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Cville documentary to profile aspiring opera stars

Once an art form for the rich, today's operas aim for a broader audience and a diverse cast
Victory Hall Opera
Once an art form for the rich, today's operas aim for a broader audience and a diverse cast

Luciano Pavoratti had a long and profitable career in opera – devoting 46 years to performing around the world.

Renee Fleming has dazzled opera fans for more than forty years, but today few singers last that long. At Victory Hall Opera, artistic director Miriam Gordon Stewart says most leave the stage after seven or eight years. Still, many are waiting in the wings.

“Wouldn’t you think that this kind of art form that people think is a little bit old-fashioned, is a little bit staid or outmoded or collapsing is not appealing to millennials and xennials?” she wonders. “But it still ignites passion in just as many people as it always has! This next generation is actually bursting at the seams to produce their own kind of opera, and to take the reins.”

To find out why, she has put out a casting call for a documentary about aspiring performers.

“It’s an open call for singers anywhere in America to apply to be one of the three people we cover throughout the year on their journey.”

Gordon Stewart plans to feature people with interesting stories to tell, and she’s confident she will find them.

“There are so many stereotypes around about opera singers, and this sort of public perception perhaps that they are privileged people, that they are wealthy, t their life is full of glamour and travel and opportunity. It certainly can be, but opera singers come from everywhere and there are all kinds of people. More than any other classical musician you have this diversity amongst opera singers, because singing is something that is part of so many different communities.”

Gordon-Stewart is hopeful that changes in opera will ensure its survival as a popular art form. Her own company stages original compositions and has performed in diverse settings. One concert, in a Nelson County rock quarry, sold out in five minutes, and next year they’ll stage an opera in a shopping mall.

She adds that even big, storied companies are taking chances to keep opera alive.

“For example, the Metropolitan Opera that is the biggest budget house in America, is employing a new strategy of producing a lot of contemporary opera. They’ve noticed actually that the contemporary operas – particularly those that have a specific relevance to the city at that time -- are drawing big audiences.”

Hollywood has also ventured into modern opera with a production of Rent – an adaptation of La Boheme, set during the era of AIDS.

“And there’s a new emphasis on diversity as well – of telling stories that we have not heard before, involving performers who have been under-represented on the stage before.”

Anyone who’d like to apply for a role in the film can do so on the company’s website – VictoryHallOpera.org. The documentary will be called YAPS – shorthand in the industry for Young Artists Programs and the people who enroll, hoping for a career on the opera stage.

Sandy Hausman is Radio IQ's Charlottesville Bureau Chief