The late, great opera diva's sound could sometimes be hollow and dark, sometimes shrill, sometimes gorgeous. Callas continues to thrill and divide audiences with her distinctive voice and the raw intensity she put into it.
When someone mentions The Bronx, you don’t necessarily think “opera!” Yet native son Michael Spierman has been trying to change that since 1967 when, armed with a baton and a newly minted music degree, he started his company there.
This weekend, the curtain rises on the Bronx Opera’s 97th production, Ralph Vaughan Williams’ “Sir John in Love.” Like every BxO production, it will be sung in English and given on the cheap: The top ticket price is $45 — up from $1, which is what the company charged for its first opera, Mozart’s “Così Fan Tutte.” Then again, that was 50 years ago, when the company sang at a housing project.
Since then, corporations have chipped in, some alumni have moved on to the Met and the BxO’s performed for local school kids and at halls all over the tri-state area. But its mission hasn’t changed: As Spierman sees it, opera should be accessible to all.
“We never really had any delusions of being the next Met,” he says. “We were just happy that audiences came and were enthusiastic!”
That includes the woman whose husband dragged her to a Rossini opera and who returned again and again with her friends.
“I thought you hated opera,” Spierman told her. “I do!” she said. “But this isn’t opera. I understand it — it’s a musical!”
It’s hard to imagine anyone more enthusiastic than Spierman, 73, a retired Hunter College music professor who’s made the BxO a family affair. Not only does he conduct, but his ex-wife used to sing in it, his son Ben, 48, is its general director and Ben’s wife, Hannah, sings and handles social media. (“I’m an only child with a sibling called the Bronx Opera,” says Ben, “which had its own room in our apartment and needed constant care and feeding.”)
Over the years, its singers have included an eclectic band of moonlighters, including a customs official from JFK (“He used to bring his gun to rehearsals!”); Lawrence Harris, a former offensive lineman for the Houston Oilers (“He said playing in the NFL was easier than singing opera!”); and Audrey Meyer, wife of restaurateur Danny (“not really an operatic voice but highly solid”).
Though the pay is paltry, only a couple of hundred per gig, singers have auditioned from all over. Spierman says one recently came from Washington, DC, to try out for the company’s “Falstaff” this spring. One of the singers in “Sir John” drives down from Ithaca, NY; another commutes from Philadelphia.
Says Spierman, generously: “If they’re talented, I don’t care if they come from Cleveland!”
“Sir John in Love” plays Saturday at 7:30 p.m. and Sunday at 2:30 p.m., $30 to $45. Kaye Playhouse at Hunter College; BronxOpera.org
Outstanding concerts in the acoustically superb sanctuary of Old First Church in San Francisco. Diverse, high-quality music: jazz, chamber music, choral, instrumental, classical, opera, piano, strings, vocal, and world music.
Andre Hajdu was born on 5 March 1932 in Hungary. He studied at Franz Liszt Academy of Music in Budapest with Endre Szervánszky and Ferenc Szabó (composition), Erno Szégedi (piano), and Zoltán Kodály (ethnomusicology). As a Kodály disciple, he was involved for two years in research about Gypsy musical culture and published several articles on this subject.
The fertile cultural breeding grounds around the San Francisco Bay have yielded another new opera initiative in the form of Opera Theater Unlimited (OTU), presenting an intimate yet powerful version of Monteverdi’s L’Incoronazione di Poppea, last weekend at the charming Exit Theatre in downtown San Francisco.
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