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Online mini-opera planned for Nov. 15

OPERA COMPANY OF MIDDLEBURY’S Leroy Davis, Emily Michiko Jensen, James Flora, and Olga Perez Flora will perform the 10-minute opera “Completing the Picture,” on the company’s YouTube channel beginning Sunday, Nov. 15.

MIDDLEBURY — It’s been a challenging year for the Opera Company of Middlebury. Two major productions were planned for its 17th season: Tchaikovsky’s rarity “The Maid of Orleans,” an epic based on the life of Joan of Arc, and Leonard Bernstein’s glittering comedy, “Candide.’ The two shows were cast, designed, and ready to go into production. 
And due to the pandemic, both were postponed.
“We’ll bring those operas back to Town Hall Theater as soon as the virus allows,” says OCM artistic director Douglas Anderson. “But for now, we’re doing what many companies are doing — exploring online presentations.” The fruits of that experiment can be seen starting Nov. 15, when OCM presents a striking new mini-opera, “Completing the Picture,” by Michael Ching and Victoria Panella Bourns, in a new video adaptation by Anderson.
“We wanted to start with something short,” says Anderson, “so we could hone our skills in this new medium. But we also wanted to find a work that somehow contributes to the national conversation about history and race.” After listening to many short operas, Anderson found the ideal piece.
“Completing the Picture” takes as its starting point the famous photograph of the Golden Spike, the scene at Promontory Summit, Utah, in 1869, when the eastern and western sections of the railway came together, forming the nation’s first transcontinental railroad. 20,000 Chinese workers labored in impossible conditions to finish the western leg of the project. But the photograph, which includes literally hundreds of faces, does not include a single Chinese face.
“It’s only a 10-minute opera,” says Anderson, “but it packs a wallop. It’s about history, and who gets to write it, and who gets left out of it. It’s about the stories that the country tells about itself, and the shock when we learn that many crucial parts of a story have been left out of the frame.”
Anderson and production manager Mary Longey worked closely with local videographer Tim Joy to completely rethink how an opera can be presented. “Making a video opera can’t mean simply pointing a camera at some singers,” says Anderson. “If we’re going to use this new medium, we need to explore all of the wonderful things it can do.” Using period photographs and a great deal of visual invention, the company hopes to present a completely different operatic experience. 
Performing in the opera will be four of OCM’s long-time favorites: baritone Leroy Davis, tenor James Flora, mezzo Olga Perez Flora, and soprano Emily Michiko Jensen. “It’s a diverse cast, which is appropriate for an opera abut diversity,” says Anderson. OCM’s principal guest conductor Michael Sakir and Montpelier pianist Mary Jane Austin round out the company.
“Completing the Picture” debuts on Sunday, Nov. 15, at 7:30 p.m., streaming free on OCM’s YouTube channel. It will then remain available via YouTube and the OCM website, where anyone can not only access it for free but also forward the link to others who may be interested in this unique operatic event.
Following the broadcast will be two bonus videos: Middlebury College student Sabian Edouard will interview Middlebury College professor David Bain, who wrote “Empire Express,” an important book on the making of the Transcontinental Railroad, and director Anderson will chat with his diverse cast about diversity and opportunity in the world of opera. Both videos will remain on YouTube and the OCM website for free access in the future.

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