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  1. Creator Q&A: coópera on Staging Bernstein's Candide

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    When we're looking for a night at the opera, we often turn to the most common destination: the big-ticket opera house. You go, you get your fill of pomp and luxury, and then wait for next year for another brush with glorious sophistication. But it doesn't have to be that way. Sometimes the most memorable opera experiences come in unusual spots and off-the-cuff forms, like a small production in an old church or a live simulcast at a baseball field. That's why coópera's project for a staging of Bernstein's Candide is so cool: it's a chance to see a small production in an intimate environment, with a super talented cast to boot. We asked the company a few questions to get the scoop on how they bring opera to the people.

    Tell us what coópera is and how and why it got started.

    coópera is a young artist opera company designed to offer similar performance experiences for emerging artists as the experience offered in major opera houses' resident programs. It got started in 2006 by a group of friends already finishing our Masters at a prestigious NYC school. We were all accepted into top-notch summer training programs, but none of us had the money to pay for them. Being at a semi-professional level already, we decided that we could prepare our roles right here in NYC and up the experience by performing them in a full production with orchestra et al.

    What venues were your past performances at, and how will The Players be similar to or different from those?

    We started out at the main sanctuary of St. Bartholomew's Church (at 50th and Park), and the following year took a couple of extra performances to the heart of El Barrio at St. Paul's Church (117th between Park and Lexington). Our goal was to take opera to people who may have never seen it before, and to make it affordable for them as we were making the training experience affordable for emerging artists. Starting on our third season, we moved to The Players.

    The Players is a venue that fits us very well: it's like the young artist of venues. It has potential, it has the desire to work, but it's still smaller and has some limitations that require creativity to be overcome. The cool thing about the space is that it offers an incredibly intimate experience for the audience, who is just a couple of feet away from the stage and will often have singers walking right through them. At the same time, it has that touch of class, elegance and tradition that opera evokes.

    It has been a good match. They had been wanting to present opera but had not found a company that could deal with the space limitations; we had been looking for a space where we could be grand without being big.

    Do you have an "opera philosophy?"

    Indeed we do. First and foremost, I think opera needs to be for all. It needs to come off its hoity-toity behind and be returned to the masses. Good performers do just that. Opera is about story-telling, not about props and costumes and foreign languages. And everyone likes a good story. So tell it well, tell it sincerely, and sing it so that the music is an added layer in your story-telling, not a distraction. Provide the audience with good characters, moving vocalisms and, if necessary, an accurate and thorough translation of the text so they can be part of the story and not just get bits and pieces.

    And the audience, they should be moved, they should feel free to express themselves, make noise, participate. Live performance art is special because it only exists while it's going on, and no show will ever be the same. The audience completes it, and each audience makes it something different.

    How often do you and the members of your ensemble perform?

    coópera only does about one full production per year, sometimes two, plus a handful of recitals. But our performers are young emerging artists that get around during the year performing with other companies and in different venues. Rosa Betancourt and Evan McCormack are out of the city right now in two different young artist programs. Meagan Brus was touring with a company for about two months last year. I perform regularly with smaller companies in NY, DC, and Baltimore, and we are all constantly auditioning and pursuing full-blown professional careers.

    Have you seen a lot of non-professional and/or small opera productions?

    We have seen some non-professional and small-company productions in the NY area. I think that what distinguishes us is that we are a professional company in the sense that this is what we do. None of our singers or instrumentalists do this as a "side" job or a "hobby." On the contrary, our day jobs are what we consider we do "on the side." So, that sets us apart from the "non-professionals." Now, when it comes to other small companies, I believe the main focus most companies have, in terms of where their money is spent, is on the "show," on dazzling the audience, on having a beautiful production. I guess they think that this will sell more tickets and pay for itself.

    What I find is that no production will ever pay for itself with tickets. Ever. And our main focus is to have the real experience of an opera, both for our performers as for the audience. And opera was written for the voice and an orchestra. So before I put expensive costumes or sets on the stage, and before I pay for better lighting, I will get the necessary orchestra. So that the audience feels engulfed by the live orchestra sound. So that the singers feel what it is like to belong to an ensemble of 30 and follow a conductor. Everything else, I feel, is icing on the top, but not a necessity for the real experience.

    An amazing singer on the Met stage is not amazing because of the gown they're wearing or the light that shines on them. They're amazing because of the presence they have on the stage, the artistry with which they embody a character and, technically speaking, the skill and ability they have to make their voices rise above the orchestra. These things would all be the same if they were singing in their jeans on a poorly lit stage with just a chair by their side.

    Any other thoughts? What would you like people to know about your project?

    I'd like people to understand that coópera is unique because it's cast, run, and developed by the same people and type of people that are on the stage: young artists with the desire to perform and with the desire to create something unique for themselves and share with an audience. There are many young artist programs out there, and in none of them do the artists themselves have a say in anything. coópera, on the other hand, is a cooperative effort with no hierarchy, run by young artists for young artists.

    We think Kickstarter fits perfectly with the coópera philosophy: it takes every single one of us (conductor, director, stage manager, singer, instrumentalist, technical director, and AUDIENCE) to bring this show to life. Our supporters will be able to see how the amounts add up, and how every single person helps get us closer to our goal.

  2. Positively Parisian: New Photographs of an Old City

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    Last year, artist Patti Mac found a stash of negatives in Paris. Rather than simply develop them — which would, effectively, land her with a totally average collection of photographs depicting the Parisian skyline — she painted what she saw in the negatives, photographed her paintings, and then inversed those photographs. Still with me? Good. The result is a series of images both distinctly recognizable and totally new; ones that approach memory and history with a cheekily winking eye.

    Paris! "The City of Lights"! The place where dreams come true. There are probably few other places on Earth so thoroughly committed to our collective, visual memory, documented relentlessly via novels, paintings, photos, and stories, and you'd be hard-pressed to find an image of it that could be considered "unique," or that could be possessed with any sense of real ownership. Well, I believe Patti may have found something of a loophole. To see what I mean, ceck out some of her images below (the rest live here).

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