17 Sep 2015

For Odyssey Opera, No Operatic Challenge is Too Great

For a company founded in 2013, Odyssey Opera has an astounding track record. To take on Korngold’s Die tote Stadt is ambitious enough, but to do so within only a year of the company’s founding seems almost single-minded.

Notoriously difficult to cast, Die tote Stadt has a tireless soprano role demanding both power and grace. Even more infamously difficult is the tenor role of Paul. The indomitable soprano Meagan Miller took on the challenge of Marietta with epic grace and skill, while tenor Jay Hunter Morris heroically wrangled the punishing role of Paul. In the end, this fledgling company boasted a sold-out house to the Boston premiere of this rarely performed opera—and only one year after the company’s inception.

“I think the opera company has already, in a very short order, done some very important things,” says Artistic Director and Founder Gil Rose.

Meagan_Miller.pngMeagan Miller [Photo by Kristin Hoebermann courtesy of Grant Communications]

Indeed, Odyssey Opera’s previous seasons display an intrepidity and ingenuity in its programming. Late last spring, it offered a summer feast of English delicacies, from Vaughn Williams to Argento. The multi-evening festival meant that opera-goers could take in Powder Her Face one night and Fantastic Mr. Fox in the next. Again, Odyssey Opera forged fearlessly ahead through repertoire that was not only challenging, but obscure enough to cause any major opera house to hesitate.

The cause for the hesitation? The general “unknown” nature of these operas. When planning a season, a company usually must think of its subscribers. More and more opera houses have become a slave to the “subscription model,” in which opera companies hope to snag as many patrons as possible at the announcement of their season. It’s a surefire way to garner followers if the usual suspects are among the offerings: Traviata, Carmen, and pretty much anything by Puccini. Unfortunately, the subscription model has a twofold problem: it limits artistic expression, and it isn’t a guarantee of financial success.

Odyssey Opera Artistic Director Gil Rose has no desire to run his company on the subscription model. In fact, he says, “I refuse to perpetuate a system that is failing opera.”

Mancini.pngTamara Mancini to perform the role of Chimène in Massenet’s Le Cid [Photo courtesy of Zemsky Green Artists Managment]

By refusing the traditional structure of a subscription season, Odyssey Opera has the freedom to focus on two specific times of year during which performances will take place: the fall, with a concert opera, and the late spring, with an approximately two week festival of operatic works before the summer rush to various festivals in the countryside.

This fall, on September 18th, Maestro Rose presents Massenet’s Le Cid, with an 80-voice chorus and the full Odyssey Opera Orchestra. Massenet tops the charts as a composer often chosen for a season at a typical opera house, but the offerings usually include the likes of Thais or Manon. Le Cid is rarely performed.

“I have a real interest in works that, for whatever reason, haven’t made it into the standard accepted repertory,” says Gil Rose of Le Cid.

Indeed, Odyssey Opera’s previous seasons have included composer names familiar to all opera lovers, such as Wagner, Mascagni, and Verdi, but operas with names that even the biggest buffs may fail to recognize. Large orchestras, demanding operatic roles, or superfluous cast size may have been a few factors contributing to these opera’s obscurity, but many times it’s simply the luck of the operatic history draw. Gil Rose brings excitement and artistry back to these forgotten classics, employing top-tier musicians and singers and offering performances that have garnered rave reviews. Odyssey Opera reignites opera with the excitement that has drawn audiences for so many years: the opportunity to see or hear something unexpected.

Paul_Groves.pngPaul Groves to perform the role of Rodrigue in Le Cid

“I think that people should keep an eye on [Odyssey Opera] if they want to hear and see things they’ve never seen or heard before,” says Maestro Rose. “It’s definitely not ever going to be run-of-the-mill.”

Le Cid is anything but run-of-the-mill. Based on the tragicomedy by Pierre Corneille, Le Cid presents the conflict of love, duty, and honor in wartime Castile. With lush orchestration and soaring melodies, this Massenet opera is more than deserving of the reinvigoration given to it by Odyssey Opera. Staying true to its mission, Odyssey Opera manages to give the care needed to operas that have unjustly fallen to the wayside. And this is only the beginning—Gil Rose has set Odyssey Opera onto a path of artistic excellence within the realm of exiled classics.

“The metaphor of an Odyssey and being on a journey, and never sure where we are traveling next—that’s Odyssey Opera.”

Le Cid will perform one night only, September 18, 2015 at 7:30 PM at NEC’s Jordan Hall. Tickets range from $20 to $100. More information is available via Odyssey Opera’s website, or by emailing tickets@odysseyopera.com.

Alexis Rodda