By Ted AYALA
The economic recession that closed the first decade of the 21st century and is stubbornly lingering into the beginning of its second decade has been a disaster for arts and music organizations. Opera companies are some of the worst affected of all these organizations. Requiring the work of not only a large group of musicians, but also stage hands, set designers, directors, etc., opera can prove to be prohibitively expensive to produce. Even world renowned opera companies like the Metropolitan Opera of New York and the English National Opera have suffered severe cuts in funding and have been scrambling to find new ways to raise money. So it is heartening to find that, amidst a sluggish economy, the Intimate Opera of Pasadena – the only regional opera company in the San Gabriel Valley – is still thriving well over a decade after its founding.
“We’re a boutique regional opera [company],” explained artistic director Stephanie Vlahos. “With every community an opera house goes into, you have to engage the audience with approachable works. We’re reaching out to the community by making opera accessible with carefully crafted productions that reveal the [potent] theatrical values [of these operas] and through our wonderful English translations.”
Adding to the Intimate Opera’s unique flavor is its intermingling of young singers with more experienced singers. Vlahos said that, “young singers learn so much from working with celebrated singers.” She cited her own unforgettable experience singing alongside Placido Domingo in a production of Jacques Offenbach’s “Tales of Hoffmann’’ and what an impressive learning experience it was for her.
Especially exciting for Intimate Opera this season is that the 2010-2011 season will be its first at the Pasadena Playhouse.
“We approached the Pasadena Playhouse and suggested that it might be interesting for them to have a regional opera company performing there a few times a year,” said Vlahos. The board of the Pasadena Playhouse agreed – now Intimate Opera has a new permanent home.
Intimate Opera of Pasadena’s 2010-2011 season begins with Gian Carlo Menotti’s “Amahl and the Night Visitors,” a brief, one-act work of gem-like charm and brilliance. Commissioned by NBC’s opera programming department, “Amahl” became the most widely televised opera in history, attracting five million viewers from across the U.S. for its premiere. It subsequently became a traditional Christmas favorite and was aired annually during Christmas time on NBC from 1951 to 1968. Vlahos described Menotti’s opera as a “perfect first offering for a company that provides an intimate setting for the world of opera.” She also admires Menotti’s work for “inviting the flair of the theater into his operas.”
Starring as the mother in “Amahl” is Suzanna Guzman, well known locally and internationally as a superb singer of the stage.
“Suzanna actually performed the part of the mother at the Kennedy Center under Menotti’s supervision,” Vlahos said.
As a double-bill with Menotti’s opera, patrons will also be treated to a dramatic reading by none other than actor Malcolm McDowell. Best known as the star of the films “A Clockwork Orange” and “If…,” McDowell will be reading Dylan Thomas’ “A Child’s Christmas in Wales.”
Vlahos was understandably excited about McDowell’s participation.
“[He] wanted to get behind us and show his support for the Intimate Opera and the Pasadena Playhouse,” she said.
“Amahl” opens at the Pasadena Playhouse beginning Dec. 16 and runs through Sunday, Dec. 19.
For more information, visit Intimate Opera’s website at www.intimateopera.net or call (626) 274-7372.