11 May 2009

Opera Lives!

Seattle’s Figaro: A very palpable hit.
(Featuring Joyce Castle, left, as Marcellina)

The economic crisis has hit many arts organizations a fatal blow in recent months, and the swine flu panic threatened to shut down much of the country in the past couple of weeks. If one is to heed the Vice-President’s advice to avoid planes and subways, is one really going to risk a trip to Carmen? The answer, apparently, is “yes.”

The news came as a relief this weekend that some companies have been enjoying remarkable success despite the troubled times. Both Seattle Opera’s production of The Marriage of Figaro (continuing through May 15) and Fort Worth Opera’s 2009 festival season have sold like hotcakes — including several performances entirely sold-out, and a closing performance of Jake Heggie’s Dead Man Walking with only a few seats to spare. And let’s underscore: though the Dead Man was walking, the audience did not. They stuck around — spellbound — to the very end. Underscore: this is a contemporary opera, about the death penalty, playing in Texas.

The most obvious conclusion to draw — and lesson to learn — seems to be that, when times are tough, people want music more, not less, especially when it’s presented in a compelling way (as Seattle and Fort Worth always like to do). If companies can just hang in there, if support (both private and public) can be sustained, opera won’t merely survive, it will flourish.

Daniel Okulitch in Fort Worth Opera’s Dead Man Walking:
Not for the faint of heart

Though I haven’t been able to fly to Seattle for the Figaro (though it boasts the triumphant return of Joyce Castle to the role of Marcellina), I did manage to swoop down on Fort Worth for most of the festival season. I’m profoundly sorry to have missed Beth Clayton, an artist I admire, as Carmen, but I’m thrilled to have heard Isabel Leonard in Rossini’s Cenerentola. Robynne Redmon, Daniel Okulitch, and Sheryl Woods led a vast ensemble in Dead Man, under FWO Music Director Joe Illick’s baton: very seldom did one have the impression that these people were performing: they were living.

I was struck, at weekend’s close, by how much fun I have at Fort Worth Opera. That’s to the credit of the company’s director, Darren Keith Woods. He presents varied repertoire with gifted artists, and with such commitment that it’s impossible, I suspect, to leave one of his productions unmoved. You can hardly wait to see what he’ll try next.

NOTE: My profile of Darren Woods will appear in the July issue of OPERA NEWS.

No comments: