by Candice Shaughnessy and Samantha Geraci-Yee
New York City is known as opera’s proverbial Mecca with The Metropolitan Opera as its temple. Those who subscribe usually expect grand spectacles rooted in classical canon. However, during the last decade, there has been a burgeoning progression towards integrating opera with the modern world and its emerging artists. Although The MET Opera casts a long shadow on the New York scene, it has not quelled the entrepreneurial spirit of a growing number of underground companies unified by a desire to create more opportunities for musicians. The indie opera scene is being led by our generation of singers, composers, conductors, and directors who are challenging tradition by uniquely pairing stories and music in experimental spaces, and thus redefining opera.
With the downsizing of many opera companies in America, prospects for new artists are becoming scarce. Instead of diminishing ranks, our generation has stepped outside the box and diversified to create novel musical opportunities. Singers are taking on the roles of producers, composers are collaborating with new companies to premiere their works, and conductors are discovering diverse ways to reach patrons and build budgets. Through such innovative actions, new avenues for artistic growth have emerged that have invigorated audiences with their fresh operatic perspectives.
Of particular note is OperaRox Productions, founded in 2015 by mezzo soprano Kim Feltkamp and soprano Jaimie Appleton. OperaRox began with a production of Le nozze di Figaro at Opera America amongst friends who wanted to get together and simply perform. Soon people started to ask what they were doing next. Mezzo soprano and director of Development, Maayan Voss de Bettancourt, explained they then "spent the next few months figuring out what we wanted from it and who we wanted to be/needed to be… [OperaRox was] founded by accident and out of this idea that people should be given chances, encouraged, and nurtured.”
OperaRox prides itself on selecting compelling repertoire and pursuing collaborations that uniquely defines who they are. OperaRox not only strives to provide opportunities for developing artists to hone their skills but it also prioritizes a safe environment where all involved can explore and realize the full potential of their artistry. Can the same be said of traditional opera and the companies that are dedicated to preserving it? Kim Feltkamp shared her thoughts on the topic:
The future of opera depends on cultivating the next generation of artists. The power of opera comes from the meaningful and moving artistry of its singers, directors, and composers. If we're not serving our emerging artists and providing them with a safe environment in which to grow and learn, how can we expect them to become the artists we need to keep opera important and relevant.
Kim Feltkamp - Founder, Artistic and General Director of OperaRox Productions
Keeping opera important and relevant is yet another one of OperaRox's mission. Their past season featured stories of modern issues regarding social injustices and basic human rights brought to the operatic stage in a moving and compelling manner. The season featured a gritty, modern production of Handel's Alcina; a New Works Concert part of New York Opera Alliance's Opera Fest; Griffin Candey's lesbian rom-com Sweets by Kate performed at the historic Stone Wall Inn; and Cecil Price Walden's Contract Player. Still in compositional process, Contract Player is a fascinating piece. Nathaniel Sullivan, singing the role of Roland Gray, describes the modern plot as "1940’s film Noir style. [Roland Gray is] the Cary Grant of this opera. He has this partner, Kathleen Sanders. Everyone knows who he is, but he is a closet homosexual. He has a close friendship with Kathleen who knows, but they don’t talk about it until scene three. He falls in love with Thatcher West, a screenplay writer. Letty Lawrence is a news columnist. She overhears them and it all blows up.”
All in all, the indie opera scene is thriving across the country providing our generation not only with opportunities, but with stories we can relate to and messages that need to be shared. The arts have always been created with the intention to bring about change. But if the art form does not change and evolve as society does, then the artistic vehicle becomes defunct and unrelatable. Provocative, edgy, and powerful, the indie opera scene is certainly positioning itself as a respectable form of operatic expression and traditional opera better make some room for it.
For more information, please visit the OperaRox Website.