Blow-Me-Down Farm: A Park for the Arts?
A boon for the Upper Valley . . .
It was a birthday party filled with music, lobster rolls, blessedly sunny skies, a tent overflowing with guests. And a killer view of Mount Ascutney.
Opera North celebrated its 35th anniversary with a concert at the Blow-Me-Down Farm in Cornish NH this past weekend. The celebration was one in a series of events leading up to the opening of three fully-staged productions--Madama Butterfly, La belle Hélène, and Kiss Me Kate--of the Summerfest 2017 season.
Resident Artist Cara Collins, mezzo-soprano, accompanied by Evans Haile and Andrew Gerle on piano
Blow-Me-Down Farm was a considered choice. During his tenure as director, Evans Haile has sought a presence for Opera North outside of the walls of the Lebanon Opera House. Concerts have been scheduled in a Lebanon church, at the Fells estate, on Lake Sunapee, and at the new Highland Center for the Arts in Greensboro VT. Last year, Haile took the opera company to the The Marsh-Billings-Rockefeller National Historical Park in Woodstock VT for an early season performance. This year, Opera North paired with the Saint-Gaudens National Historic Site at the Blow-Me-Down, a riverside property recently acquired by Saint- Gaudens.
At Saturday's concert, Park Ranger Rick Kendall spoke not only about the property's history but also about its future. The farm consists of several buildings--a house, a dance hall, a casino, a barn (featured photo, above)--that are in need of repair. (New wells have been installed and a septic system is in the offing.) The Park Service reached out to area nonprofits to partner in the property's restoration; Opera North was one of the first to respond. Both the Park Service and Opera North see their own missions as compatible with one another, as well as in sync with the farm's history, where the arts and social gatherings once flourished. There is hope that they will flourish again, and that Blow-Me-Down will become "a park for the arts." Kendall says input from the public about future use of the site is welcome.
A string quartet in Saturday's VIP lounge.
The afternoon began with bluegrass from Pooh Sprague and the Four Hoarse Men and segued into performances by the opera company's Resident Artists. They employed those trained operatic voices to sing classic selections from American musicals such as Oh What a Beautiful Morning and You'll Never Walk Alone. The concert concluded with excerpts from this season's operas; a trio sang a particularly moving piece from Madama Butterfly.
Resident Artist baritone Bradley Christiansen bemoans the state of his character's love life in a song from Kiss Me Kate; Evans Haile on piano
It wasn't all music; there were funds to be raised. Evans Haile showed himself to be not just an administrator and a highly talented pianist. He is also a funny and formidable auctioneer. Audience members were invited to contribute to the costuming of the Resident Artists, "lest they be forced to go naked on stage." There were opportunities to bid on walk-on roles in La belle Hélène and Kiss Me Kate. Cartoonist Harry Bliss's talents were auctioned off after he agreed to produce a cartoon of the highest bidder's pet, to appear in the New Yorker or a major American newspaper. Finally, a New York Broadway weekend with Haile as guide and dinner companion brought in the record bid.
A traffic jam as would-be celebrants, including me, made their way to the Farm's parking areas.
Opening night steals ever closer. The first performance of the season will be Kiss Me Kate, opening on July 29. La belle Hélène begins on August 1, Madama Butterfly on August 4. For further information and ticket purchases, see Opera North's website.
(Photos by Susan B. Apel)
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Susan B. Apel, writer, ArtfulEdge