Purple Cows in Strange Places
Wednesday, July 13, 2016 ArtfulEdge : Susan B. Apel
I outed myself. Right there in a class about opera no less, I raised my hand when Evans Haile, General Director of Opera North, asked if there was anyone who didn't like opera. I said yes. Sometimes. He assured me it was okay. He sees himself in the role of missionary to those like me, one of opera's semi-distant acquaintances. I, by extension, hope not necessarily to convert you but at least to pique your interest in an art form that many think too highbrow and inaccessible. "It ain't necessarily so," wrote George Gershwin, who famously composed many things--including the American opera Porgy and Bess.
Opera North's 35th season is upon us, as it rehearses its three mainstage shows for Summerfest 2016: Puccini's Tosca, Andrew Lloyd Webber's Evita, and Donizetti's Daughter of the Regiment. All of them will take place in late July to mid-August at the Lebanon Opera House. They are full-fledged productions with world-class directors and designers, including Tony Award winner (The Color Purple) David L. Arsenault, whose work closer to home is familiar to Northern Stage audiences. There will be VIP tents in Colburn Park, the better to mingle. The performers? 17 resident artists chosen by Artistic Director Louis Burkot, after auditioning close to 800 singers. Yes, 800. Plus 8 principal artists, 8 dancers, 24 adult and 11 children's chorus members, 26 musicians, a creative team of 7, and plenty of production people. More commentary to come after the opening nights of the major productions.
For now I am interested in this missionary zeal to take the sting out of the concept of "opera." One way to do that is to move opera away from the opera house and into unexpected places in people's communities. Opera North has an extensive outreach program that does just that. It sponsored, and manned a booth at, the 2016 Quechee Balloon Festival. This year's Concert Series began in a Lebanon church with an Artists' Showcase to introduce the season's resident artists. Smaller evening performances have been scheduled in landmark venues across the Upper Valley. Despite last weekend's rain, people packed the veranda at The Fells for a night of music and readings of its former residents' love letters. Concert season is not over. Remaining events include:
--July 16: A Celebration in Song at the Marsh-Billings-Rockefeller Mansion in Woodstock VT. American music like Copland and Gershwin. Picnics encouraged. Free.
--July 21: Jazz Night at the Enfield Shaker Museum in Enfield NH. The Great American Songbook. Dinner. Tours. A celebration of jazz and musician Fred Haas's birthday.
--August 8: An Evening with Peter Fox Smith and Friends at the Woodstock Historical Society in Woodstock VT. VPR listeners know Smith's show, Saturday Afternoon at the Opera.
Marsh-Billings-Rockefeller National Historical Park, next venue for the concert series
Kids and opera? Opera North has it covered. In 2015, and other past years, bus loads of Upper Valley children attended a production of Amahl and the Night Visitors at the Opera House, free of charge with scholarships available for transportation. In addition, 2016 features the English-language, one act opera The Telephone, with two Opera North singers and a pianist on the road performing at 9 schools from Rutland VT to Newport NH. An estimated 3,000 children see something of Opera North each year.
And the class in which I dared to raise my hand? It's a joint venture with OSHER at Dartmouth, designed to give a behind-the-scenes peek at how Opera North puts together its season. All 25 seats have long been filled with opera enthusiasts and the opera-curious, like me. The first class included Haile's dynamic 30 minute lecture on a thousand years of opera history and a truly captivating performance by Lindsay Ohse and Andrew Surrena from Daughter of the Regiment. Their voices bounced off the walls of the classroom and hallways of the Black Senior Center in Hanover.
Are you less intimidated yet? Could it be the word "opera?" Haile joked that the term may be off-putting and suggested that "maybe we should call what we do 'purple cows.'" I'm feeling better by the minute. See you at the opera? I look forward to it.
Raise your hand if you think you don't like opera. Grab your mate, friend or sister. Buy tickets. Give it a try.
For general information, performance times, and ticket purchases, go directly to Opera North's website.