“Winter Opera Saint Louis: The Fifth Season”
Phil Touchette, Operatic Saint Louis
October 25, 2011
Winter Opera Saint Louis‘ fifth season features a revue of American musical theater, a landmark in German opera and one of the most beloved Italian blockbusters. If that isn’t enough operatic excitement, the company has recently acquired a new warehouse, permanent office space in the Hill neighborhood, a new venue and hired a music director. Company founder and artistic director Gina Galatishares her elation over the many improvements to the company’s operations.
The company’s permanent warehouse space “makes a big difference,” says Galati. For the first three years of its existence, Winter Opera Saint Louis depended on the generosity of supportive individuals and arts organizations to help store accumulated props, sets and costumes. After discussing a need for storage space with production sponsor Dr. Daniel Phillips, Galati was soon approached by Phillips and Mark Tempkin with an offer of a 10,000 square foot warehouse they currently co-owned. The space has been in use since March, and Galati looks forward to the possibilities it will afford the company, primarily investment into more props, costumes and scenery. Once the space is filled, Galati wants to rent out inventory to other opera companies in the area. Above all, the artistic director finds having one dedicated storage location far easier on operations.
With a new storage space acquired, the hunt was on for permanent office space. Until mid-September, the opera office was set up in Galati’s home on the Hill. The office situation was “getting to be too much in my house, and this is a logical progression,” Galati says, “and in order for us to grow, we needed a workspace.” The company found a partial sponsor for a space located on Marconi Avenue in the heart of the Hill neighborhood amidst popular establishments Amighetti’s, Milo’s and Gelato di Riso. Galati finds the location advantageous given the number of visitors to the Hill throughout the week. Even when the office is closed, passersby can take brochures from an outdoor stand. It is also quite fitting that Winter Opera Saint Louis’ office sits right across the street from St. Ambrose Catholic Church, where the company (then under the name “New Opera Saint Louis”) performed its inaugural production of Verdi’s Rigoletto in 2007, followed by later productions of Don Pasquale, Gianni Schicchi and, most recently, Cavalleria Rusticana. Not surprisingly, Galati appreciates the lack of an office in her own home. “It’s great to go to work and then go home with nothing from the office in my house!”
The fifth season kicks off with Rodgers & Hammerstein’s A Grand Night For Singingat a new venue both for Winter Opera Saint Louis and Chaminade Preparatory School: the Skip Viragh Center for the Arts. When Galati heard of Skip Viragh’s generous gift to Chaminade, she engaged the opera company’s lawyer to arrange a meeting with Chaminade’s School Board President to propose a seasonal presence at the venue. Galati says Chaminade received “several recommendations from Washington University” including several calls of support from local Monsignors. “We used the Catholic connection, for sure,” she says. Noting that Chaminade currently has no vocal program, she also hopes Winter Opera’s presence can create music education opportunities for interested students. Once the company was granted permission to perform, Galati was quite pleased with the venue’s reasonable rental price and hopes to make the Skip Viragh Center a permanent venue. “It’s a little bit big for us,” Galati remarks, “but we hope to attract a larger audience, of course, and keep plugging away. It takes time to gain the support of people to attend your productions and build a subscriber base.” Winter Opera will be one of many professional companies featured at the Skip Viragh Center, including Bach Society of St. Louis and STAGES St. Louis.
Last season, Galati announced the hiring of ConductorSteven Jarvi, Associate Conductor at the Kansas City Symphony and New York City Opera, as Winter Opera Saint Louis’ Music Director. In 2009, Jarvi conducted Winter Opera’s The Barber of Seville and returned earlier this year for La Traviata. Jarvi came into contact with Gina Galati through a mutual friend at the New World Symphony in Miami Beach. “Some good words were put in and Gina decided to give me a try,” Jarvi says. “I feel like we got along and respected each other right away.” One of the first developments under the partnership of Galati and Jarvi was the addition of New York City as an audition site for the company in order to expand the company’s singer base. In April, both were involved in a production of Rigoletto with Opera Company of Brooklyn, and took the opportunity to hear singers during their time spent in the area. “It was a big success for us,” says Galati. “We heard about 56 singers–some managed, some non-managed. We found some really terrific people.” Jarvi was pleased because the auditions helped “put us on the map … and be a small part of that incredibly vibrant opera community that populates upper Manhattan.” All in all, Jarvi is excited to help advance Winter Opera Saint Louis’ mission. “I really like St. Louis as a community and I look forward to being more and more involved in shaping opera in the area.”
In planning the upcoming season, Jarvi says that Puccini’s La Bohème came up in discussion immediately. This will be Jarvi’s first full Bohème, having served as Associate Conductor on the last New York City Opera production at Lincoln Center and conducting only segments or single acts of the piece. Jarvi shares a story about his first opera audition for Placido Domingo’s Young Artist Program, in which he was instructed to conduct and sing all of Act I: “I learned it within an inch of my life,” he says. Jarvi’s hard work paid off when Domingo instructed him to conduct “Donde lietà” while the opera star sang. “I may be the only person to have ever heard Domingo sing Mimì.” Galati has several good reasons to produce Bohème, especially at the Skip Viragh Center: “We always want to involve children, so it will be great to have a children’s chorus once again. If we are going to have this big theatre, we might as well make it a big splash!”
“With Bohème as an anchor,” Jarvi says, “we thought of what we could perform that was different from what has been done in the past but also could be performed with a smaller orchestra at the Saint Louis Woman’s Club.” Thus, Richard Strauss’ Ariadne auf Naxos was chosen. Jarvi finds the German chamber opera “perfect for the kind of stage and theater that the Woman’s Club offers.” Galati felt that it was time to add a German opera to the company repertory and give some young singers the opportunity to perform it. “It will be a nice change to step out of our bounds,” she says, and adds that with the dinner before (or after, depending) a production at the Woman’s Club, “it’s always a big event!”
Bohème and Ariadne chosen, Galati knew that the first-ever production at the Skip Viragh Center would need to be something lighter in order to attract new audience members and ease into the logistics of a much larger space before jumping into a big opera. “We had hoped to do a Pops Concert,” she says, but the cost of full orchestrations was prohibitive. After searching high and low, Galati discovered A Grand Night for Singing, a 1993 Tony nominated musical revue of Rodgers & Hammerstein songs. This production was affordable and dovetailed well with Jarvi and Galati’s desire to perform a piece in English from the American musical theater. Having conducted several Pops Concerts with the Kansas City Symphony, Jarvi is excited to dive into repertoire that holds a special place for him as a child. “I grew up with all of the Rodgers & Hammerstein musicals that were turned into films. My mother couldn’t get enough of them,” he says. Just last year, Jarvi had the honor of performing with the Von Trapp Family Singers (descendants of the Captain and Maria) and was moved over the most simple songs. “These tunes carry a lot of emotional weight for me since they are tied into so many memories of my childhood.”
Winter Opera Saint Louis’ fifth season begins with Rodgers & Hammerstein’s A Grand Night for Singing on Friday, November 4th (8pm) and Sunday,November 6th (4pm) at the Skip Viragh Center for the Arts on the campus of Chaminade Preparatory School, 425 S. Lindbergh Blvd., St. Louis, MO. Tickets can be purchased by calling 314-865-0038 or visiting the company’s website:https://www.winteroperastl.org/ where you can find more information on Ariadne auf Naxos, La Bohème and other special events throughout the year.