Thursday, 28 September 2017 15:48

Celebrating the Semicentennial: Opera Grand Rapids gears up for its 50th anniversary

Written by  Samara Napolitan
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For 50 years, Opera Grand Rapids has assembled the region’s finest vocal talents, animated timeless stories and characters onstage, and sustained a grand artistic tradition in the community.

During this milestone season, Opera Grand Rapids plans to honor its beginnings and embrace the future of opera with its presentation of both familiar and new productions. This year also brings James Meena to the helm as the organization’s new artistic director. Revue talked with the Maestro to see what audiences can expect from the organization going forward and from the first production of the season, Rigoletto, this month.

Welcome to your first season as the artistic director of Opera Grand Rapids. How are you feeling as you head into this new role?
Thrilled! I’m very excited to be able to come to Grand Rapids and hopefully contribute to the artistic life of the city, and help develop our opera company into the kind of company our patrons and members of the community want and deserve.

Your arrival in GR is very timely with the organization’s 50th anniversary. What about that history strikes you as particularly meaningful?
What’s really extraordinary is the long legacy of individuals being part of the company, and investing their love, financial support and time in developing Opera Grand Rapids. I do want to pay tribute to Robert Lyall, who was artistic director before me and was a force in developing Opera Grand Rapids.

In what ways are you envisioning the organization will grow in the future?
Artistically, is one aspect. I’m involved in many collaborations with other theaters, including relationships with many artists and theaters in Italy and Canada. Being able to leverage with collaborations with other theaters is a marvelous way to elevate standards. Rigoletto is a perfect example of that. It’s a production from The Atlanta Opera, who are our partners, but it’s also a collaboration with Opera Carolina in Charlotte and the Toledo Opera. We’re sharing costs and cast members, so we’re able to present a very high-level production in an economical way. This is a formula that’s important to the future of opera in general. I feel like the audience is going to get a sense of the raised standards right from the beginning with this Rigoletto.

What are some of the other aspects you’re working on?
We’re also working on building stronger relationships within the community in Grand Rapids — not just the opera-going and arts communities. One of our really excellent projects this year is the new opera, I DREAM, which will be presented in January. It’s a piece written about the last 36 hours of Dr. Martin Luther King’s life. We’re using the opportunity of this piece to connect with people in the community for whom Opera Grand Rapids is a new experience. Following that strategy is a really important part of our mission.

Let’s talk about Rigoletto. Why is it a great fit for this celebratory season?
Rigoletto is one of the great standards of Italian grand opera repertoire and features probably the most famous pieces of opera music. Many people will recognize the music right away. The story is high tragedy: a father, through his own machinations, loses the life of his daughter. Because of the famous story and music itself, it was a great opening for the season to get us off on the right foot. We also have a fantastic cast led by Eglise Gutiérrez, who is our Gilda, as well as Raffaele Abete, who is a fantastic Italian tenor I worked with at the Puccini Festival in Italy and is our Duke. So, the production is exactly what opera is meant to be. It’s got wonderful visuals and great drama, but at the heart of it is also great singing.

You’re also presenting The Marriage of Figaro later this season. What’s the story with this opera?
It’s definitely a highlight that The Marriage of Figaro was the first opera that the company ever produced. It’s significant that we’re ending the season with the opera we began with. This production is a collaboration with Opera Carolina Collaboration, and it again features a wonderful cast of both emerging and established artists. To top it all off, we have the music of Mozart. So I think people will be thrilled with the beautiful, lavish production we are planning.

Opera Grand Rapids
DeVos Performance Hall
303 Monroe Ave. NW, Grand Rapids
Oct. 13-14, 7:30 p.m., $25+, (616) 451-2741

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