I recently had the great pleasure to attend Opera America's New Works Showcase at Trinity Wall Street in NYC. For those who aren't familiar with Opera America, it is a service organization for opera companies and one of its primary missions is to promote new opera while supporting the companies trying to bring new work to the stage. Over the past 20 years or so, there has been more new opera written than in the previous 100 years. We are in the midst of a renaissance and to be able to be a part of it is the most exciting thing about The Vermont Opera Project. Opera America has posted the entire concert on YouTube and I tried to break it down per piece so it was a bit easier to navigate. Enjoy!
Beowulf by Hannah Lash
Beowulf starts at 6:30. It is beautiful and deeply moving. The world premiere will be with Guerilla Opera in Boston in May 2016. Click here for dates and times.
The Invention of Morel by Stewart Copeland and Jonathan Moore
Starts at 39:58. This piece is so fun and so infectious. It will make its premiere at Chicago Opera Theater in 2017.
A thousand splendid suns by Sheila silver and stephen kitsakos
Starts at 1:16. I am lucky enough to represent Leslie Swackhamer, who is the director working closely with Sheila Silver and Stephen Kitsakos to create this piece. I absolutely love this piece and would love to bring it to Vermont. You can learn more here.
Dream of the Red Chamber by Bright Sheng and David henry Hwang
This was a beautiful way to end the evening. This opera was commissioned by the San Francisco Opera and will debut next September. Any one up for a road trip?
"At any time between 1750 and 1930 if you had asked educated people to describe the aim of poetry, art, or music, they would have replied: beauty." - Roger Scruton, Why Beauty Matters
There is a great article in the New York Times by David Brooks, which validates my thinking of the importance of arts and beauty in our times. In it he says: "This is the view that beauty is a big, transformational thing, the proper goal of art and maybe civilization itself. This humanistic worldview holds that beauty conquers the deadening aspects of routine; it educates the emotions and connects us to the eternal."
As an undergrad studying music history, my friends and I embraced "causa pulchritudinis" - an early music term that describes when a not is altered by adding an accidental simply "for the sake of beauty" as opposed to “causa necessitatis” or "by reason of necessity". I studied at Salem College in Winston Salem, North Carolina and to this day I cannot think of this term without hearing my friend Jenna Claire say it jokingly in her strongest southern accent. It became something humorous that we used beyond the discussion early music. Why are we up practicing until midnight in these tiny rooms? Why is this note so stupidly high and difficult? Why are we working so hard on this? Causa Pulchritudinis (or Cowsa Polk-ri-too-dinnus as we preferred to say.)
Twenty years later, I still ask myself why I am working so hard on this and in the end that is still my answer. I have accepted that creating art, particularly opera is my calling and that I am unbelievably lucky for that. Now that I am in a position to tell people why making opera important and why it is necessary, I am finding that I must strike the balance between pulchritude and necessity.
As we continue to work on building VTOP I find that I can take several roads. I can take the economic bend and tell you that a majority of the money we raise will be reinvested directly into Rutland. I can take the social route and tell you that I can tell you that opera fans often travel to see productions and it could be good press for a community that is struggling. Or I can just tell you what I know to be the truth and that is that it will be deeply beautiful and that is important unto itself.
"We feel most alive in the presence of the beautiful for it meets the needs of our soul. … Without beauty the search for truth, the desire for goodness and the love of order and unity would be sterile exploits. Beauty brings warmth, elegance and grandeur.”- John O'Donohue
As we launch into our fundraising season, I have several piles of papers on my desk: one of foundations, one of grants, and one of companies that we hope will help us realize this production. All of them ask the same question: why should we bring an opera company to this community?
This is always a difficult question for me. The answer is obvious in one way. I believe in opera. I believe in the importance of music and storytelling to remind us of our collective humanity. At the same time, when you work in the arts, you have a sense that other non-profits are more valuable than your own. That non-profits that are trying to end hunger or bring fresh water to places that don’t have it should probably get priority.
And yet, I think that is cutting us short. Art is about reflection of experience. That is what makes us feel like we are part of an overall experience. Not alone. Not isolated.
At its heart, opera is simply telling stories to music. They can be long stories and short stories. Generally when you take opera singers, who are not known for being quiet, and add an orchestra, also not entirely quiet, to a story it enhances and heightens a story in a cathartic manner. It goes beyond a simple story and to the heart of what makes us human.
For example, the first mention of Orpheus and Euridyce is in 530 BC. The story has been retold over 75 times in operatic form over a 400 year period. Why? Because we have all loved and lost to varying degrees. It is part of our collective conscience and to come together to share this story is to love again, to mourn again, and to find hope again. And we can do it together.
This is my community. I want to live here. As a working artist/administrator, I want to have work that is meaningful and that contributes to the overall good of my community. I want to live in a town where the arts thrive; where opera is part of the fabric of our community.
The goal of VTOP is to bring newer, smaller chamber works to Vermont. Why? Because there is so much new work out there; so many operas that haven’t been heard and deserve an audience. Because Vermonters are known for their adventurous spirit and artistic leanings and I know for a fact I am not the only opera lover her.
Now I just need to get all of that under 500 characters and all will be well.