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A new partnership among Boston-area arts organizations seeks to ensure there’s no confusion on this point: Yes, we have opera here.
The launch of the 40th season of Boston Lyric Opera — the longest-tenured opera producer in the city’s history — has sparked fresh discussions about the role of the art form within in the city’s cultural ecosystem. As the now-itinerant BLO continues to seek a permanent home and Boston remains a city without a purpose-built venue for opera, a group of 16 organizations has banded together under the banner Boston Opera Alliance.
Though it remains an informal group, the consortium’s public debut, of sorts, comes with the launch of a web-based calendar of opera offerings, bostonoperacalendar.org, which goes live on Tuesday.
The group has been gaining traction since this spring, when the BLO called some partners together to help plan and execute an effort known as “40 Days of Opera,” which concluded on Oct. 2 after a myriad of events around the city, from opera performances in Boston schools to a film screening at the Somerville Theatre. The new calendar is the first public effort credited to Boston Opera Alliance.
Notably, the effort — and its new online calendar — is centered on collaboration among organizations who might be thought to be pursuing the attention (and dollars) of the same, shrinking audience.
“I always think of demand for the arts as being elastic. I don’t think it’s a fixed thing. I think the more there is going on, the more people want to see stuff, and the more they’re going to see stuff,” says Julie Burros, chief of arts and culture for the city of Boston.
She says this is the exact sort of collaboration called for in the 10-year cultural plan released in June after a year-long effort known as Boston Creates. The fifth of the plan’s five, broad goals calls for mobilizing “likely and unlikely partners, collaborating across institutions and sectors.”
Greg Smucker, who along with Patricia-Maria Weinmann serves as co-artistic director of Boston Opera Collaborative, a company that focuses on intimately staged operas performed in English, says the newly mobilized collaborative is primed to continue working together to raise the profile of opera in Boston.
"We’re also talking about sharing resources, especially among the smaller groups. Opera is a really resource-intensive medium and there are some ways that we can help each other out," Smucker says, such as sharing set pieces, costumes, and rehearsal spaces. He said the Boston Opera Alliance members are also talking about organizing opera festivals for which various companies would schedule productions in the same time period.
"There’s a really positive spirit among all the companies. Everybody seems really eager to be in conversation and to have the opportunity to work together on these things," he adds.
The new web calendar includes events put on by organizations large and small, like the BLO and Boston Opera Collaborative, as well as educational institutions and other groups who feature some opera activities but may not be primarily known as opera producers. Among the many other organizations whose events can be found in the calendar are Odyssey Opera, Opera Institute of Boston University, Opera on Tap, New England Conservatory and the Poets' Theatre.
“What’s kind of neat about this is there’s opera that’s fully staged and formal, there’s opera that’s in more of a university or student setting,” Burros says, “there’s the very intimate, small, basement-theater-underground stuff happening. There’s a tremendous amount of diversity.”
The opera calendar was created in partnership with Opus Affair, the organization geared toward young professionals in the arts realm which maintains a popular online calendar of events.
While the full extent of opera activities in the city may prove a surprise to some performing-arts supporters, the continuing lack of a true opera venue in Boston has emerged as a fresh topic in light of the broader discussion over the future of performing-arts venues in the city and the BLO's search for a permanent venue after long tenures at both the Cutler/Majestic and Shubert theaters, which each have various drawbacks to a company looking to stage a range of medium-to-large sized productions. Even the Colonial Theatre, which the BLO has submitted a proposal to use (either alone or as part of a broader consortium including Broadway In Boston, Celebrity Series of Boston and LiveNation), lacks a proper orchestra pit.
Boston's old opera hall was torn down in 1958. The venue presently known as Boston Opera House was the longtime home of Sarah Caldwell's Opera Company of Boston, but not actually built to suit the acoustic and logistical requirements of opera. Boston Globe classical music critic Jeremy Eichler has written that the lack of a proper opera venue here should be remedied as a "simple matter of civic self-respect."
Lack of a headlining venue notwithstanding, the city's opera practitioners say there is plenty to be proud of.
"From larger producing organizations to small opera groups and conservatories," BLO artistic and general director Esther Nelson says, "we all — in different ways — keep the classics alive, incubate new works, and support a broad range of artists, both locally and beyond. All of us help each other in unique ways."
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