Photo: Heather Bobeck
The New York Opera Alliance (NYOA) kicked off the seventh annual New York OperaFest with an evening of awards and previews by 11 of the 20 companies participating in the 2022 Festival. Opera organizations will present 30 events across the city from April 15 to June 15, 2022.
Between sets of music and video presentations, NYOA honored two champions of the arts with service awards, one going to former New York City Councilman Jimmy Van Bramer for his commitment to funding and preserving culture. of New York and the other to award-winning librettist Mark Campbell for his dedication to increasing the visibility of librettists.
During the two years of the pandemic, NYOA has held its festival virtually. There was a lot of excitement at Opera America’s National Opera Center’s Marc Scorca Hall as attendees looked forward to and celebrated the return of the Festival’s live performances, and from the previews it looks like fans of New York Opera have two exciting months of fresh voices, operas, concerts and video presentations ahead of them.
Companies participating in this year’s kick-off included Bronx Opera, Chelsea Opera, City Lyric Opera, Encompass New Opera Theatre, Experiments in Opera, MORE Opera, New Camerata Opera, Opera Pratikos, Regina Opera, OPERA Little Theater of New York and United Theater Company No. 61. Each company presented excerpts from their upcoming productions, work in development and video performances.
The evening opened with remarks from Marc A. Scorca, President and CEO of OPERA America, the Festival’s fiscal sponsor. It was the first time in two years that Scorca stood in front of a microphone in the eponymous room. “We’re thrilled to have OperaFest happening in person this year, and I’m thrilled to have this group, this incredible group of creatives, producers and artists, come together and enrich our city.”
2022 NYOA Service Awards
The first NYOA Service Award presentation of the evening honored former New York City Councilman Jimmy Van Bramer, who served for a decade as director of public affairs at the Queens Public Library, and been an organizer for campaigning causes and LGBTQ+ rights. Bramer spent twelve years working for the people of Queens on City Council, during which time he chaired the Cultural Affairs Council, Libraries, and the International Intergroup Relations Committee. Bramer is now responsible for growth and strategic partnerships for the Girl Scouts of Greater New York. Bramer’s work was an influence on OPERA America which found a home in New York, helping fund the establishment of the National Opera Center. During the pandemic, Van Bramer is credited with helping to keep many NYOA opera companies afloat.
“It’s very nice of the Alliance to recognize my work, and I’m very proud of my twelve years on the board as New York City’s Cultural Czar. We walk away with culture and the arts funded at the highest level ever in New York City history, and that’s during the pandemic.
“When people are exposed to the arts, we’re uplifted. We’re inspired; it’s an aspiration. The city is better off because you all exist because artists perform and inspire, and so I’m grateful to have been able to amplify, literally, your voices, and get the job done,” Bramer said during his acceptance speech.
NYOA also honored librettist Mark Campbell with a 2022 Service Award. Campbell has written librettos for 39 operas, seven musicals, six song cycles and three oratorios. His work has been performed in more than 90 venues around the world, and Campbell’s songwriting collaborators include three Pulitzer Prize winners. His best known work is “Silent Night”, which received a Pulitzer Prize for Music and is one of the most frequently produced operas in recent history.
“It’s truly an honor and very moving,” Campbell said after receiving her award. “I really appreciate this award mainly because I like to think that I am sharing it with the librettist community, my fellow librettists, my colleagues whom I admire and love, and who I believe are never enough recognized in this industry.”
Campbell continued: “We all talk about contemporary opera and how we try to make new opera more relevant to our audience and reflect our society. It’s really the librettist who does that. The composer creates beautiful music, and what we love about the music is that it has no gender, race or sexual orientation and really has no political agenda, but the libretto Yes. And when we create new stories that are relevant to our audience, the librettist does it. We listen to the words that drive these agendas that we want to create in opera to create a better world. It’s a huge honor, and I feel very blessed.
NYOA divided the evening’s performances into three parts, two of which contained a series of live and pre-recorded video previews, the third featuring only live performances.
The live set for part one began with two arias from Handel’s “Orlando”, with countertenor Jeffrey Mandelbaum performing “Stimulato dalla gloria” and “Fammi combattere”. Opera PraktikosThe 90-minute version will premiere at Campos Garden in Manhattan on May 27-28, 2022, with additional performances June 2 at Brooklyn Botanic Garden and June 10-11.
The next step was City Lyric Opera’s from “Oh What a Lovely Garden” from “The Garden of Alice” by Elizabeth Raum. Soprano Laura Soto-Bayomi sang the selection. The opera, which had its premiere in 1985, was re-orchestrated for violin, cello, clarinet, double bass, percussion and piano. “Le Jardin d’Alice” will take place from May 17 to 21, 2022.
The video presentations of the first part began with an excerpt from Experiences at the opera “Anything for Dawn.” The video featured soprano Britt Hewitt, baritone Joshua Conyers, soprano Laura Strickling and mezzo-soprano Meroë Khalia Adeeb. “Everything for Dawn” is a video opera series featuring ten 15-minute episodes of the intimate storytelling EiO is known for. A different librettist/composer team wrote each segment. Experiments in Opera will air episodes at the Museum of the City of New York from May 4-7, 2022.
Untitled Theater Company No. 61 featured a cut from their OperaFest offering, “Exagoge”, with music by Avnet Finberg and libretto by Edward Einhorn. The work is part theatre, part opera and includes an interactive seder, immersing the audience in the story of Moses. Appearing in the video clip, soprano Adrienne Danrich and tenor James Rogers. The company will present the opera as a workshop on June 2, 2022.
The live performances of the second part included two tunes from Encompasses the New Opera Theater work in progress “Unheard Voices: An Immigrant’s Dream”: “El Nido”, composed by Juan Guerra Gonzalez with text by Alfredo Espina, and “Ideale”, by composer Francesco Paolo Tosti, with lyrics by Carmelo Errico. Tenor Oswaldo Iraheta performed the cut of the opera inspired by Latin American artist Beatriz Ledesma, whose work centers on dreams and the emotional impact of shifting indigenous cultures. A music video will be released in June 2022, with excerpts shown in Chicago in July.
More opera presented excerpts from his first opera presented in Spanish and English, “Angelitos Negros (Little Black Angels)”. The work, premiered in September 2021, explores the pioneers of African-American and Latino opera. Soprano Monica Camafreita introduced the production with “Preludios” by Manuel de Falla. The company also presented a duet of Puccini’s “Suor Angelica,” featuring sopranos Camafreita and Cheryl Warfield, singing “Sorella, o buona sorella.”
Part 2 video presentations included an excerpt from Chelsea OperaThe virtual concert of “Songs of Summer Past”. The concert will be available for streaming throughout the duration of the Festival. The Chelsea Opera excerpt featured soprano Joanie Brittingham and mezzo-soprano Leonarda Priore singing the “Flower Duet (Come, Malika,…Thick Dome)” from Delibes’ “Lakme.”
New Opera Camerata presented the text by Langston Hughes set to music by composer Margaret Bonds. The single, “I, too, Sing America”, performed by baritone Steven Herring, is from episode 1 of the video song series, “Refractions”, which highlights works composed and performed exclusively by artists identifying the BIPOC.
The last third of the program started with Bronx Opera presenting the “Recitative and Trio” of the second act of “La Clemenza di Tito” by Mozart. Singers included David Charles Tay as Tito, Perri di Christina as Sesto, and Jonathan Harris as Publio. The production, sung in English, is set in an imaginary 21st-century Roman Empire and is set to open at Lehman College on May 14, 2022.
the small OPERA theater in NY highlighted its product in development, “American One Acts: A Double Bill”, which will combine two operas: “Highway 1, USA” by William Grant Still and Verna Avery and “Down in the Valley” by Kurt Weill and Arnold Sundgaard . The selection of the evening was an excerpt from “Highway 1, USA”, “Oh Bob, won’t you understand? performed by soprano Carami Hilaire, singing the role of Marie. The company will present the opera at Merkin Concert Hall on June 3, 2022, ahead of its November premiere at 59E59 Theaters.
The evening ended with selections of Regina Opera House last main production of its 52nd season, “La Bohème”. The duo sang “Che gelida manina” and “O suave fanciulla”, with soprano Dilara Unsal as Mimì and tenor Lindell Carter as Rodolfo. The show opens May 14, 2022 and ends May 22.