Opera Wilmington launched in the spring of 2014 to fill a niche on our local arts scene that hadn’t been tackled. Other than the occasional performance given by UNCW students or touring companies, locals resorted to watching opera through live Met performances screened at UNCW’s Osher Lifelong Learning Institute or at local theaters.
However, the arrival of Wendy and Jerry Fingerhut to Wilmington from NYC changed the imprint that the genre would have on our scene. As season ticket holders to the Met, the Fingerhuts met professor of music at UNCW, Nancy King, and decided to launch a local organization with Franz Lehár’s light-hearted “The Merry Widow.”
“Our plan was to produce one fully staged opera each summer, with several vocal music events during the year to expand our audience and maintain the excitement,” OW’s artistic director, King, says.
Last summer they continued the program with a sophomore performance of Verdi’s tragic opera, “Rigoletto.” The use of English subtitles allowed the audience the full experience of the show without having to necessarily know the Italian language. The same will be utilized for OW’s third season premiere, Mozart’s “Così fan tutte.” Subtitles will illuminate on large fans that hang around the stage in the elaborate set built by UNCW assistant professor Max Lydy, who teaches production design and technology.
“Max manages to design beautiful and functional sets that transcend the limitations of the relatively small stage space,” King praises. “To date, they have transported our audiences to Paris of the 1890s and Italy of the Renaissance. Now, we’re sure his imaginative designs will send us all to Naples in the 18th century, the backdrop for ‘Così.’”
“Così” is a simple story of love and deception that audiences easily will relate to some 200 years after its inception. It all starts with a bet, according to King.
“Two young soldiers, boasting of their fiancée’s fidelity, are challenged by their philosopher friend, Don Alfonso, who proclaims ‘all women are unfaithful,’” King explains. “The gentlemen agree to test the women, by wooing each other’s partner, but in exotic disguises. Who wins the bet? Audiences will find out as the opera’s comedic plot unfolds.”
Auditions were held last September for leads and chorus. Folks from across NC lined up to secure a part in the show. The final cast consists of two leading men, Will Bryan as Guglielmo and Josh Collier as Ferrando. King will play Guglielmo’s love interest, Fiordiligi, while Dorabella, Ferrando’s love, will be played by Constance Paolantonio.
“The young women’s savvy and sassy maid Despina is sung by Sophie Amelkin, and Nathan Strock has the role of the meddling Don Alfonso,” King explains. “We chose ‘Così’ because of the lighthearted way it reveals many complexities of our human relationships, easily recognizable to our modern audiences—and because of the music!”
Dr. Joe Hickman, OW’s conductor and chorus director, brings to life fast-paced recitatives (recited passages) to enliven and elevate the humor of the show. King says the ensemble moments will rivet audiences.
“There are many moments of two, three, four, five, and even six singers simultaneously telling the story,” she says, “and Mozart does it brilliantly. So much of his rich orchestral writing tells the inner feelings of the characters, which is what Dr. Hickman is focusing on.”
Characters tease over jealousies and are in competition with one another in the plot. Their connectivity with the audience will be sweeping, as the opera is held in the intimate Cultural Arts Building Main Stage on UNCW’s campus. “There’s not a bad seat in the house,” King promises.
OW audiences reach beyond 2,500 and events have sold out, including special two-day workshops and other outreach happenings. They offer five chances to see “Così fan tutte” this week, including a pre-performance gala on July 29 and a meet-and-greet cast party after the closing matinee on August 7. Regular tickets are $40 to $50, while gala and meet-and-greet party tickets are $90 to $100, and include the show, along with champagne and hors d’oeuvre. “Ticket sales account for less than 50 percent of our costs,” King says. “We exist through the generosity of our donors, corporate sponsors, and grants, most notably through our local arts council. The process of raising money to produce opera is formidable. We definitely rely on the community for support, and are lucky enough to have been able to produce a very high-quality product with their help.”
OW has other events in the works throughout the year, including their season preview and donor appreciation party on September 16, and their fall concert, “The Sacred and the Profane,” at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church on October 30. 2016 is already booked, too, with “Shakespeare at the Opera” in February, symposiums in May, a master class, a benefit for the OW scholarship, and “Opera on the Beach,” all before they announce their 2017 official opera.
“We can be found entertaining residents at several independent and assisted-living communities, too,” King notes. “As we grow and mature, we hope to collaborate with other organizations locally that have complementary missions.”