English-style opera coming to Champlain Valley

MIDDLEBURY/BRANDON — Left without a venue for its annual summer production due to the ongoing renovations at the Town Hall Theater, the Opera Company of Middlebury instead is bringing English-style opera in the country to the Champlain Valley.
Next month the company will host “A Touch of Glyndebourne,” an event that invites guests to tour and picnic on the grounds of Fran Bull’s Gallery in-the-Field in Brandon before enjoying a musical performance in the art gallery.
“It’s one of the most beautiful spots in the county,” said Douglas Anderson, executive director of the THT and director of the upcoming opera. “The studio, where we will have the production, is more like a small, air-conditioned barn. It seemed the perfect spot for a gem of an opera.”
The vision for a series of four performance from June 15-18 is of music lovers enjoying strawberries and champagne and boxed lunches. Seven singers will present Sir Lennox Berkeley’s one-act comedy, “A Dinner Engagement.”
The Opera Company of Middlebury’s first production was two years ago when they staged “Carmen.” The production was deemed huge success, and sold out amidst an abundance of rave reviews. Last summer the company repeated sold out shows with the Puccini opera “Tosca.”
The THT is trying to create several resident companies of performers, the Opera Company of Middlebury being one of them. Other may include The Community Players, After Dark Theater Company, A Children’s Theater Program, and Pathos Dance Company. Plans are in motion to include both a resident chamber music ensemble and an actors workshop, Anderson said, and Maiden Vermont, a 60-member women’s barbershop singing group, is also planning to use the space for its performances.
Following the success of the first two productions of the Opera Company, the group wanted to continue the momentum and try to produce something somewhere else with the Town Hall Theater building on Merchants Row in Middlebury closed. Looking for something a little lighter and shorter, Anderson, came up with the idea of “A Touch of Glyndebourne,” named for the English country estate where such casual opera experiences take place.
Anderson described “A Dinner Engagement” as, “laugh out loud funny. I never thought that I could have so much fun with opera. It’s a truly funny take on the declining fortunes of aristocracy in post-war Europe.”
Having developed the concept, opera company officials turned to finding the right space. Familiar with Bull, who created dramatic scenery for “Carmen,” and her studio, they approached her with the idea and she was delighted to accept.
It was determined the production would take place in the studio portion of the property. Bull agreed to sacrifice her personal studio and move everything into the basement for a month while rehearsals took place.
Bull’s thoughts also turned to the gallery and she had to put the right thing in the gallery to go along with the opera. The natural choice was an opera exhibit with the large and intensely colorful panels that Bull had been commissioned to do for the original production of Carmen at the Town Hall Theater. “Art for the Opera Stage,” an exhibition of sets, props costumes and production photos from the Opera Company of Middlebury’s production of Carmen opened Saturday, May 13, and will be running through June 30
For an off-year production, Anderson has been impressed with the commitment of everyone involved. The company will be seating 88 people over the four nights and first indications are that this event will be sold out well before the opening like the previous two productions, despite its new venue this year.
The singers for this production will include baritone Simon Chaussé from Montpelier and tenor Patrick Lynch from New York City. There is also plenty of local talent, which includes Carol Christensen, Teddy Creceliyus, Wendy Hoffman Farrell, Beth Thompson Kaiser and Bull (who goes under the stage name Fran Fitzgerald when singing).
Troy Peters, who is a conductor at both the college as well as the Vermont Youth Orchestra, will be conducting a nine-piece orchestra. Greg Vitercik is the show’s musical director and Debra Anderson is creating the costumes.
“A Dinner Engagement” will be presented June 15 and 16 at 8 p.m. and June 17 and 18 at 2 p.m., at the Gallery in-the-Field in Brandon. The grounds will be open two hours early for picnicking, and gourmet boxed meals are available pre-order, or guests may bring their own food and drink.
There are a limited number of tickets, which are $25 a piece. The ticket office is at 382-9222

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