Opera preview: Classic compositions resonate in expanded Upper Valley scene

  • Director Jennifer Williams, left, works on staging a scene of “Cosi fan tutte” with Charlie Calotta, singing as Ferrando, and Greer Lyle, as Fiordiligi, as pianist Noriko Yasuda waits at left, at Our Savior Lutheran Church in Hanover, N.H., on Wednesday, July 6, 2022. The company will perform the opera at Blow-Me-Down Farm in Cornish, N.H., on July 21 and 23. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com. Valley News — James M. Patterson

  • Nicholas Skotzko follows along in the book of “Cosi fan tutte” during Opera North's rehearsal of the opera at Our Savior Lutheran Church in Hanover, N.H., on Wednesday, July 6, 2022. Skotzko sings the part of Don Alfonso. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com. James M. Patterson

  • Opera North Artistic Director Louis Burkot conducts during a rehearsal of “Cosi fan tutte” at Our Savior Lutheran Church in Hanover, N.H., on Wednesday, July 6, 2022. The company will perform the opera at Blow-Me-Down Farm in Cornish, N.H., on July 21 and 23. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com. Valley News — James M. Patterson

  • Cloe SanAntonio, left, Greer Lyle, middle, and Anna McMahon, right, sing through a scene of “Cosi fan tutte” during a break from Opera North's rehearsal at Our Savior Lutheran Church in Hanover, N.H., on Wednesday, July 6, 2022. Their roles are Dorabella, Fiordiligi, and Despina, respectively.(Valley News - James M. Patterson) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com. James M. Patterson

Valley News Staff Writer
Published: 7/20/2022 11:42:36 PM
Modified: 7/22/2022 2:13:03 PM

Two opera companies open performances this week, and both are looking at their origins.

Celebrating its 40th anniversary, Opera North opens a production of Cosi Fan Tutte, the Mozart opera that was the first full opera the company produced in 1984. Performances begin Thursday night at Blow-Me-Down Farm in Cornish.

And on Saturday in New London, a new opera company, Berlin Wagner Group, performs an introduction to Wagner’s Ring cycle. Founded in Germany in 2017, the Berlin Wagner Group is helping singers grow into Wagnerian roles while also introducing the opera great’s work to new audiences in New England, where the group’s founders are from.

The work of both opera companies are a sign that the arts continue to expand in the Upper Valley and that there appears to be room for expansion into areas that haven’t been attempted before.

“We started out as a group of singers who wanted to rehearse and present Wagner’s operas,” said Peter Furlong, who has lived in New London on and off since 1998 and currently lives primarily in Germany. He is the president and co-founder of the Berlin Wagner Group. There were many American singers living in Germany who weren’t finding the work they needed to break through into the world of Wagnerian opera, he said in a video interview.

While all opera singing requires patient and rigorous training, Wagner’s operas demand something more: a big, durable, mature voice.

“For big voices, it takes a long time to develop,” Furlong said. “The problem with the industry right now is that a lot of big voice singers aren’t given that time.”

The Berlin Wagner Group aims to help singers bridge the gap between opera training and performing Wagner, whose work is both technically demanding and, as Furlong described it, “verbose.” Three pages of a Wagner opera might contain as much text as an entire role of a Puccini opera, he said.

Putting together Wagner performances has a salutary effect on the performers, Furlong said. “When you get to sing with another big-voice singer … it takes on a completely different dimension,” he said.

It also likely will be revelatory for audiences, which seldom get to hear opera in person and even more seldom to hear unamplified voices sing Wagnerian opera, Furlong said.

Wagner’s Ring in One Evening collects essential moments from the Ring cycle, condensing four operas that cover around 15 hours of performance time into two hours of music with an explanatory narrator who points out some of the mythological absurdities in Wagner’s masterwork, which he composed from 1848 to 1874. Saturday’s performance is scheduled for 7 p.m. in Colby-Sawyer College’s Sawyer Theater. A performance of a different introduction to Wagner is slated for 7 p.m. July 30 at the St. Kieran Center for the Arts in Berlin, N.H.

In addition to Furlong, whose father lives in New London, other members of the group have ties to New Hampshire, and the group organized as a nonprofit in the state last year.

At the other end of the longevity spectrum, Opera North started life 40 years ago as Light Opera of Norwich, a company that grew out of Parish Players, the venerable Thetford Hill community theater company. If a history of the company, published on its 25th anniversary, is correct, its first productions were of Pirates of Penzance, in 1982, and Die Fledermaus, in 1983, both in Norwich’s Tracy Hall. But the company’s first production in Lebanon Opera House, Opera North’s home for many years, was Cosi Fan Tutte, in 1984.

“We were hinting at where we were going, but Cosi Fan Tutte was the first grand opera we produced, and it was a success,” Louis Burkot, who was then a new arrival to the Upper Valley and the Dartmouth College music faculty.

Opera North’s other opera production this year is La Traviata, which also reprises a big step forward for the company, Burkot said. The company’s 1994 production of Giuseppe Verdi’s 1853 opera was its first in the original language with supertitles. That performance also was notable for the performance of Faith Esham, in the lead role of Violetta, and for a favorable review in the Boston Globe, an early instance of the company’s wider ambitions. Esham was a veteran singer who wanted to sing Violetta, a role she hadn’t done before, Burkot said.

“That was the production that gave me the confidence that we could do productions on a level with other major regional opera companies,” Burkot said.

The company’s ambitions now play out at Blow-Me-Down Farm in Cornish, which Opera North is steadily working to turn into the first national park for the arts. If listening to Wagner in New London is now a possibility, Opera North’s efforts to make the Upper Valley into a summer arts destination played a role in making in happen. (Furlong also was a young artist at Opera North.)

In Cornish, Opera North performances are held under a huge tent, in which the singers, orchestra and audience are in closer proximity than they would be at Lebanon Opera House. Under the stage direction of Jennifer Williams, the production of Cosi Fan Tutte, which opens Thursday and runs through Saturday, is set in the milieu of Andy Warhol’s Factory. The production’s Pop Art sensibilities will contrast strongly with the 19th-century setting of La Traviata, Evans Haile, Opera North’s executive director, said in an interview.

Both Williams and Andreas Hager, stage director for La Traviata, were resident artists at Opera North, a program that brings young opera talent to the Upper Valley, before moving on to bigger places.

“They come through us and they build their resumes and we’re so proud of them, and then they return to us as well,” Haile said.

The company has built up over the years in a steady way, Burkot said, and plans to keep going.

“I would say it’s a surprise,” to reach a 40th birthday, Burkot said. “Arts organizations tend to come and go pretty quickly.”

Without meaning to, he used a musical pun: The company’s progress has been “measured,” he said. “Just baby steps and caution, but also adventure.”

For more information about Opera North’s productions of Cosi Fan Tutte and La Traviata, go to operanorth.org. For more information about the Berlin Wagner Group’s productions in New London and Berlin (N.H.), go to berlinwagnergroup.org.

Alex Hanson can be reached at ahanson@vnews.com or 603-727-3207.

Correction: Andreas Hager is the stage director for Opera North's production of La Traviata. His last name was misspelled in a previous version of this story.




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