Puccini goes punk

By SARA FAITH ALTERMAN  |  January 23, 2009

Today, esteemed performance programs like the one that Caldwell left behind at BU — including those at Boston Conservatory, New England Conservatory, and the Longy School of Music — are still consistently churning out powerful crops of singers.

"Boston Conservatory has some phenomenally gifted students that perform on a professional level," says Schwartz. "I don't know where they go when they're out of school."

COCK OF THE WALK: A Rooster for Asclepius is a typically outré production by rebel outfit OperaHub.

Faced with a lack of sustainable "opera-tunities," a new wave of local companies are working to ju-jitsu the economic reality, and are responding artistically to the financial crisis.

"More and more little grassroots companies are popping up to create opportunities for green singers," notes Christine Teeters. "Things are now really up and coming."

Among the new dawn of Don Giovanni? Besides BOC, Guerilla Opera, and OperaHub, Longwood Opera, Intermezzo, and Juventas! New Music Ensemble are three more young guns who have cropped up in the shadow of the two local powerhouses, Boston Lyric Opera and Opera Boston, the latter of which rocks opera with "underground" shows at the Lizard Lounge. Boston University also carries on Caldwell's legacy with the annual Fall Fringe Festival, which includes a theatrical bacchanalia of unconventional opera repertoire.

Listen to Christine and Rebecca Teeters sing:

Good Morning, Midnight
Heart! We will forget him!
Let down the bars, Oh Death

Born backstage during rehearsals for a 2007 Harvard production of Richard Strauss's Der Rosenkavalier, OperaHub experiments with contemporary interpretations of both standard opera repertoire and lesser-performed pieces, and puts them on for free, operating solely on donations. Their upcoming production, Spanish Sirens, is a combination of the two, pairing excerpts from the generally beloved Carmen (by Georges Bizet) with a one-act opera by Maurice Ravel, L'heure espagnole ("The Spanish Hour"), which doesn't often make it to the stage.

"L'heure is a one-act that's really funny," says OperaHub's Duncan, "but not often performed because, if you're, say, a major opera house, you'd have to find something to pair it with [to flesh out a night's full program]. As much as I wish [Boston] had that major company, like the Met, I think not having it provides more opportunities for smaller niche companies to really thrive and carve out a place for themselves. Opera in Boston is really interesting. There's a wealth of musical talent from everywhere, and, the more I think about OperaHub, the more I think that there are really very few cities in the US where a company like this would have taken off."

Taking further steps away from traditional opera is the Guerilla Opera company, a collection of singers and instrumentalists who exclusively perform new works created for them. "We are a chamber ensemble, and perform in minimalist venues with minimalist production," says Aliana de la Guardia, a soprano and the general manager of Guerilla Opera, which is also an ensemble-in-residence at Boston Conservatory. "The goal is to cultivate a repertoire of chamber operas — operas on a smaller scale. This is counter to the convention of opera as it is now."

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Related: Can classical be underground?, The show goes on, Diva-gations, More more >
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