Opera North Celebrates 40 Years
For 40 years, Opera North – the only full-time, professional opera company in New Hampshire – has served as a creative outlet to share the art form with performances of opera, operetta, and musical theater. Opera North’s steadfast commitment to the arts was apparent in 2020 as they were the only professional opera company that performed that summer during the height of the pandemic.
Opera North’s 40th Anniversary Gala was held at The Quechee Inn at Marshland Farms on June 30, 2022. It was a celebratory evening focused on the company’s impact on our community and the wider artistic world, as well as a celebration of the company’s long history and support for opera in the Upper Valley.
The past 40 years have been special, partly due to the notable fact that the same visionary – Opera North co-founder and artistic director, Louis Burkot – has helped lead the company since its inception in the 1980s. At the gala, Opera North’s board of trustees launched a special fund to support young artists and to celebrate Burkot’s visions and work over the years.
The Lebanon Opera House serves as the box office for all Opera North events and is an important partner of the company. As the opera house celebrates its 100th anniversary, they will collaborate with Opera North on special performances in the upcoming year. On the longevity of these arts organizations, Burkot said, “I think having longevity (allows the ability) to experiment every now and then when you feel the time is exactly right, and occasionally bold moves.”
At the gala evening, live performances from past artists and artists appearing in the current season were mixed with video testimonials from former members of the resident artist program. From these testimonials, the significant impact of Opera North on the career of so many people – singers, conductors, artistic managers, and more – was apparent over its 40-year history.
“These performances and presentations underscored what a valuable resource Opera North has been to the community, as a creative outlet to share the art form that we love so much,” said Maria Laskaris, Development Director at Opera North.
Opera North provides training for singers at an important early stage in their professional careers. Many of these young artists stayed just down the road from Marshland Farms in rented condominiums in the Quechee community.
“Support for the fund will help establish an endowment that will allow Opera North to continue to bring artists to the Upper Valley, especially those who we think have the potential to be transformational artists in the opera industry, whether they’re singers or conductors or stage directors or pianists or orchestral musicians,” Laskaris said.
Fostering the success of the next generation of artists at the beginning of their careers is an integral part of Opera North’s mission.
“The impact of Opera North on young performers… it’s a great place to start with their career, and many folks have come from this company to find great success,” said Burkot.
“We have found an important niche for ourselves to create an environment at Opera North for the next generation,” said Laskaris. “In retrospect, many folks say, ‘Opera North is where I learned my craft and brought me where I am today.’ Whether it is on the stage of the Metropolitan Opera, leading the Washington National Opera, or wherever it may be, you know these are the artists that we, as a company, helped nurture and foster their professional success.”
In 2018, Opera North began a partnership with the National Park Service to develop a new national park for the arts at the historic Blow-Me-Down Farm in Cornish, NH. Opera North hosted a summer arts festival, called “Summerfest,” on the site, and the 2022 season had fresh interpretations of classic operas, a unique opera/circus mashup, and a tribute to legendary divas of music.
“It is a unique venue where people can come and picnic, enjoy a beautiful spot – especially in the summertime – and enjoy music, food, friends, family, and make it more of a social event, rather than sitting quietly in a dark theater with no sense of the outside world,” said Laskaris. “Right now, we have people bringing lavish picnics to enjoy pre-performance, and then after the performance, just lingering because the night and site are so beautiful. It makes for a different kind of experience.”
During the pandemic, having this outdoor space allowed Opera North to continue its work without interruption. The company feels the ability to offer live performances at Blow-Me-Down Farm is key to their future, and they have developed the farm into a “campus for the arts” and site of their annual summer shows.
When the pandemic began, Burkot said, “My colleague, Evans Haile, General Director of Opera North, thought, ‘Well, we have an outside venue, and since being outside is not a danger – or at least not as much of a danger – we could do something this summer.’ We took all the precautions that we could do – everyone was tested before they came, we rehearsed outside, and we promised our audience that they would be seated safely.”
“We were the only professional opera company that performed that summer. Even the people in the orchestra – people who play in all the major New England orchestras like the Vermont Symphony or in cities like Portland or Boston – had not played live music for many, many months. I remember when I gave the downbeat of that first chord in the opening of The Magic Flute, everyone was in tears, they were so moved. It was a very emotional experience. We offered it free – the audience needed it, and we needed it,” Burkot added.
For accessibility to the arts before the pandemic, Opera North offered special events and programming throughout the year. The company would bring students to the Lebanon Opera House, to present a show – like Hansel and Gretel – or an entire production of operas specifically for students using an understudy cast. Over the years, the Education and Outreach Program has provided free performances to thousands of elementary, middle, and high school students across the Upper Valley.
Opera North continues to create avenues to attract a new generation of audience members looking for novel experiences across the region. In past years, Opera North partnered with area organizations on unique performances; for example, in one collaboration, they staged the Upper Valley’s first-ever outdoor opera with The Vermont Institute of Natural Science (VINS) in Quechee – with singing forest animals!
In the upcoming year, be prepared for unique performances, new collaborations, and even more ground-breaking work from Opera North! For more information, visit: www.operanorth.org.