Opera Omaha designed and sponsored the three-week long Festival One. Their own words from the program booklet describe it best:
“Opera Omaha's new ONE Festival is an artist-driven exploration of boundary-less programming, bold storytelling, and immediacy in design and aesthetics. The festival brings local and visiting artists together in a community full of collaborative possibilities. With an emphasis on experimentation, Opera Omaha’s ONE Festival encourages and celebrates bold risks from artists who venture into new material and theatrically vibrant work.”
Here is a link to the Festival website: https://onefestivalomaha.org
AMC saw two productions of the Festival.
One was the exploration of Handel’s “Ariodante.” Held at the Bemis Center for Contemporary Arts in Omaha, the session consisted of singers and musicians dissecting and discussing the score to try to make its plot and libretto speak to modern audiences. Featured singers were Cabrelle Williams (Dalinda), Dominic Armstrong (Lucano), Mary Feminear (Ginverba), Jessica Johnson Brock (Polinesso), and Andrew Harris (II Re). The instrumentalists were from the International Contemporary Ensemble; instrumentation included a guitar, theorbo, electronic keyboard, clarinet, upright piano, and violin. The audience sat on chairs or tables in the large warehouse-like setting while the performers chatted about the music and how to perform it to obtain maximum impact. It was, to some degree, like a rehearsal for an operatic performance, but with the audience privy to the discussions. There were maybe 30 patrons- mostly young and trendy. It was an interesting experience and likely a successful outreach to those who might want a behind-the-scenes-view of an operatic production.
AMC also attended a performance of “Medea,” with music by Luigi Cherubini. This was a co-production of Opera Omaha and the Wexford Opera. There are several notable characteristics of this production:
· The singers were uniformly strong: Vanessa Becerra (Glauce), Weston Hurt (Creonte) Jesus Garcia (Jason), Naomi Louisa O’Connell (Neris), and Jessica Stavros (Medea). It was rewarding to listen to a consistently good group of singers.
· The Opera Omaha Chorus was also strong. Their articulation made of clarity of sound that was engaging.
· The Omaha Symphony played the music of Cherubini to perfection. This might have been the most technically and musically on target performance AMC has ever heard from this ensemble. Jane Glover was the conductor.
· The scrim projections used before Act I and after the intermission used what looked like childhood drawings of the plot, including a bloody knife or sword.
· The set was a few walls, wallpapered so that it looked like a house or apartment. There was a TV and a chair on the left, and two beds on the right. Surprisingly, there was a large rock center stage, which was used in telling the background of Jason and the shipwreck but then became the base of operations for soprano Stavros. Why should she be afforded such a perch? Apparently, the singer who was to sing the title character was indisposed (not clear what happened), so it was decided to have an actress (Lacey Jo Benter) actually perform the role, while Stavros sang the part. The rock also provided a base from which Sam Shapiro (dressed in black) acted as sort of a dark motivating spirit moved around the stage and even acted a puppeteer moving Madea’s arms in a menacing fashion- maybe he was the “shadow” or dark-side of the mind from Jungian psychology. This entire arrangement was confusing but may be necessary under the circumstances. It was often difficult to know who watch- Stavros, Benter, Shapiro? Kudos to Benter for having to engage in conversation with others with her mouth closed; she was effective in this mixed-up arrangement.
· At the end of the performance, it looked as if a little girl who had been observing all the action was killing her mother rather than Medea killing her own children. AMC is not sure what that was about.
The performance took place at Omaha’s Orpheum Theater, a 2400 seat renaissance revival gem designed by Rapp and Rapp, who, in the 20s and 30s, created many memorable movie houses that have become performing arts centers in many cities. The Orpheum underwent refurbishment a few years ago and its lighting has greatly improved, especially in public areas, and new carpeting has added to its glamour. It went from a drab building just 5 years ago to a sparkling first-class treat for the eyes. It is a great venue for Opera Omaha.
Overall this was an intriguing performance of which Opera Omaha should be proud. It was adventurous and creative, even if that creativity muddied up the production a bit.