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Monday, January 16, 2006

Local (Denver) Kudos

I could not let another day go by without providing some serious “shout-outs” to local Denver people and institutions that help make the opera experience a better one for those of us fortunate enough to live in the Rocky Mountain West.

On one hand I get jealous reading other opera-based blogs, since so many of them are New York City-centric. The opportunity to run out any given night and catch an opera performance here or there sounds like heaven to me. On the other hand, I think about what that kind of impulsiveness would do to my bank balance, and the jealousy magically disappears.

Living out here in Flyover Land, our options are somewhat limited. Opera Colorado does three productions a season—usually in November, March and April. They’re often close to sold out, especially now that they’ve moved into brand-new digs. Central City Opera does three productions every summer, much better attended since (a) the 19th-century opera house at elevation 8500 feet has new, comfier seats and (b) they’re doing operas in their original languages with SuperTitles, rather than singing everything in English.

That’s pretty much it for professional companies in this neck o’ the woods, although there are some semi-professional and college productions that can be pretty interesting. For example, the University of Colorado (Boulder) usually does one opera a year, in English, as does the Lamont School of Music at the University of Denver. There's also a new theater on campus, by the way, with terrific sightlines and excellent acoustics. Last fall, Lamont did a fairly credible job with Nicolai’s “Merry Wives of Windsor.”

Thankfully there is a gentleman in the neighborhood who’s seriously plugged in to the Colorado opera scene. Once a week he updates his Web site and sends out delightful, full-page bulletins via e-mail that let all of us know what’s coming up. Mr. Charles Ralph runs Opera Pronto as a labor of love, and it is this man to whom I wish to extend Kudo No. 1 today.

Not only is his newsletter a terrific resource for opera listeners, but he also provides valuable information to and about singers in the region. Need to know about upcoming auditions? Charles has the contact details, times and dates. Need to find a last-minute fill-in for a performance of Verdi’s Requiem? He can point you in the right direction. He also files “local singer makes good” reports, which keeps those of us who’ve seen Colorado-based performers in local productions or voice competitions up to date on what they’re doing, and where. The latest “golden boy” is Charles Taylor, who won the Met Regionals a couple years back and has been doing well on the New York stage and elsewhere.

Kudo No. 2 is shared by four worthy sponsors, the aforementioned Opera Colorado and Central City Opera, plus KVOD-FM and the Denver Public Library. These institutions jointly offer a program titled “Opera 101,” which previews upcoming professional performances in the area. On the first Tuesday of the month during opera season, guest lecturers give an hour-long talk on the opera in question. Several hundred people show up—and pleasantly, many of them are under 50, which is an encouraging sign for the future. Last Tuesday, Opera Colorado’s Peter Russell presented an analysis of Bellini’s “Norma,” which will be performed by his company in February. As always Mr. Russell’s presentation was highly entertaining, as he not only synopsized the opera and pointed out key dramatic elements, but also gave the audience a feel for the era in which this work was introduced. On some occasions—although this was not one of them—live singers, mostly students, offer arias from the opera under discussion. Other times we are treated to audio and video clips of famous performances. At the end of the evening, anywhere from 20 to 30 minutes is reserved for questions from the audience, and before dismissal a drawing is held for a pair of tickets to one of the performances of that opera.

Despite the passage of several local bond issues over the past few years, the beginning of 2006 has seen a severe reduction in library hours. As recently as three years ago, all branch libraries in the Denver system were open six days a week, and the main library at 13th and Broadway was open every day. Now, every library is on a five-day, 40-hour-per-week schedule, which is both disappointing and inconvenient. Nonetheless, the fact that the downtown library donates the space and the equipment to put on these Opera 101 programs is heartening.

Participation by KVOD is equally appreciated. A few years ago, this stalwart of the Denver FM airwaves was one of the last privately held stations in the country to provide 100 percent classical music programming. On the verge of being sold, the format was saved by cleaving it to the local NPR all-news outlet, which switched to the AM band. For one season we had to endure listening to the Met broadcasts on some podunk radio station way out on the Eastern Plains, but now they’re firmly entrenched on KVOD-FM every Saturday afternoon, just like the old days.

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