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VOL. 127 | NO. 178 | Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Opera Memphis Approaches Fall Season

By Sarah Baker

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Opera Memphis will soon “turn the opera house inside out” as it kicks off its 2012-2013 season.

Sarah Shafer makes her Memphis debut in “Elixir of Love.”

(Photo Courtesy of sarahshafersoprano.com)

Saturday, Sept. 15, marks the first day of a brand new, month-long event called 30 Days of Opera. Every day until mid-October, Opera Memphis will be presenting free performances throughout the city.

Opera Memphis general director Ned Canty said the inspiration behind the concept is an initiative called National Opera Week. That’s when Opera America asks all of its member companies during one particular week in the fall to hold at least one free event sometime during that week.

“Of course, why do seven days when you could do 30 days?” Canty said. “I mean, that’s the Memphis way, right? If seven days is good, 30 days has got to be better.”

A good portion of Opera Memphis’ energy and effort will be to bring opera to where people eat, shop and work – venues like Memphis Farmers Market, South Main Art Trolley Tour, Rhodes College, Memphis Botanic Garden, Shelby Farms and Court Square.

“I think there is spontaneity to that kind of thing,” Canty said. “We’ve done a few things like this with the Downtown Memphis Commission with Downtown Alive and people’s response is always so positive and so fantastic. It’s like they’re getting this little free event that nobody was expecting.”

There’s also Family Day at the Opera, happening Sept. 30 at Opera Memphis, 6745 Wolf River Parkway, during which two children’s opera shows will be performed.

“It’s just a great, inexpensive way for any family that wants to get their kids exposed to opera,” Canty said.

Canty was recruited to Memphis in December 2010 to lead Opera Memphis, now in its 56th year as a local nonprofit. Now in his second season, Canty is reinforcing his mantra that a great city deserves a great opera company.

“We think of this hopefully as our gift to the city,” Canty said. “The city supported us for more than half a century, and we want to make sure that we’re always thinking about new ways to give back to the city.”

The season’s first regular season production will be Giacomo Puccini’s classic “La Boheme” at Germantown Performing Arts Centre, Nov. 9 and Nov. 11.

“If you see one opera in your lifetime, make it this one,” Canty said.

Opera Memphis’ second production, also at Germantown Performing Arts Centre, is Gaetano Donizetti’s “Elixir of Love,” Feb. 2 and Feb. 5. Canty himself will direct this Old West-themed production.

The season peaks with the inaugural Midtown Opera Festival at Playhouse on the Square April 4-7. The productions – all regional premieres – will include “micro-operas” performed in unexpected places, “pay-what-you-can family operas” and meet the artist events.

Comparing it to renowned opera company the Metropolitan Opera, Canty calls Playhouse on the Square the best venue in the city for acoustics.

“The people who handle the acoustics at Playhouse did the acoustics for the Seattle Opera House,” Canty said. “So they know what they’re doing, A, and B, it’s one of the quietest spaces in the city for performance. The way that the sounds blend, the way that the acoustics work is going to be the purest sound that you can get anywhere in the city.”

Venues like Playhouse and Germantown Performing Arts Centre also provide a sense of intimacy, which is a change of pace from Opera Memphis’ long history at The Orpheum Theatre Memphis. Canty compares the experience to that of movie-theater goers.

“Movies have a lot of different genres – some of them you want to see on the IMAX screen, and some of them you want to see in a more intimate setting: the art house films, romantic comedies, epics and action movies,” Canty said. “I think that people don’t realize the extent to which opera is the same way. A lot of the operas that are now done at larger houses, like a lot of Mozart’s operas, were written to be performed in 600- to 800-seat theaters. The sound that you want works better in a smaller theater.”

The change of scenery ties into what Opera Memphis’ 2012-2013 eclectic season is all about: exposing and inviting the city to take place in opera, an art form that is often misunderstood.

“The phrase I use is to make a trail of breadcrumbs to the opera house,” Canty said. “When music is speaking to your heart and your soul, it doesn’t matter if it’s happening on McLemore or on Beale or at Opera Memphis. People still think if you’re not wearing a top hat and a monocle, you can’t enjoy opera, and it’s just not the case.”

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