Mark Richter

San Antonio is currently experiencing what art patrons have waited for decades to happen: A renewal of excitement in the arts community.

One only has to open an event calendar to see that there is now something happening for almost every taste. It is obvious that the increasing population of the city is turning this engine of excitement. Perhaps this is also an indicator of our college graduates wanting to remain and work in San Antonio, instead of fleeing to more hip places of residence.

Tobin Center for the Performing Arts
A rendering of The Tobin Center for the Performing Arts, set to open in Fall 2014.

The face of the performing arts has been one of change and growth these past few years. With the Tobin Center for the Performing Arts preparing to open in September 2014, San Antonio will finally have an acoustically special place for our fantastic San Antonio Symphony and newly formed The Opera San Antonio, which promises to produce world-class grand opera here. Certainly, there is an audience for grand opera, mostly built from the regionally acclaimed performances for 16 seasons by the now closed San Antonio Opera that I founded and served as general and artistic manager from 1997 to 2011. The organization was forced to file for bankruptcy the following year.

Read more here: “Opera in San Antonio Takes the Stage Once Again.”

Opera Piccola of San Antonio, which I founded last year and serve as general and artistic director, has in its opening and current seasons produced four fully staged professional operas, two concerts and an opera tour to surrounding cities, including Uvalde, New Braunfels and Fredericksburg in collaboration with Texas Hill Country Opera & Arts.

Much different than what opera patrons are accustomed to seeing, Opera Piccola provides an intimate opera experience. This nonprofit performing arts organization seeks to produce chamber opera, or smaller works that can be performed in places where the audience really feels they are a part of the drama on stage. The company has recently announced its 2013-2104 season at the Charline McCombs Empire Theatre.

Opera Piccola should not be construed as competition for the The Opera San Antonio, which has announced its first production in 2015 at The Tobin Center; quite the contrary, Opera Piccola wishes to support and collaborate in any way possible.

What is Chamber Opera?

There is a wave of change occurring, mostly in the U.S., but certainly also in European countries. The post-recession diminishment of many major opera companies has birthed a slew of smaller, intimate chamber opera companies. Grand opera will always possess a stronghold on the wonderful art form, but these new companies are attracting the younger generations of supporters by offering innovative and contemporary stagings of established opera, sometimes performed in non-traditional venues.

Actors and singers perform "Face on the Barroom Floor" during the 2012-2013 Opera Piccola season at the intimate Josephine Theater. Courtesy Photo.
“Face on the Barroom Floor,” performed during Opera Piccola’s inaugural season at the Josephine Theater. Courtesy photo by Kristian Jaime.

Chamber opera can be much more flexible in its artistic programming; attracting audiences with works that major companies will not produce. Intimacy is key to chamber opera. Minimal sets and orchestras are a trade for extremely theatrical and dramatic experiences. Another factor is its affordability, with ticket prices a fraction of a grand opera performance.

An actor performs "Don Pasquale" during the 2012-2013 Opera Piccola season at the intimate Josephine Theater. Courtesy photo by Kristian Jaime.
An actor performs “Don Pasquale” during Opera Piccola’s opening season. Courtesy photo by Kristian Jaime.

With many major companies downsizing their season and number of performances, the industry has reshuffled its resources. Opera agents are retiring and closing their doors, due to the lack of singing contracts for their clients, while the fewer, much larger management companies are trying to maximize their profitability by pushing their top artists to the opera world.

So where does this leave the rest of the singers? Despite the fewer job opportunities for emerging opera singers, there are young professionals vying, at all costs, to get any type of opera work. That is where these many chamber groups provide an important service to the industry while providing patrons opportunities to witness today’s extraordinary lesser-known talents.

Opera Piccola fully intends to contract, when available, regional and local talent, lending to the branding that is already being associated with company: The People’s Opera.

Can San Antonio Support Two Opera Companies?

There is currently at least one smaller opera company in almost every major city in the country, with some cities like New York, Los Angeles, and Chicago with dozens of such companies. Patrons who attend grand opera performances also want to experience chamber opera and visa versa.

Opera Piccola of San Antonio has recently announced its 2013-14 season, featuring five intimate chamber operas that explore an infinite variety of emotion: fear, rage, love, betrayal, and healing. The season opens with Gian Carlo Menotti’s The Medium in October, followed by the double-bill of Mozart’s Bastien and Bastienne and Robert X.

Rodriguez’s La Curandera in February of 2014, and another double-bill of Orpheus and Euridice and Green Sneakers, by Ricky Ian Gordon, in May 2014.

piccolaoperacombo

The season is filled with exciting San Antonio premieres, the return of an innovative and exciting artistic team led by Music Director Kristin Roach and Stage Director Cynthia Stokes, opening night composer receptions, an educational and outreach program featuring Hoiby’s Bon Appétit! and a move to the gorgeous 856-seat Charline McCombs Empire Theatre, in its 100th anniversary.

Season tickets are available with prices ranging from $54.00-$150.00 for all three operas. Call 314-6696 for discounted tickets. Hope to see you there.

Mark Richter is the founder and general and artistic director of Opera Piccola, which you can follow on Facebook.

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Iris Dimmick

Senior Reporter Iris Dimmick covers public policy pertaining to social issues, ranging from affordable housing and economic disparity to policing reform and workforce development. Contact her at iris@sareport.org