Unification News for February 1999

Opera At The Lower East Side

Alex Murphy

All art is bound to return in the realm of the Principle: both the creator and the performer of the new age work of art will be able to connect with the beautiful and virtually untapped resources of the immense Spiritual World and of the God given gift of poetic intuition and human creativity to give life to incredible works of art for the joy and solace of human beings and God the creator: this is the vision of the Theory of Art and we know that it is just matter of time for that be realized in fullness.

Opera is a musical art form that combines the elements of drama and music, the singers are musicians and actors, they have the full resource of the symphony orchestra to accompany them and the benefit of sets, costumes and stage lights to beautify to performance and render it realistic: the possibilities of this art form in terms of emotional impact and catharsis of the listener are great indeed and yet to be discovered by many people.

A small opera company in NYC, in the vision of its music director Francesco Santelli, has been slowly but steadily moving towards that ideal. That is the Henry Street Opera which is part of the Henry Street Settlement - Abrons Arts Center in the lower East side of Manhattan.

Diverse, vibrant and unique in their contribution to Lower East Side life, the arts at the Henry Street have blossomed at the Henry Street Louis Abrons Arts Center, influencing lives of children and adults. Ethnic arts festivals, opera, jazz, theater, visual arts exhibitions and family arts activities flourish here. Founded as a visiting nurse service in 1893, Henry Street quickly expanded to become a comprehensive social service and arts agency for the lower east side of Manhattan. The center is alive through the year with classes and groups sessions in jazz, tap and ballet dancing, workshops and performances for children’s theater and much more. The H S S is funded in part by the National Endowment for the Arts, the New York State Council on the Arts and the Department of Cultural Affairs of the City of New York.

The Abrons Arts Center was opened in 1975 and has been cultivating a sophisticated jazz audience on the Lower East Side ever since its founding. Paul West the center’s music director has been inviting the legend Dizzy Gillespie to perform at the center until his death in 1992. Mr. West, an alumnus of Dizzy’s big band in the 1950s and quintet in the 1960s established an annual "Dizzy Gillespie Tribute Concert" with symphony orchestra; the series is meant to keep Dizzy Gillespie’s genius and spirit alive on the lower East Side.

The other high point of the musical activities of the Abrons Arts Center is opera. The opera company is fruit of the vision of Paul West the director of the Music Department since 1973, he in fact from the outset felt the need to develop opera at the center for the Lower East Side audiences.

First director of the opera program was Bryan Camp (1975-1981) with the first productions in 2 languages (original language and English) and 4 casts, followed by Tali Makell (1981-84). Kurt Saffir a German conductor from the NY C Opera succeeded 1984 until his untimely death in 1988, since then Francesco Santelli, Italian born conductor and composer has been the music director.

The Henry Street Opera has been active for 24 years in NYC. It is known in the opera circles for its good productions and musical preparation. Longer rehearsal time than any of the smaller companies in NYC is allowed so that the singer can really master the role with the necessary time to go into musical details. The productions are double casted and an important addition to the musical staff has been the presence of the talented and known stage director Robert Stivanello since 1993. The company produces professional productions in the beautiful Harry de Jour Play House to help young and talented opera singers of the NYC area to gain experience in standard operatic roles. The opera orchestra is made of fine NYC freelance musicians and Music Faculty members of the Arts center. In New York City, aside from the giants of the MET and the NYC opera, the HSO stands proudly among the few smaller companies of the city. Effort is made in the artistic preparation to bring out principled elements in the opera at hand both dramatically and musically and they are emphasized in the preparation to draw the highest possible spirit from the drama coupled with good technique. In opera the importance of the words and the libretto is crucial, emphasis on the meaning of the words all along is made to underline elements of the Four Realms of Heart and Principled based emotions. The rehearsals are strict in discipline and allow the singers to learn through time without the pressure of an imminent performance.

A highlight of the opera company’s history and a direct contribution to the Providence was made through the guest performance of the HSO at the University of Bridgeport’s Merten’s Theater in November 1997 in occasion of the 70th anniversary of the foundation of the university. Puccini’s "La Boheme" was performed fully staged and with orchestra. It so happened (and it wasn’t known until after preparations were already well on the way) that the Connecticut Grand Opera, the main opera company in Connecticut with large State grants support, had scheduled the same opera "La Boheme", the same day, in the same city, in Bridgeport, at the same time and just few miles away from the Merten’s theater. Cancellation became a real possibility, it was natural to think that one couldn’t compete with the first opera company in Connecticut; however the events, with God and SW’s help, turned out quite positively: the CGO did not sell out, but at UB not only there was a complete sell out for both performances but there were many people from the surrounding Bridgeport area that cold not get tickets even though they wanted to, and after the performance they were asking when the next opera would come at UB. A total of 1,700 guests attended the 2 performances including many Bridgeport middle school students on the Friday matinee’; this was a P R success for the university. A staff member from UB said that this was the first time that the theater in similar performance events was completely full. The HSO has been invited next season to return to UB with a production of "Carmen".

The HSO upcoming production is "Puccini’s" Madama Butterfly, one the most beloved opera’ s of all times; it is music drama of Cio-Cio-San, a Japanese young woman that marries Pinkerton an American naval officer and that after 3 years of his absence in America and return, takes her own life after agreeing for their son Dolore to go back with his father and his new American wife Kate.

The performances will be on March 20, 21, 27 and 28 at the Abrons Arts Center (Saturday’s 7:00 PM and Sunday matinees at 3:00 PM). Francesco Santelli is the conductor and Robert Stivanello is the stage director, the opera will be sang in Italian. Alicia Alexander and Ba Guo Wang will sing the role of Madama Butterfly, James Guthrie and Alejandro Olmedo that of Pinkerton, Robert Violette and Paul Brown will be Sharlpless and Anna Tonna and Svetlana Furdui, Suzuki. The production is fully staged, with costumes and orchestra. Tickets are $20 and $15 (discount available for seniors and students) For tickets and information call (973) 472-3755.

* FS is also a long time member and the Music Minister of the New Jersey FFWPU

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