx Opera's production of Rossini's Cinderella at The Lovinger Theatre. Bronx Opera is one of the senior companies taking part – next year it will celebrate its Golden Anniversary – whereas On Site Opera, who will be presenting an opera at 632 on Hudson, are the young whippersnappers, now in their fifth season.
Over 20 New York City-based companies will take part presenting their works in bars and playgrounds as well as traditional theatres. In addition to performances the NYOF will give the public the opportunity to attend open rehearsals, forums, showcases, and masterclasses with the additional frisson of being in at the beginning, knowing that some of the young talents featured will soon be treading the boards of the world's most important opera houses.
On the surface, it wouldn't appear to be a good time for opera in the city: Gotham Chamber Opera closed its doors after 15 years, and the woes of City Opera are well documented. The New York Opera Alliance, however, is a consortium of New York opera companies and producers who are determined to prove that (to quote the blurb):
…opera is not just a great catalogue of works, but a living, breathing community of people who produce new work, develop new artists, and engage with youth and the community.
The New York Opera Alliance was founded in 2011 and in five years has grown from 4 organizations to more than 40, and since 2013 it has been sponsored by OPERA America, the national service organization for opera and the leading advocate for American opera. The idea for the NYOA York Opera Alliance started with Peter Szep, a conductor, and Cori Ellison, who's on the faculty of the American Lyric Theater. I asked Peter how it began:
The idea for the New York Opera Fest actually began five years ago during an interview with Gina Crusco about underworld productions performance of Benjamin Yarmolinsky's Clarence and Anita. We talked about how much great energy there is in the New York opera scene and that we should get together to share resources, and possibly make a festival.
While I had it in the back of my mind for a while, Gina really ignited the spark that got it rolling. She was instrumental in helping us setup basic operating rules and making the connections with Cori Ellison and Opera America. The New York Opera Alliance sprang from that discussion.
But why a Festival?
A festival has always been a motivating factor. Now that we have established the group and the website which has a community-wide calendar, we have launched version 1.0 of the New York Opera Fest.
And why now?
I think it is the perfect time as well, we have about 40 groups in NYOA. And all of them reach out to audiences in ways that go beyond the proscenium and into New York's neighbourhoods, offering opportunities for the public to get to know this great art form up-close.
We have lots of ideas on how the festival can be further developed, so stay tuned for details about fest 2.0!
Peter Szep is the Chorus Master for Giovanni Pacini's Malvina di Scozia, a forgotten work dug up by the Vertical Player Repertory which can be seen from 11 May at Christ and Saint Stephen's Church. While it is true that Pacini is having something of a mini-revival with Cecilia Bartoli and Joyce DiDonato recording arias, he's not exactly a household name.
As a person involved with the rehearsals, every time we sing through one of the choruses or scenes, everyone keeps saying what an amazing opera it is! The music is truly stunning, with soloists and chorus all joining in these extended Bel Canto scenes that literally keep sweeping us away. It's a real gem and I'm surprised that it has just basically disappeared from the rep.
Another curiosity, among several during the Fest, is Marcos Portugal's The Marriage of Figaro which is being staged by On Site Opera. I asked Eric Einhorn, its General & Artistic Director, and Jessica Kiger, the group's Executive Director and Producer, about the choice.
Discovering Marcos Portugal's Figaro began more as an academic exercise rather than a search for programming. We had been toying around with the idea of an alternative Figaro trilogy, based on the existence of the Paisiello's The Barber of Seville (vs. the Rossini).
In trying to round out the trilogy, we selected Milhaud's La mère coupable, as it is not very well known in the US, but stays true to its Beaumarchais roots. Finding an alternative to Mozart's “The Marriage of Figaro” proved a bit more challenging, though.
However, their research brought them to Bampton Classical Opera in England.
It specializes in reconstructing and reviving obscure operas from the classical period. In 2010, they worked with a Portuguese musicology team to reconstruct Portugal's Figaro. This was the piece we had been looking for! We quickly reached out to Bampton to get a better sense of the piece, and were pleasantly surprised to find out how strong Portugal's opera was. Portugal clearly uses Mozart and Da Ponte as his inspiration for several moments in the piece, as was common practice at the time, but also puts his clear musical and dramatic stamp on the story.
The opera will be presented at 632 on Hudson, and extraordinary triplex with a central 40-foot atrium with a grand staircase links the various areas of the venue: an art deco lounge, a Chinese bedroom, a re-creation of an Edwardian kitchen and a roof garden. So those are the ‘sets' in place, but how does it work in practice with a cast and audience to move around.
The logistics of the evening will all be worked into the flow of the production. When a scene ends, and it is time for the audience to move, the characters from the opera will initiate the movement. A character could speak directly to the audience, encouraging them to follow him or her or a character could appear from another room, inviting the audience into the next space. These transitional moments will be worked on extensively in rehearsal. Musical or improvised narrative material will serve as links between scenes, so that the opera never stops.
We did a simpler version of these logistics during our production of Paisiello's The Barber of Seville last summer. Two characters invited and guided the audience to a second space in the venue, where they were met by yet another character. The constant flow of the narrative is crucial for our productions. We never want these audience moves to simply feel like “scene changes” in a traditional theatre.
And what about the musicians with their instruments and scores?
As far as the instrumentalist are concerned, the orchestration we have created for the production takes the movement through the venue into account. Instrumentalists that end one scene will be different from those that begin the next scene. This will allow for seamless movement of the musicians – and the music – throughout the house.
It sounds exciting and, as the performances are sold out, the public must have thought so too.
The Opera Fest is not only a place to discover new works: Chelsea Opera are putting on Puccini's Suor Angelica with an antipasta of his music for string quartet and Salve Regina for soprano and organ; Opera Upper West are offering Poulenc's Le voix humane and Menotti's The Telephone “seen through a modern prism”; Regina Opera are proposing Puccini's Manon Lescaut “presented up-close in an intimate setting”; operamission is presenting Handel's Rinaldo on period instruments at the Kaufman Music Center… and, and, and… the feast is rich.
For more info, full schedule and tickets, visit: nyoperafest.com
NEW YORK OPERA FEST EVENTS:
American Opera Projects presents Composers & The Voice: First Glimpse.
A showcase of the next generation of composers and librettists.
Ardea Arts presents “BOUNCE: The Basketball Opera”
Performed on an actual basketball court, BOUNCE is grounded in contemporary issues facing today's youth.
Bronx Opera presents Rossini's “Cinderella.”
Rossini's classic, performed in English to close BxO's 49th season.
Center for Contemporary Opera presents “The Wild Beast of the Bungalow.”
A new work by Rachel Peters and Royce Vavrek, part of CCO's Development Series.
Chelsea Opera presents “Puccini: the Man and His Music” and “Suor Angelica.”
An evening of Puccini, looking at both the man himself and his timeless music.
Create Opera presents “Elektra.”
Exploring the complex and intense score of Richard Strauss's masterpiece “Elektra.”
Experiments in Opera presents Video Operas.
A collection of five premiere works created specifically for the big screen.
Hunter Opera Theater presents Jake Heggie's “At the Statue of Venus.”
Accompanied by several opera shorts by composer Richard Burke.
Hunter Opera Theater presents Opera & Musical Theater Scenes Program.
Comparative scenes in opera and musical theater performed by Hunter College students.
Manhattan School of Music Opera Theater presents a French Double Bill.
Featuring Ibert's “Persée et Andromède” and Ravel's “L'Enfant et les sortilèges.”
On Site Opera presents North American premiere of Portugal's “The Marriage of Figaro.”
A site-specific production of Beaumarchais beloved comedy at the opulent West Village townhouse 632 on Hudson.
OPERA America presents Emerging Artist Recital Series: Jensen Foundation Competition Winner, Baritone John Brancy.
OPERA America's Emerging Artist Recital Series in the intimate Marc A. Scorca Hall.
Opera Breve presents an audition workshop.
A showcase of selections from opera and musical theater.
Opera Lafayette presents “Opera and the French Revolution.”
Featuring the Greek tragedies of “Sapho,” “Medée,” and “Œdipe à Colone.”
Opera on Tap presents Home Brewed Opera Series.
An immersive operatic concert in a casual bar setting – have a Stella with your Strauss!
Opera on Tap presents New Brew Series.
Curated concerts of new music, with a focus on music written by local composers.
Opera on Tap presents Playground Opera Series.
A program immersing students in the creation, production and performance of an opera – all on their school playground.
Opera Upper West presents two classic 20th Century operas.
Poulenc's “Le voix humane” and Menotti's “The Telephone,” seen through a modern prism.
operamission presents Handel's “Rinaldo.”
Handel's first London opera from 1711, presented in concert on original instruments.
Paula Kimper Ensemble presents “Patience and Sarah – A Pioneering Love Story.”
A revival of Paula Kimper's opera, with two staged concert performances for Pride Week.
Martina Arroyo Foundation's Prelude to Performance presents a Masterclass and Highlights Concert.
A masterclass and concert with Martina Arroyo's young artists.
Regina Opera presents Puccini's “Manon Lescaut.”
Puccini's first international success, presented up-close in an intimate setting.
Rhymes With Opera presents world premiere of “Adams Run.”
A new video opera from composer Ruby Fulton and librettist Baynard Wood.
Spectrum Symphony of New York, New York Baroque Dance Co, and Deborah Mason present “Alexander Pope's The Rape of the Lock Opera-Oratorio.”
Alexander Pope's exquisite poetry set to music in a modern madrigal style.
Vertical Player Repertory presents the North American premiere of Giovanni Pacini's “Malvina di Scozia.”
Pacini's controversial opera based on a true story. Its first performance in over 150 years.
Graham Spicer is a writer, director and photographer in Milan, blogging (under the name ‘Gramilano') about dance, opera, music and photography for people “who are a bit like me and like some of the things I like”. He was a regular columnist for Opera Now magazine and wrote for the BBC until transferring to Italy.
His scribblings have appeared in various publications from Woman's Weekly to Gay Times, and he wrote the ‘Danza in Italia' column for Dancing Times magazine.