Before the coronavirus pandemic, opera companies faced the dual challenge of costly productions and dwindling audiences. Once the pandemic shut down the seasons of all performance-based organizations, those issues only became more challenging.
Thanks to some pre-pandemic strategizing, five Texas opera companies are well-positioned to recover and look toward a healthy, collaborative future through the new Texas Opera Alliance.
Directors from the Austin Opera, Dallas Opera, Fort Worth Opera, Houston Grand Opera, and Opera San Antonio announced the partnership last week.
“I feel so honored to be connected to the other four companies and to be working with company leaders who are interested in really shepherding the art form forward,” said E. Loren Meeker, Opera San Antonio general and artistic director.
Forming the alliance will allow companies to share production costs, join marketing efforts, and aid in commissioning new works for the stage, Meeker said. But for the moment, the partnership has already produced results.
Vinkensport, or The Finch Opera and The Impresario are two digital co-productions scheduled for broadcast in October and November on Marquee TV, a streaming website used by the companies to continue offering performances during the shutdown of their venues.
Meeker is co-director of the Vinkensport production along with Ryan McKinny of the Houston Grand Opera. The chamber opera is described as “a hilarious sendup of the little-known Belgian sport of professional finch-calling” and has been re-envisioned specifically for film, Meeker said.
“We’re really pushing the boundaries of what it even means to be an opera,” Meeker said. “The way we’ve produced the film of this is … a real setting with characters and a movie script,” she said, having filmed scenes inside a Houston home rather than on a formal opera stage.
“If there’s a silver lining in COVID, and it’s that we’re figuring out how to innovate and produce Opera in a new way, sign me up, I’m all for that,” she said.
Meeker also directs The Impresario, a one-act comic opera by Mozart. It takes advantage of videoconferencing technology familiar to many people working from home during the pandemic.
The opera is about divas auditioning for a new production, and “we’re holding the auditions via Zoom,” Meeker said, “because that’s literally what the majority of opera companies are doing right now. Auditions are all virtual.”
The re-imagined script is by Jim Luigs, who wrote a brisket-themed version of Richard Wagner’s epic Ring cycle called Das Barbecü and now adds Texas updates to Mozart’s 18th century Viennese comedy.
“It’s very Texas focused and hilarious, full of little tips and nods to Texas culture,” Meeker said.
The companies have learned that adapting to the pandemic has created opportunities for the future.
“If there’s one thing that the pandemic has revealed,” she said, “it’s that a lot of companies, including Opera San Antonio, had room to grow when it came to digital impact and social media recognition and keeping our patrons connected to us on a more consistent basis.”
Such efforts will continue long after the pandemic finally subsides, Meeker said.
Meanwhile, the digital co-productions are providing work for opera artists and staff, and the company directors are joining forces to examine “initiatives that are going to help keep arts organizations and artists alive and thriving in some pretty extraordinary times,” she said.
The Texas Opera Alliance is “a way to share and communicate about artistic vision for the future of opera not only from organization to organization, but across Texas,” Meeker said, “and it’s nice to feel like you’re in partnership with each other as opposed to purely in competition with each other.”
That collaborative spirit will only strengthen opera in Texas, she said. “I think that’s going to be the way that the most innovative and inspiring art happens as we look ahead to the upcoming seasons.”
Vinkensport, or The Finch Opera will be presented at 7:30 p.m. Oct. 23, and The Impresario will run at 7:30 p.m. Nov. 27. Tickets are available through the Opera San Antonio website.