A group of music school graduates, looking for opportunities in Indianapolis, decided to create an independent opera company in the city. Four years later, Intimate Opera is starting to make a big impact on the city’s arts scene. Executive Director Amy Elaine Hayes, one of the company’s co-founders, and Executive Producer Steven Linville, talked with 21CM about their experience as music entrepreneurs.
Read more on 21CM.org.
“Hoosier Connections: Opera on Demand V,” presented by Intimate Opera Saturday at the IndyFringe Theater, was an ideal opportunity not only for opera fans but also for those with little exposure or none at all to enjoy the art form in an informal, non-traditional setting.
"A Hand of Bridge"Intimate Opera View all 9 photos "Cake"Intimate Opera “Small Opera, Big Impact” is the tag line for Intimate Opera, founded in 2011, “to present underperformed staged music and local talent to the Indianapolis area.” Focused on holding their productions in small spaces with a limited audience size, the organization couldn’t have done better than to present its latest offering in the 100-seat IndyFringe venue. It’s a former church in the Mass Ave. arts district in downtown Indianapolis, popular with independent and small performing arts organizations.
The hour-long program for “Hoosier Connections: Opera on Demand V” consisted of five full-length operas. It featured four Midwest premieres, three works by Indiana composers and the world’s shortest opera with a length of fewer than four minutes. Singers and musicians comprised the 40 artists participating. Performed on a bare stage, each opera utilized minimal sets, furniture and props.
The cast of “A Hand of Bridge,” by noted composer Samuel Barber, featured Detra Carter, Emmi Malcolmson, Blake Kendall and Christopher Parker. They played four people involved in two dissatisfied relationships. While playing a hand of bridge, each character expressed his/her inner desires through four ariettas. Each maintaining a “poker face,” they revealed such thoughts as the purchase of a hat, an affair, a dying mother and sexual frustration. Though an interesting premise, and sung well, the piece suffered from a lackluster tempo.
“Cake,” by Indiana native John Chittum, told the story of Sarah (Mariel Gonzalez) and her quest to buy a cake for her son. Though seemingly an ordinary situation, it became something entirely different when she began to fantasize that the Old Woman (Kim Wallace) baking the cake was a witch and a Young Woman working at the bakery (Carissa Riedsel)was a fairy godmother. Later things turned a little dark once it is discovered that she never had a son in the first place. Wallace stood out for her character’s quirky mannerisms and soprano Gonzalez’s passionate delivery while singing the piece’s dissonant score was palpable. Soprano Riedsel stood out not only in this piece but also two others in the program that she appeared in as well.
Composer Peter Reynold’s “The Sands of Time,” the world’s shortest opera, lasting less than four minutes, starred Sarah O’Brien and Thom Brown. They played a warring couple, Flo and Stan, who argued over breakfast until good news came to the door in the form of visitors (chorus: Rachel Konchinsky-Pate and Carissa Riedesel) who informed them that they had won the lottery. With music written in the style of Gilbert and Sullivan, this particular piece was an absolute delight.
“Charon” was the most compelling opera in the program. It is by local composer Scott Perkins, and is based on the story of the ferryman of Hades, in Greek mythology, who carries souls of the newly deceased across the river Styx. But in this adaptation there is a twist. Humans have all died, due to circumstances associated with a modern world that is falling apart, so Charon has no more passengers to deliver. Bass Jerome Sibulo turned in a dynamic performance as Charon and strong ones were given by Steve Wrighton as Man, Amy Elaine Hayes as Woman, Kim Wallace as Wife, and Steven Linville as Husband. Once again showing presence, Carissa Riedesel was a very convincing child. Rachel Konchinsky-Pate directed and Heidetaka Niyama conducted Jennifer Peacock and Pat Rozenbook who masterfully played the two piano arrangement created by Perkins specifically for this production.
Bill Kloppenburg, another Indiana native, composed “Fear Not the Robot,” a lighthearted and whimsical “puppet opera” about invading puppets who wreak havoc on a human being, but in the end the story’s chain of events turns out to be only a dream. Adding to the piece's absurdity were the production's cheesy puppets and props. Proving that opera doesn’t always have to be serious and can even be nonsensical good fun was a cast that included Carissa Riedesel as the Narrator, Jerome Sibolu as Joe and the chorus consisting of Amy Elaine Hayes, Blake Kendall, Rachel Konchinsky-Pate, Chris Parker and Kim Wallace.
Poor acoustics and/or the sound of the amplified keyboard(s) overpowering the singers made it sometimes difficult to hear the mostly English lyrics during each of the operas, so consequently the librettos were sometimes difficult to follow. Nevertheless this writer was impressed, overall, with Intimate Opera’s presentation, the vocal talents of the singers and the works by the Indiana composers. In addition to its artistic efforts, the organization also deserves plaudits for its innovative efforts in making opera both accessible and entertaining.
For information about upcoming Intimate Opera performances visit www.intimateopera.org.
Original review can be read here.
by Chantal Incandela
Intimate Opera's Opera on Demand program, presented last weekend at IndyFringe Basile Theatre, featured five short operas (total running time: 1 hour) with the theme of "Hoosier Connections"; with the exception of one, all were by living composers with an Indiana connection.
The oddball of the night started things off: Samuel Barber's A Hand of Bridge, about two married couples playing bridge together, and their unspoken thoughts during the game. Detra Carter, Emmi Malcolmson, Blake Kendall, and Christopher Parker all sang their roles well, with the able accompaniment of pianist Hidetaka Niiyama.
In keeping with the strong start was Mariela Gonzalez' performace as Sarah, in John Chittum's Cake. The plot finds Sarah going to a store to order a cake, but there's much more happening than that, namely all manner of internal struggles. Gonzalez nailed the part of the conflicted woman with intensity and power. Pianist Pat Rozenboom (who also played the rest of the evening) had an equally intense part.
Peter Reynolds' Sands of Time, about a feuding couple (a well matched Sarah O'Brien and Thom Brown), sounded like it almost came out of the classical era, making the couple's arguments sound nearly charming at times.
Taking on a much more serious tone was Scott Perkins' Charon. Jerome Sibulo sang the title character with conviction and intensity fitting the story, about the ferryman in the underworld, ushering people on to his boat.
The evening ended on a much lighter note with Bill Kloppenburg's Fear Not the Robot, which included all the evening's performers. A puppet work, with small traffic cones on hands decorated as robots and posters describing each scene, it was comical across the board - in terms of the piano part, the story and stage direction.
The evening may have been short, but the Intimate Opera covered quite a bit of operatic ground without overwhelming the audience, and did so with conviction and integrity.
Original review can be found here.
by Jay Harvey
Even at its smallest scale, opera does something outsize with the sketchiest drama. A succinct demonstration of the art form's capacity to be larger than life when verbal expression is set to music is being presented this weekend at IndyFringe Theatre. (The second and final performance is at 3 this afternoon.)
Intimate Opera of Indianapolis' "Hoosier Connections" presents five operas in just over an hour. They cover a wide range of topic and character, although the tiny format threatens to lend them the hit-or-miss quality of haiku. In some sense, the brevity they share tends to dominate the impressions they make on the audience.
The program title didn't apply in the case of the opener, Samuel Barber's "A Hand of Bridge." But launching "Hoosier Connections" with a major composer's minor work helped dial back the audience's expectations even as it set rather a high bar for the other composers.
Barber's piece opens up the conflicts among two couples that gather regularly to play cards. As the game proceeds, four interior monologues are fleshed out operatically to indicate what each player is really thinking about.
All the solos are individually characterized by Barber, giving something substantial for Detra Carter, Emmi Malcomson, Blake Kendall and Christopher Parker to express. And so they did, directed by Amy Hayes and Steven Linville, with Linville conducting and Hidetaka Niiyama at the electric piano.
Based on what followed, the best lesson the other composers could learn from Barber is not to overload the instrumental accompaniment, nor to make it heavily parodistic. Both errors tend to swamp the singing, which should of course be foremost. And the singing was magnificent in the main role of John Chittum's perplexing "Cake." Mariele Gonzalez played Sarah, the troubled customer of a bakery, whose cake order is much more than a routine business transaction, involving supernatural matters and questions of personal identity.
Chittum's barbed score made extensive use of dissonances of the tone-cluster type, and also relied overmuch on a pounding instrumental pulse. It would seem the scenario's serious nature could have been communicated without so dense an accompaniment. Among Gonzalez's triumphs in the role was to consistently rise above the accompaniment's busyness.
Turning to the domestic comedy of "The Sands of Time," the muse of Peter Reynolds moved him in a Mozartean direction. A marital spat is resolved, for the time being, by the arrival of good news at the door. The two-person Chorus, deliverer of the glad tidings, was brightly sung by Rachel Konchinsky-Pate and Carissa Riedesel. But the quarreling couple (Sarah O'Brien and Thom Brown) was somewhat hampered by the scenario's sketchiness.
Flat characters can be a burden even in the spacious dramas of traditional opera. In mini-operas, flatness might as well be embraced. That is what Bill Kloppenburg does in the cartoonish science-fiction scenario of "Fear Not the Robot." With helpful posters displayed on and removed from a tripod to one side of the stage to signal each scene, the work bubbles along. It's perky under the direction of Linville, and the visual elements — chiefly puppets, dominated by decorated handheld canisters for the comically menacing robots — enhanced the effect. "Fear Not the Robot" worked well, in other words, as well-balanced musical theater, even at a trivial level of ambition.
More searching in its implications was Scott Perkins' "Charon," presented in its two-piano-arrangement premiere in this production. A character study of the legendary ferryman to the underworld, the work in this performance benefited hugely from the committed portrayal of the title character by bass-baritone Jerome Sibulo.
The character's anguish — the hooded figure hates his job — was well-suited to the vocal line. The accompaniment, despite twice as much keyboard potential as the other operas, was never overbearing. The souls whom Charon ferries across the Styx had a range of reactions to their journey that were nicely delineated by the cast. The plague of memory-sucking mosquitoes each is tormented by becomes a device cleverly turned upon Charon at the end.
Here was an opera that had a firm sense of the dramatic uses of brevity. Like "A Hand of Bridge," it is basically an anecdote, but, in this performance, one that seemed sure of itself. It was neither too eager to overwhelm the audience, like a mini-"Erwartung," nor overmodest in settling into short-form operatic constraints.
Original review can be found here.
by Jay Harvey - Indianapolis Star
We know Gustav Holst best for his panoramic suite for orchestra, “The Planets,” but for someone whose fate was having the lion’s share of his posthumous reputation rest upon one work, he was actually fairly prolific and diversely inspired.
As the Indianapolis Theatre Fringe Festival got under way Friday night, among the first performances was a rarely heard chamber opera by the English composer, reflecting his longstanding interest in Hindu religion and culture. “Maya: Illusions” bookends his 1908 opera “Savitri” with two Choral Hymns from the Rig Veda (in the composer’s translation from the Sanskrit, not a language many composers have known well, to put it mildly).
Intimate Opera of Indianapolis thoughtfully provided a program with an explanation of the concept of “maya,” the illusion believed to influence all of unenlightened humanity in its mistakenness about the nature of reality, plus a sketch of the story and a note on the production concept. Too bad Holst’s name wasn’t included, because the opportunity for further acquaintance with such a creative figure comes up too rarely — especially in IndyFringe, where the works and attitudes of the present moment are king.
With an ensemble of flute, violin and double bass conducted by Dan Whilser, the performance was keyed to the striking vigor and passion of Meagan Searles Todd in the title role. Her costuming — a white dress extended into what looked like an outspread parachute across the full stage of the Cook Theater at Indiana Landmarks Center — gave a physical representation of the woman’s dream-world.
“Savitri” immediately takes us into the title character’s dream, a disturbing confrontation with death and loss of love and life. There are lots of words in Holst’s libretto, and quite a few of them did not come across, though Todd’s firm projection was a model of clarity. Part of the general obscurity was due to the occasional thickness of Holst’s writing, showing the influence of an enthusiasm for Richard Wagner that the English composer found difficult to shed.
The specter of Death (baritone Sean Manterfield) is counterpointed with the earthly passion of love (tenor Lucas Wassmer as Satyavan) as forces urging different values upon Savitri. Cling to life and accept its mists of illusion? Or yield to death’s alluring promise to lift the veil?
The opening scene was powerful, tough to bring off musically, but convincing. There was some suspect intonation here and there, but most of the singing rang true. The change of lighting and the Wagnerian oomph in the music when the flowing garment becomes (through mostly hidden human hands) a bulwark separating the resolute heroine from Death constituted a dramatic high point. It was a case of the visual and the musical elements coming together in a unified manner that’s the glory of the art form that Intimate Opera of Indianapolis champions.
Half of the performances will have another soprano and tenor, with the four-voice women’s chorus and Manterfield appearing all six times. Based on Friday’s premiere performance, this musically and philosophically peculiar examination of a worldview most Westerners are only dimly aware of was handsomely represented.
by Scott Shoger
It takes a lot of work to mount an opera, so it pays to play it safe. But a ragtag bunch of opera lovers like Intimate Opera can afford to take a few more chances, to stage what audience members ask to see, to try out new approaches.
Opera on Demand is emblematic of the company's experimental, interactive approach; it's an ongoing series of programs informed by the results of audience questionnaires. Last time around, those questionnaires showed that we, the people of Indianapolis, want to see modern opera, in English, presented on a scene-by-scene basis. And so, the Intimate Opera put together a program of scene-centered excerpts from four such 20th-century, English language operas for last weekend's engagement at IndyFringe Theatre.
On the bill were Gian Carlo Menotti's The Medium (1946), about a charlatan who may be possessed or mad or both; Kurt Weill's Street Scene (1947), a collection of vignettes about New Yorkers of varying temperaments and ethnicities; Mark Adamo's Little Women (1998), a slightly mawkish distillation of the Alcott novel; and Aaron Copland's The Tender Land (1954), which came toward the end of a populist, pastoral trend in American arts and culture.
I'll leave the nitty-gritty of operatic criticism to the professional adjudicators; suffice to say that some singers had stronger, more confident voices than others, notably Meagan Searles-Todd, who excelled in the program's first half, and company co-founder Amy Hayes, who gave herself a tearful deathbed scene in Little Women.
More important, to my mind, was the program as a whole, which successfully gave a taste of all four operas, leaving at least one attendee hungry for the whole meal. Opera on Demand certainly met Intimate Opera's goal to serve both audience and performers - both by giving trained singers a chance to work in a town with few such opportunities, and by affording audiences a chance to hear operas that aren't often performed in Indianapolis.
So effectively were the operas spliced and taped together that the seams didn't really show when moving from aria to aria or act to act; enough of the story remained to figure out what was going on, and the choicest musical bits were preserved.
By the way, I'll certainly count myself among those who want to hear more modern opera in English (or other languages will work as well), so it's a pleasure to hear a favorite like Weill, who's not exactly an obscure taste, but doesn't get much play locally.
(The Indianapolis Opera has never produced Weill, for instance, though Menotti was a regular in the Indy Opera's early years - he was a popular taste in the '50s and '60s, especially on television, though he's a bit creaky now. Neither have Adamo or Copland been produced by the Indy Opera, which is a bit surprising, considering the popularity and accessibility of Little Women and the entrenchment of Copland in the canon.)
But back to the Intimate Opera to voice a couple minor quibbles. While Amanda Hopson's taped piano accompaniment served its purpose in a utilitarian way, a live accompanist (or even a small pit orchestra) might've helped singers to negotiate more complex passages - not to mention that live music tends to be more engaging than anything on tape.
And - how to put this? - I feel like the Intimate Opera is striking a bit too remedial a tone; not that the company is dumbing down the music, but between the kind of lame title for the show and a pre-show warning by a director that just because The Medium happens to be a little dark, it doesn't mean that the rest of the night won't be light and fun, one wonders if things are pitched too much toward the complete neophyte, who isn't, after all, likely to drop by the show in the first place (unless she happens to be a family member, and then she'll have to be supportive no matter what).
Original review can be found here.
by Scott Shoger
The folks behind Intimate Opera, a new company devoted to staging “underperformed opera” with “untapped talent,” want you to know that you don't have to be afraid. Nor do you have to wear formal clothes. Their production of two half-hour operas by Richmond, Ind.-born composer Ned Rorem — running this weekend and the next at IndyFringe Theater — will be staged in the comfiest of surroundings. You're encouraged to wear your pajamas — seriously — and there will be booze. The two musicals — A Childhood Miracle, based on Nathaniel Hawthorne's “The Snow Image,” and Three Sisters Who Are Not Sisters, based on a play by the same name by Gertrude Stein — are very much in English, because audiences expressed an interest in seeing contemporary work in their own language, according to Intimate Opera co-founder Amy Hayes. Hayes and Larry Goens, the other co-founder, together answered via email a few questions we put to them about the company; here are the results.
NUVO: Why do you think people fear/shy away from opera?
Intimate Opera tag team: Most people tend to think that opera is strictly performed in grand halls, in foreign languages, over hours and hours, about topics they can’t relate to. Normally, people have very little exposure to opera and their only opportunity to see it performed by true professionals is initially intimidating.
NUVO: What are you doing to address that fear?
IO: We remove opera’s fear factor by performing pieces that were written in a non-threatening style. We perform mostly English works which typically range between 45 minutes to an hour. We eliminate massive sets and costuming which often distance the audience from the action and emotion on stage. Most importantly, our troupe members are very close to the audience so that they are more “real”, not just big voices on a stage. They are people who make connections with our audiences before, during and after performances.
NUVO: Is anything lost in the attempt to make a performance more user-friendly or less imposing to the average listener?
IO: Most Intimate Opera productions are short in length, for small casts and small spaces. Nothing is lost because they are performed as they were intended. When we choose to perform a larger opera, we reduce it to its essence, only cutting those parts which distract the audience from its core. Nothing is lost because we aren’t cutting just to make it shorter. One of Intimate Opera’s goals is to introduce variety into the opera/music scene in Indianapolis because, just as there are different genres of movies and books, there are many different styles of opera.
NUVO: What other contemporary opera do you enjoy and might you perform in the future?
IO: We know we'll be a fixture in Indianapolis when we perform Dominick Argento’s Postcard from Morocco, but that is a larger piece, at 70 minutes, than we are looking perform right now. We are currently casting for Maya:Illusions, which utilizes various works by Gustav Holst. While we will never turn completely away from foreign language pieces by commonly known composers, we are drawn to contemporary, still living composers who write in English.
Original story available online here
Intimate Opera was featured in a lovely article by Jay Harvey of the Indianapolis Star as part of a preview of the 2011 IndyFringe Festival.
Mr. Harvey sat down with co-founders Larry Goens and Amy Hayes to discuss the genesis of Intimate Opera and what shows will be offered.
To read the entire article, visit the Indianapolis Star website.
Co-founder Amy Elaine Hayes was profiled in Scenica Memorial High School’s newspaper, Crusader News.
Reporter Raymond Riley, a student as Scenica Memoria, wrote a lovely profile of Miss Hayes, who was completing her student teaching there.
The article is printed below, and can be found on the Crusader News site.
by Raymond Riley
Upon first meeting Miss Amy Hayes most people recognize her warm smile, friendliness and her upbeat attitude, but they can’t pull out her other talent. She has been singing opera for years, and she uses her talents to co-run Intimate Opera, a local opera company.
She attended Little Flower and Holy Spirit for grade school. Afterward she went on to Roncalli high school. Growing up on the east side of Indianapolis and attending Catholic schools, she was familiar with Scecina. Now, after a lot of lobbying, she is student teaching at Scecina under the watchful eye of Mrs. Pat Tucker.
“I sang for people’s weddings,” said Miss Amy Hayes. “They said ‘Oh you have a classical sounding voice,’ so I started singing opera when I was 14 and I never stopped.”
Hayes wanted to change the stigma that opera usually doesn’t come up in conversation. It’s a growing theme in the music industry, but it doesn’t often make headlines in the news.
Hayes is also the co-founder of an opera company in Indianapolis called Intimate Opera. Her goal is for patrons to be able to enjoy an operatic show for the price of a movie ticket and about the length of a movie. She wants to have small audiences in a small venue downtown so there can be more of a connection between the performers and the audience. This way opera fans that are intimidated by the big expensive shows will be able to go to an inexpensive show that is local and personal. The company hopes to have its first production in either September or August.
Hayes grew up in a music loving family. Her family supported her singing and loved to listen to her renditions of various songs. The only close relative that she knew of that was involved in opera was her aunt. Although her aunt never completely pursued a musical career, she helped to inspire Hayes to pursue it for herself.
“I never really won competitions or got the lead part in the play,” Hayes said. “But I kept at it, and things finally started to happen.”
Hayes had been teaching voice and piano lessons, and then she got a scholarship to DePauw University through her singing. After substitute teaching for a couple of years, during college, she discovered that she really enjoyed teaching. She went to DePauw University, and took pedagogy classes to learn how to teach. Now she is finishing up her master’s degree at Marian University.
She started her teaching at Southport middle school, but she didn’t think middle school was the right fit for her, so she came to Scecina. Many students heard about her singing and it quickly became a popular request.
“Miss Hayes substituted for our eighth-period English class once,” sophomore Grace Downs said. “We begged her to sing opera because we had heard about it a lot. It was awesome. We were literally in awe because we had never heard opera like that. She is truly very talented.”
Hayes said she loves being in school because she loves to learn. And she loves talking to people and learning from them. She said she learns from her students all the time. She hopes to become a high school teacher someday.
Her students really appreciate the effort that she puts into teaching.
“Miss Hayes is always very nice and caring in and out of the classroom,” freshman Katie Suiters said. “She really loves what she does and it shows.”
In the future Hayes hopes to become a high school English teacher. She said she likes to teach the freshman, and hopes to teach at that grade level as well.
What people are saying
"I had an amazing experience with IOI and would absolutely work with the company again. I love that the operas chosen are not constantly done and that most were local composers."