New Opera Company Set to Launch in Boston - ODYSSEY OPERA Sets Sail, 9/15
This weekend, Boston will be the center of the operatic universe as a brand new opera company embarks on its maiden voyage. Odyssey Opera, led by Maestro Gil Rose, presents Wagner's "Rienzi" in a thrillingly audacious debut concert performance.
According to Rose, Odyssey strives to sate varying artistic appetites. While standard repertoire is not on the table, historical gems and neglected works by canonical composers are in addition to the production of new works in the future. Odyssey plans to present concert opera as well and staged chamber opera in a variety of venues and formats.
Broadway Classical sat down with Maestro Rose for a candid discussion about his exciting new company and their inaugural performance. Once again Maestro Rose showed his wit, wisdom and an infectious energy that will certainly suffuse every aspect of his new company.
"There was a pretty funny, truncated version of the history of opera in Boston in a recent Opera News and I realize that I've been a big part of that narrative. So people have been asking me that question a lot, 'Will opera survive?' And I thought, well maybe eternal survival shouldn't be the goal. Maybe getting something out there that's consistently interesting and worthwhile should be the goal. In Boston at least, it seems everybody remembers, like it was yesterday, the performances of Sarah Caldwell, but nobody remembers very much since. And in truth, for the last twenty years or so there have not been an awful lot of memorable productions and performances. Seeking eternal security, arts organizations have not made the bold choices they needed to make to survive artistically.
When I was working for Opera Boston, and we were trying to determine "what exactly are we doing here," we realized that one of the things we were doing was pursuing the legacy of Sarah Caldwell - but without all the money and the nonsense of how the money was being run. For me in this new company, I'd like to continue to pursue that legacy, and I see it as a carry through from Sarah to Opera Boston to Odyssey Opera.
However, I am definitely trying to construct the way it operates and stay clear of what I consider is "the subscription-model trap," which is a fixed cost structure. Basing your fixed costs on an income stream that is clearly shrinking is like designing cars that only get six miles to the gallon and thinking that it's going to be a sustainable model as fossil fuels continue to disappear from the earth. The whole system is not set up to work.
I'd like this company to a hybrid. People have always asked me 'why did you decide to run an orchestra (BMOP) dedicated to contemporary music?' Well I didn't. I decided to run an orchestra that was structured financially different than a traditional orchestra, and the contemporary music part of it came out of that. It was much more an idea of trying a different model; to try and put as many of the dollars that flow through the organization onto the stage or the recordings, and keep it out of expanding the staff to pay for itself.
In so many ways, in an effort to reach out, we have diluted our product. And we've done so to the degree that, why would anybody want to support it. We've made it overly accessible. I have used this metaphor before: Instead of being a beacon for the arts, we've become a floodlight. And I think the nature of classical music and opera and serious artistic products is that they have an inherent quality which by their nature draws people who are interest in them and you can spray them all over creation and it won't help. You can only lead a horse to water. What we did at Opera Boston, what we do at BMOP and what we plan to do at Odyssey Opera is create a beacon, showing what we stand for and hope that people will seek us out and come. I don't want to be in the business of convincing people that opera is good. That's not my job, that's not my goal. Opera is good. Me trying to convince people doesn't change that. But we can try to make interesting choices. I think presenting Rienzi is exciting and interesting - I don't know if anyone else agrees yet! I'll tell you that after the performance.
That's sort of the model that Odyssey Opera will follow, but tied in with eclectic repertory choices, which is what drives me personally. In fact, I'm probably the only opera conductor I know who has never conducted Carmen or Boheme! I'd be very happy to conduct them if somebody offered them, but right now if I plan to be the engine of change, focusing on developing new things, then I don't need to make things that other people have already made. I need to show and highlight things that are otherwise being forgotten or have already disappeared, or of course, totally new things.
That's really what we want to do. We don't want to say 'we're gonna be this, we're gonna be that, we're gonna be in this theater, we're gonna be in that theater. We are doing Rienzi and then we're going to decide what we'd like to do next. We don't want to be an organization with its feet stuck in cement. We want to be able to move and adapt, to be able to change with the times while being connected to a tradition, a value system of presenting quality opera.
Because of the 200th Anniversary this year, we got lucky because there were several concertized versions at festivals across Europe, so there were quite a few singers for us to take a look at who already knew the roles. That was especially important because it would have been really hard to ask someone to learn a five-hour role and put their neck on the line for only one performance.
It's really an Italian Opera in the French Opera style and it's really an unforgivable thing that Wagner did to the tenor! It's a punishing role. We surveyed the existing productions and I heard about this guy performing it in Barcelona. I looked him up and actually saw a youtube video of him singing Otello and I just said "Wow! Oh, my God! That's just the kind of fearless singer I want to sing Rienzi." Especially because Wagner wrote the absolute hardest music for him in the fifth act, after he's been on his feet for over five hours. It's insanely cruel. But he gets to sing this extremely beautiful aria, well Wagner was never known for his compassion! Kristian Benedikt, our Rienzi, has a rich, powerful voice and a certain fearlessness to his singing. We've assembled what we consider to be a really world-class cast (Elizabete Matos and Margaret Jane Wray round out the leads).
We wanted a name that represented what we stand for. So the name came from where all great names come from, the thesaurus! We wanted to project the idea of a journey and I've always like questions more than answers, so the future is wide open. But I do know we're getting on the boat in a few days - and a really big one at that. So we'll see where it lands and what islands we visit along the way - that sounds like I planned that metaphor beforehand but I really didn't! I hope it doesn't sound too corny!"
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
Maestro Rose's passion is evident in everything he says and does. A pioneer in the industry for years, his zealousness for the art, both as an innovator and a traditionalist continues to provide, as he likes to say, a 'beacon on the art.' We the audience are the luckier for it. Broadway Classical thanks him for sitting down with us and sharing his plans. We wish him tremendous success with Rienzi and all future efforts. Toi, toi, toi!
ODYSSEY OPERA PRESENTS
SUNDAY, SEPT 15th
(Acts 1& 2) 3-5:30pm / Dinner break / (Acts 3-5) 7:30-10pm
30 Gainsborough Street, Boston, MA
TICKETS: $50 - $200. To purchase, contact Jordan Hall Box Office at (617) 585-1260 or visit the company website: www.odysseyopera.org