It’s not every week that a new opera company is announced in Boston, but it’s not so rare either. Soon after Odyssey Opera announced a new company “dedicated to presenting adventurous repertoire,” another newcomer appeared, Opera Brittenica, but more about the latter in a later article. The news for Monday is that tickets are going on sale [here] for Odyssey’s inaugural production, a concert performance of Wagner’s Rienzi at Jordan Hall on September 15th.
The launch comes just 18 months after Opera Boston disbanded. Gil Rose, the former Artistic Director of Opera Boston and current Artistic Director of the Boston Modern Orchestra Project (BMOP), staged a concert performance of Michael Tippett’s The Midsummer Marriage last fall which was originally slated to be performed by Opera Boston. The audience’s enthusiastic response convinced Rose’s that a new opera company could fill the city’s gap for innovative opera.”
A discussion with artistic director Gil Rose follows.
Lee Eiseman: Boston’s record with opera companies has been challenging. We had a real opera house and a full season repertory company only for a few years at the beginning of the 20th century. Despite the attempts of donors such as Eben Jordan and genius’s such as Sarah Caldwell and Boris Goldowski, nothing operatic seems to last here other than the MET HD broadcasts. Yet you have set yourself up as artistic director and general director of a new Odyssey Opera company. Are you crazy?
Gil Rose: Some people would say maybe I’m a bit crazy. The number of times people have asked me about this very checkered history of opera in Boston I can’t even count. And it’s always with the premise that nothing’s sustainable. And it’s always with the theory that the blame is with Boston’s puritanical background or the economic climate, competition, the strength and standing of the BSO in the community. That also implies that the goal of any new arts organization should be sustainability- eternity- living always and forever. Even the examples you gave provided some amazing artistic experiences- from Sarah Caldwell through the various companies that have come and gone- a lot of great stuff has happened in Boston in the operatic field- things that couldn’t have happened in other places where opera is supposedly more stable- like San Francisco or Washington. So, not to turn the question back on you, but my goal is not to build an institution that will be here 300 years from now—maybe it could be—maybe it can’t.
My goal is rather to start an institution that seeks to present repertoire in the adventurous eclectic manner. If it can last 10 years, great—if it can last 10 performances, great. Nothing ventured, nothing gained. But what I don’t want to do is build an organization with the sole goal of lasting at the expense of not doing what I think to be interesting.
So this is being driven by your vision of giving performances of opera’s that are undeservedly at the fringes of the rep.
Do you have a committed board?
We’re at a nascent stage, like all start-ups. We have a tiny board and a tiny staff. But we do have contributors and we’re going to put something on the stage and see what that energy generates. What didn’t feel viable was to build up a 15-person board and a 6 person staff to create and opera company that hasn’t yet produced a single note. So we’re going to go forward and produce a big, adventurous idea, and I hope it’s a success, and I hope two days after that we start talking about what comes next.
Does that mean that your second production has not been bruited?
I have ideas for our spring production. The model that I hope will take shape is that in the fall every season we mount a concert version of something large like this year’s Rienzi that is rare and wouldn’t otherwise be taken on. Then in the spring, when everyone else has finished their seasons, we would try to stage three chamber operas in an accessible environment maybe running from the second week in May to the second week in June. These would be completely staged, but in a boutiquey style.
In Boston we have to make do with the musical rather than visual satisfaction from grand opera, since no one is producing Met Opera level shows here. We have to do without eye candy.
I agree with you. When you mentioned the Met Broadcast earlier, you set a high bar. I think the staging should be subordinate to the music, not the other way around. Those HD broadcasts, despite being successful at getting very large audiences, may have created a false impression and false expectations for new opera-goers, as to what they should be getting scenically in any place other than the Metropolitan Opera.
I can understand that as a new intendant, you are competing with all these images of really grand opera on BluRays and at the HD broadcasts, which will be impossible for you to equal. So what do you plan in Boston is to achieve a musical level that’s up to those international standards, but make do, visually.
So what I’ve done is to propose to start with a concert opera where there is basically nothing visual is happening. When we do work ourselves up to staged opera in the spring it will be of modest scale in a modest house. We will be trying to make the most of an intimate experience.
Some of the productions that the conservatories have done have been completely satisfying. The NEC Opera, the Boston University Opera, The BOCO Opera in the BU Theater, The Paramount and the BOCO Theater have had some real successes on limited budgets but with serviceable stagings. Are you proposing to use some of those houses?
That’s another problem. Talk about the problematic history of opera in Boston had been tied into the venues. Other than the Opera House [The former Keith Memorial Theater, not the Huntington Avenue Opera House which Northeastern tore down in the 1950s] which has the stage, pit and seating capacity, there is nothing that could even be disguised as an opera house, including the Shubert.
The Shubert sounds terrible—how about the Majestic?
The Majestic sound good but does not have a functional pit. So there are other stages that could work for smaller opera, like the BU Theater or the new theater at Boston Conservatory.
And the Paramount worked wonderfully for NEC’s La Gazetta last spring…
But the Paramount’s pit is dysfunctional. Every time they renovate a theater in this town, they mess up the pit, including the Opera House, which then had to get a second renovation to enlarge the pit. And since then it has had exactly no opera in it. If you find out what it costs then you understand why. It was really renovated to play “The Lion King,” and the planned 2-year run only lasted 6 months. Opera Boston thought about presenting opera in the Opera House, but we did not manage to achieve growth curve that would have been required.
And what about the Colonial? It has a small pit, but the acoustics work for unamplified voice and maybe you could use if for some of your chamber opera productions. I remember a successful run of Mozart/DaPonte operas there with Craig Smith and Peter Sellars.
It’s worth considering, and it is has been dark. But I haven’t begun to plan for our staged shows in the spring. Mounting Rienzi is a full time job right now.
Will we be seeing and hearing many of the players and singers familiar to us from BMOP and Opera Boston? Is this really just BMOP doing concert opera or something different structurally?
There will be some familiar players, since we pull from the best free-lancers in town, but BMOP has an 18-year history, and many of the players have been with us from the beginning. BMOP is a coalesced group, whereas the Odessey Orchestra will be a completely different configuration.
I gather you’re not ready to tall us much about what you’re thinking about for the spring.
Odessey Opera is very much of experiment and I might fall flat on my face, so I don’t want to over-promise about what may or may not happen. Talk to me again a couple of days after Rienzi on September 15th. When I have my wits about me we’ll take a look at what we can do in the spring. I’m hopeful that our taking on this big monster, Rienzi, will make a statement. People come out to see things that might crash and burn.
Why are you inaugurating your company with and opera that has a legend, but has never been played in Boston? It must be that you intend to send a message about the piece and about Odessey’s ability to execute concert opera at the highest standards. Closing statement?
I do hope to send a message. One that is long and loud that there is a new opera company on the scene and that we plan to take audiences to places they have never been. I hope they come aboard.
Concert performance of “Rienzi” by Richard Wagner.
September 15th at 3:00PM. (Acts 1 & 2 at 3:00PM. Dinner break at 5:30pm. Acts 3-5 at 7:30pm
30 Gainsborough Street, Jordan Hall, Boston, MA, T: Symphony
$50 – $200. To purchase, contact Jordan Hall Box Office at (617) 585-1260. Tickets go on sale August 5th.
Rienzi – Kristian Benedikt (North American Premiere)
Irene – Elisabete Matos
Adriano – Margaret Jane Wray
Kardinal Orvieto – Kristopher Irmiter
Steffano Colonna – Stephen Salters
Baroncelli – Ethan Bremner
Messenger of Peace – Kristen Watson
Herald – Frank Kelley
Music Performed By:
Orchestra and Chorus of Odyssey Opera