In unsure times, benevolence is a treasure. So is improvisation.
Mobile Opera General Director Scott Wright offered a remarkable deal for the upcoming season with a recent announcement. All their offerings for the 2020-21 slate will now be free and available online.
“Same quality that you expect from Mobile Opera but in a flexible format that takes into account the health of our artists, our patrons and our art form,” Wright said in the online video.
Originally, they had grand plans for the approaching season, a 75th anniversary celebration for one of the 20 oldest opera units in the nation. The current coronavirus pandemic and hesitance over gatherings forced a shift. Mobile Opera pushed the anniversary observance back to 2021-22.
“You’ll still see and hear every glorious moment of it. You’ll just have to wait,” Wright teased.
Meanwhile, they developed an alternative to remain in the public consciousness. The shows will be smaller, more accessible and efficient. It’s playfully tagged an “intermezzo” season, named for the short, instrumental segments tying together parts of an operatic work.
Their regular Night of Song, a cabaret-style event featuring “guest artists and special guests” on each month’s second Monday, continues. Customarily held in an intimate venue, a restaurant or lounge, the recitals will be online.
On Oct. 24, they will stage Johannes S. Bach’s comic work “The Coffee Cantata.” The tale follows coffee shop owner Schlendrian’s desires to dial back his vivacious daughter’s fixation on the alluring dark elixir. Bach was said to be a java fan and regularly led an ensemble at Zimmermann’s coffee house in Leipzig. The local ensemble will follow that lead in locating a venue.
“We’re in negotiation, but it will be in one of two coffee shops we’ve been talking to,” Wright told Artifice. “We have to be able to have the coffee shop available to us when they aren’t in business, so we don’t take any business away from them.”
The three-person cast and a lone pianist are perfect for current constrictions. Wright said there’s a possibility for a “small but intrepid audience.”
“I would love for the performers to have a little bit of feedback, that little feeling you get from the audience. When I’m on stage performing, I feed off of the audience. There’s a connection you feel that affects your performance,” Wright said.
The annual Winter Gala will feature just four performers and be staged at Murphy High School on Jan. 16, 2021. The auditorium provides ample spacing should social distancing still be a concern and minimalist accompaniment will replace an orchestra.
Regretfully, choruses will be absent in all these shows. It not only cuts costs but minimizes their exposure to possible illness, bunched together and before an audience.
“This is to protect our artists, too,” Wright said.
The opera returns to Murphy for performances of Domenico Cimarosa’s “The Secret Marriage” on March 19 and 21. A slim cast of six simplifies things again.
Wright calls the opera a “sitcom” based around a pair of sisters and shattered social order. The younger sibling has stolen away and married before the older child, done so without her father’s blessing. Worst of all, her new husband is beneath her station.
Don’t roll your eyes, folks; some of those sociological breaches are still in play in our “modern world.”
When the father arranges for a visiting count to wed the older daughter, the royal target instead falls for the younger gal. Too bad his attending servant is her secret husband.
Mobile Opera has been fortunate with long-term support, though they still welcome tax-deductible donations online in exchange for this generous season-long gift. The CARES Act provided aid along with diligence.
“Over the last 10 years, we have kept our budget very lean and poured that back into reducing debt. We’ve paid off a huge amount of that. We’re in very good financial shape. Small but strong,” Wright said.
It’s a short-term fix. Performing artists are losing income and emotional avenues across the nation. If the pervasive illness lasts into the 2021-22 season, we’ll all feel the loss of arts in our lives.
“We humans are social creatures. We need each other and we need the arts to bring us together so I’m certain we will return to normal. The question no one can answer yet is when. Because of that uncertainty, we’ve created this gift to the community that made us a cultural leader for 75 years,” Wright said.
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