Different art forms coexist at Opera North

A spotlight finds Angel Raii Gomez, as Pluto, during a technical rehearsal of Opera North's Orpheus in the Underworld with Elias Aguirre, as Orpheus, left, and Abby Brodnick, as Eurydice, right, at Blow Me Down Farm in Cornish, N.H., on Monday, July 8, 2024. The production runs from July 11, 12 and 14 to be followed by Rigoletto on July 21, 24, and 27 and Into the Woods on August 1, 2, 3, and 4. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

A spotlight finds Angel Raii Gomez, as Pluto, during a technical rehearsal of Opera North's Orpheus in the Underworld with Elias Aguirre, as Orpheus, left, and Abby Brodnick, as Eurydice, right, at Blow Me Down Farm in Cornish, N.H., on Monday, July 8, 2024. The production runs from July 11, 12 and 14 to be followed by Rigoletto on July 21, 24, and 27 and Into the Woods on August 1, 2, 3, and 4. (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 photographs — James M. Patterson

Costume designer Rebecca Ming, middle, works with master wardrobe, Olivia Vacchia, back left, and assistant costume designer Ana Ye, back right, on costumes for the Opera North production of Orpheus in the Underworld on Monday, July 8, 2024. They worked in the house on the former Cornish Colony property of its founder Charles Beaman, which Opera North is in the process of renovating. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

Costume designer Rebecca Ming, middle, works with master wardrobe, Olivia Vacchia, back left, and assistant costume designer Ana Ye, back right, on costumes for the Opera North production of Orpheus in the Underworld on Monday, July 8, 2024. They worked in the house on the former Cornish Colony property of its founder Charles Beaman, which Opera North is in the process of renovating. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

Evans Haile, general director of Opera North, takes in the view of the Connecticut River and Mount Ascutney from Blow Me Down Farm in Cornish, N.H., on Monday, July 8, 2024. Haile is celebrating his tenth year with the company. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

Evans Haile, general director of Opera North, takes in the view of the Connecticut River and Mount Ascutney from Blow Me Down Farm in Cornish, N.H., on Monday, July 8, 2024. Haile is celebrating his tenth year with the company. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

The cast of Opera North's production of Orpheus in the Underworld recognizes Artistic Director Louis Burkot while rehearsing curtain calls at Blow Me Down Farm in Cornish, N.H., on Monday, July 8, 2024. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

The cast of Opera North's production of Orpheus in the Underworld recognizes Artistic Director Louis Burkot while rehearsing curtain calls at Blow Me Down Farm in Cornish, N.H., on Monday, July 8, 2024. (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 photographs — James M. Patterson

By MARION UMPLEBY

For the Valley News

Published: 07-10-2024 3:28 PM

Modified: 07-11-2024 5:35 PM


As art forms go, opera, with its opulent venues and complicated storylines, can often risk intimidating and alienating all but its most avid fans.

Since Evans Haile became the general director of Opera North 10 years ago, the company has been expanding what an opera company can look like by pairing classics of the genre alongside circus arts and musical theater.

“We want people to know that they don’t have to be opera super-fans to come and enjoy what we do,” said Haile in a recent interview.

Though Opera North is taking a break from acrobatics this season, the company’s upcoming Summerfest, which will transpire under the large circus-style tent at Blow-Me-Down-Farm in Cornish, is still brimming with a variety of entertainment.

On Thursday, Jacques Offenbach’s lively comic operetta “Orpheus in the Underworld” will open the season in a flurry of song and dance. The mischievous reinterpretation of the classical myth of “Orpheus and Eurydice” draws inspiration from the theatrics of the Moulin Rouge. Kurt Domoney, who choreographed Opera North’s “Carousel” last year, will return to help bring the iconic Can-Can sequence to life.

The humor and high jinks of “Orpheus” are soon supplanted by Giuseppe Verdi’s “Rigoletto,” marking the season’s emotional climax and a return to high opera. The Italian tragedy, based on Victor Hugo’s 1832 play “Le roi s’amuse,” has long been a crown jewel in the programming of opera companies worldwide.

According to Opera North Artistic Director Louis Burkot, the show’s vocal acrobatics require “incredible physical stamina” to pull off. With this in mind, in addition to the core cast of resident artists, seasoned baritone Daniel Sutin will play the title role. Sutin’s other recent performances include Baron Scarpia in Northern Lights Music Festival’s production of “Tosca” and Giorgio Germont in “La Traviata” at Arizona Opera.

Finally, Summerfest will close with Stephen Sondheim’s “Into the Woods,” a humorous and at times tender musical that follows some of literature’s most beloved fairy tale characters as they grapple with their intertwining fates.

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Of Opera North’s three spectacles this summer, “Into the Woods” is particularly geared toward families, with a special show on Aug. 3 where children are encouraged to dress up as their favorite fairy tale character.

“It really ties the perfect knot on an incredible summer,” noted resident artist Sergio Manzo, of Phoenix, Arizona. Manzo will play the part of Cinderella’s Prince in the upcoming production.

Broadway veteran Klea Blackhurst, best known for her award-winning performance in “Everything the Traffic Will Allow,” will make a special appearance as the Witch, as will Tony Award nominee Maureen Brennan who will play Jack’s Mother.

Since 2019, Opera North has assembled a core group of resident artists who perform in all of the Summerfest shows. Singing in all three productions requires incredible technical and artistic range on the part of performers, who have been drawn from a pool of almost 1,000 applicants, Burkot said.

Because the resident artists perform in all three shows, they’re afforded the opportunity to venture into new musical genres ordinarily off limits at other companies.

“It gives us a chance to experiment a little bit with our voice and the color we bring out to further enhance the storytelling,” said Manzo.

Not only that, but the stage, which is flanked by audience seating on three sides — an unusual design in opera — presents new learning opportunities for singers.

“Theater in the round really challenges singers to be confident with their character,” Manzo said. “I think that will reinforce the way we perform on a traditional stage.”

Blending different kinds of musical theater, opera and circus arts has been a hallmark of Haile’s decade-long tenure as Opera North’s general director. Recent performances include 2021’s “Havana Nights,” a combination of circus arts and Latin rhythms, and 2022’s “Carnevale,” which married operatic song and circus choreography.

Spotlighting such a diverse array of musical theater is part of Opera North’s larger goal to create a national park for the arts at Blow-Me-Down Farm in collaboration with the National Park Service.

“We want the park to be a place not only for Opera North’s productions, but for visual arts, for dance, for non-classical performances,” Haile said.

For instance, on Aug. 11, the company will host an installment of Jazz On a Sunday Afternoon, a concert series based at Eastman, the planned community farther east in Sullivan County. The music at that show will pay homage to the jazz heavyweights of the 1930s and ’40s.

Since partnering with the National Park Service in 2017, Opera North has also been making ongoing renovations to the performance space at Blow-Me-Down Farm. This summer, the company has added air-cooling technology to the performance tent, as well as air-conditioning to the bathrooms, which they hope to convert to brick-and-mortar facilities in future years.

“We try to improve the facility and the experience for the patrons so hopefully more and more people from outside the region will make it a destination,” Burkot said.

At Blow-Me-Down Farm, with its views of Mt. Ascutney and the Connecticut River, Haile sees an oasis for the arts.

“We want people to come and park their car and have a great experience as soon as they get here,” says Haile.

One of Opera North’s most substantial projects is the renovation of the historic Beaman Casino house, which they hope to convert into a space for offices and dressing rooms, as well as a site for creative retreats for other arts organizations and companies. At the moment Opera North is working on repainting the outside, with plans to renovate the interior to come.

Ultimately, Haile hopes that in creating a space where different artforms can coexist with each other and with the natural landscape, patrons from all walks of life can do the same.

“We want everyone to be welcome here,” he said. “Theater, music, dance, the visual arts, this is how we find commonality and if we’re going to survive as a civilization, the arts play a very important role in bringing people together.”

Opera North’s Summerfest begins Thursday. For tickets and more information, go to operanorth.org.

Marion Umpleby is a freelance writer. She lives in Tunbridge.