An Overabundance of Boutique Opera

Is the Model for a Successful Arts Organization Due for a Change?

Monday, January 16, 2012 - 09:47 PM

Earlier this month, Zachary Woolfe went on a hunt for the New York Times in search of New York’s "next 'other' opera company," noting that, under Peter Gelb’s reign, the Metropolitan Opera has picked up New York City Opera’s slack with regards to varied repertory, new works, fresh productions, affordable tickets and the fostering of young artists.

The beauty of New York is that there is no shortage of opera. Even the dry summer months offer productions at Lincoln Center, in the boroughs and an easy, chartered bus ride away. As New York City Opera hopefully continues towards reopening next month at the Brooklyn Academy of Music, other companies are operating under similar proposed structures with freelance musicians and itinerant, yet increasingly less-infrequent, performances. In fact, the Met is really the grand anomaly here with a full-time chorus and orchestra. Sure it’s grand, but is it the only game in town?

What adds more credence to the idea that the 20th-century model of opera administration may be flagging is the revelation this weekend that a clash between founding board member Randolph Fuller and general director Lesley Koenig was in no small part responsible for the crumbling of Opera Boston. The Boston Globe’s Geoff Edgers reports, “The only hope was a complete overhaul of the company’s board structure and its financing.” The company’s development director Jim Marko cited the two-pronged reason for the company’s closure as “[a] board that didn’t understand governance and Randolph’s antipathy toward Lesley. It’s a dangerous situation when your three major donors are also in charge.’’

Smaller companies in the country rely just as much on donors as larger companies, and it’s at times a necessary evil that fills in for the state funding and support that benefit European opera companies. But the smaller nature of these players seems to lend itself to a greater opportunity for more risks to be taken and higher audience satisfaction. This month features a particular explosion of works pulled from the realms of the new and neglected. See below for a full, non-Met breakdown and tell us: Will the future of classical music favor smaller companies? Is the current managerial model due for a change? Leave your thoughts in the comments below.

Miranda (HERE Arts Center, through Jan. 21)
Composer Kamala Sankaram’s concept places a sextet of instrumentalists as the cast and characters of Miranda Wright’s final day played out in a reality TV environment. (Sankaram also wrote the libretto with Rob Reese and plays the title character and accordion.) It’s the sort of work that typifies the indie classical movement, and to add credence to that, soprano Mellissa Hughes, composers David T. Little and Matt Marks and producer Beth Morrison host a post-show discussion on Jan. 17 titled “When Pink Floyd meets Puccini.”  

Old Stories New (Borden Auditorium at Manhattan School of Music, Jan. 18)
The music schools in New York have no shortage of professional values, from the Met’s partnership with Juilliard to Manhattan School of Music presenting Corigliano’s The Ghosts of Versailles when a proposed revival was cut by the Met due to budgeting woes. A pair of Israeli up-and-comers present works based on Kafka (Ronnie Reshef’s Ambiguous Kafka) and European folklore (Izzy Gliksberg’s Ondine), both conducted by Sam Nester and directed by Brendan Moffitt.

The Poisoned Kiss (Bronx Opera at Hunter College’s Kaye Playhouse, through Jan. 22)
The intrepid Bronx Opera gives the New York professional premiere of this Ralph Vaughan Williams opera, which has its flaws but is still compelling enough to see at least once—a verdict also handed down to works like Bernstein’s A Quiet Place, performed by NYCO in 2010. Formed just a year after New York City Opera moved to Lincoln Center, the Bronx Opera has been a consistent source of classics and unknowns and a welcome outlet for the slew of singers populating the five boroughs.

“Moonlight” (One World Symphony at the Holy Apostles Church, Jan. 22 and Jan. 23)
I’ve discussed the scrappy and sophisticated One World Symphony previously on this blog, but it’s inventive programs such as the one scheduled for the Lunar New Year that reassert this company’s allure. Sung Jin Hong presents here works tied to the night and heavens by Britten, Ives, Dvorak, Spohr, Schubert and Schumann with a dreamy programmatic progression.

Opera Moderne (Galapagos Art Space, Jan. 25)
We may be itching to get past the term “female composer,” but Opera Moderne and the Hot Box Burlesque Revue put the term to good use with a double feature (buy tickets for one or both performances) in benefit of Bottomless Closet, a foundation that helps disadvantaged New York City women become self-sufficient. Before the ladies of the Hot Box flaunt their talents, Opera Moderne presents vocal works by Clara Schumann, Amy Beach and Rebecca Clarke.

Stabat Mater Fabulosa (Morningside Opera at Dixon Place, Jan. 26)
Continuing the trend of burlesque, the Morningside Opera reimagines Pergolesi’s sacred Stabat Mater with a touch of secular scandale in the name of exploring the “fetishization of female suffering and the sensuality of worship” behind the sublime score and jarring text. Soprano Brett Umlauf and alto Amber Youell are accompanied by Kelly Savage on the keyboard with choreography by Laura Careless, costumes by Annie Holt and projections by Jessica Ng.

The Consul (Dicapo Opera Theatre, Jan. 26–Feb. 5)
The Dicapo Opera hasn’t been immune to the economic woes—it’s had to cancel performances like Tobias Picker’s Fantastic Mr. Fox—but continues to present a mix of favorites and left-fielders. Menotti’s bleak work sits somewhere in the middle but is always a joy to hear. Pacien Mazzagatti conducts a cast that features Amanda Winfield as Magda (though, with a slew of TBAs on the company’s website as of press time, who will take on equally vital roles such as the Mother and Nika is still anyone’s guess).

Le Roi et le Fermier (Opera Lafayette at Jazz at Lincoln Center, Jan. 26)
Opera Lafayette is dependable for French baroque gems imported from the company’s DC digs. It stops over with Monsigny’s one-time vehicle for Marie Antoinette before returning the work to its roots at Versailles next month, featuring bright young singers like Dominique Labelle giving vital voice to forgotten early classics. The company’s setting at Jazz at Lincoln Center creates an intimate space that suits Baroque far better than the budget-heavy but nevertheless cavernous Met.

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