Taking its name from the Susquehanna River in south central Pennsylvania, Opera Susquehanna is a unique and recently incorporated opera company. President and dramatic soprano Leah Crowne further explained the choice of name: “We decided to go ahead and name it Opera Susquehanna, because it’s regional. We also felt that the river unites the community and facilitates a lot of intercourse between different communities, and in the same way, I wanted to use the river to represent that we are a community driven company.” Like it’s namesake, Opera Susquehanna strives to bring people together, and for emerging singers, these connections can be invaluable career tools.
The idea for the company first occurred to Crowne while she was living and auditioning in Berlin in 2015. "All these small opera companies are coming up in Berlin, and there were all these opportunities for young singers to get experience while they were auditioning for agents. I was inspired by it. You’d go to a performance that some chorus singer put together, something like The Tales of Hoffmann with a string quartet as the orchestra. People would get experience singing the roles, experience directing, experience conducting, etc. The house would be packed, and they would get six reviews." When Crowne returned to the United States, she decided to dive into a similar creative venture with her husband- pianist, conductor, and vocal coach, Scott Crowne.
Taking this inspiration from smaller German companies, Opera Susquehanna has a unique vision for its role in a singer’s professional development. Crowne said, "What I have learned in my twenty years of singing - it’s a hard thing to stomach - but the bigwigs in opera don't care if you’ve sung a role if it’s with a really bad or not important company. They don’t care. They will not hire you.” Therefore, small and new companies like Opera Susquehanna fit in a singer’s career differently than more high profile ones. The company views itself as a training ground for emerging singers, giving them much more than just a line on their resumes. Crowne explained, "We have to slowly build our careers, performance by performance and workshop by workshop, so what’s the best use of our time?" The answer: networking. Opera Susquehanna aims to facilitate connections between the musicians they works with, as well as providing singers with a specific performance and business skill set with each venture. The company has helped subsidize study in Italy for multiple singers and provided singers with introductions to agents, conductors, and other musicians. When planning each of their projects, Opera Susquehanna’s administrative staff asks themselves, "What is this performance going to lead to? What specific skills does this workshop bring our students?"
Last summer, Opera Susquehanna put together a workshop production of Turandot with a cast ranging from twenty-two to fifty years old. Crowne said, "We like to stress that we do not care about age in our company at all. You could be sixty, or you could be nineteen; if you’re ready to study a role, we will work with you." Turandot gave the singers involved two weeks of intense coaching in their respective roles and a public performance in York, Pennsylvania. The cast also included two covers, who not only got to experience the covering process but also ended up performing. For the singers involved, Crowne said, “It was fun and exhausting, but they grew a lot." Opera Susquehanna has several successful events under its belt, and Crowne observed, "We are very new, and we’re purposely moving very slowly." Upcoming projects include Lucia di Lammermoor, Le nozze di Figaro, a sing-through of Elektra, and an online vocal competition. More information about application for the vocal competition is available on Opera Susquehanna’s website.
The most difficult challenge emerging singers face is making all those steps that help launch a career: polishing repertoire that fits them like a glove, honing their stage presence, and finally getting those techniques in front of the right people. Opera Susquehanna has devoted itself to helping singers navigate this road. The company’s mission to nurture singers’ networking and performance skills at crucial junctures of their careers provides an invaluable service in the classical singing world.