When Chautauqua Opera Company kicks off its Cocktails, Concerts and Conversations series this week, the focus of the evening, and of the season overall, will be on the next generation of opera singers.
“It was really important for our company to create a virtual Young Artist Program to support the 20 young artists we engage,” said Sara Noble, Chautauqua Opera‘s Director of Marketing and Engagement. “We’ve centered a lot of our season around them.”
Cocktails, Concerts and Conversations with Chautauqua Opera Company featuring Caitlin Lynch will premiere at 5 p.m. EDT Monday, June 29 on the Virtual Porch.
Lynch is the first of nine weekly guest artists who will join Chautauqua Opera throughout the season. This is the sopranos’ third year “back” at the Institution, where previously she performed as Violetta in Giuseppe Verdi’s La Traviata in 2016 and Marie Antoinette in John Corigliano’s The Ghosts of Versailles as part of the 2019 Opera Festival featuring the Beaumarchais Trilogy.
This season, however, will be very different from years past. For the first time ever, Chautauqua Opera is operating as a completely remote company. Instead of traveling to the Institution to perform the lead roles in Chautauqua Opera’s productions, the guest artists will lead virtual master classes and provide one-on-one mentorship with the Young Artists, who are participating from their homes across the country.
Lynch is excited to return to Chautauqua, even if only virtually.
“One of the highlights of my time at Chautauqua last summer was my interactions with the Young Artists,” Lynch said. “This opportunity to work with them again and discover this virtual platform of mentorship and friendship feels monumental — it feels like we are creating together in ways we never could have imagined.”
In lieu of full performances, the Cocktails, Concerts and Conversations will serve as a weekly opera hour. The guest artist will appear with General and Artistic Director Steven Osgood and two or three featured Young Artists; this week soprano Celeste Godin and baritone Michael Miller will join the conversation.
Lynch, Osgood, Godin and Miller will discuss the week prior and screen highlights from their master class with Lynch. Lynch’s full masterclass will be available to view at 10 a.m. EDT Wednesday, July 1, on the Virtual Porch.
Theresa Pierce, Chautauqua Opera’s props master and scenic artist, will also be featured in this week’s Conversation. She will discuss her Behind-the-Scenes conversation that aired on June 18, the first in a weekly Behind-the-Scenes series that give Chautauquans a look at the many departments within the company that spend a typical season making sure every production runs smoothly, from wigs and makeup to stage management.
“Our audience doesn’t usually get a chance to see these departments,” Noble said, “let alone understand what they’re doing.”
The Behind-the-Scenes series will air at noon EDT on Thursdays on the Virtual Porch.
Every week the conversation will end with a world premiere, thanks to 2020 Composer-in-Residence Frances Pollock.
Before the start of the season, Pollock and librettist Jerre Dye interviewed the Young Artists about their experiences with the COVID-19 pandemic and the effects of isolation. Dye then turned each interview into a poem, and Pollock is in the process of composing 45-second- to two-minute-long a capella pieces for all 20 Young Artists.
“Each Young Artist will have a dedicated piece that speaks to who they are and what their current existence is like,” Noble said.
Each week, the featured Young Artists will premiere their pieces in pre-recorded segments at the end of Cocktails, Concerts and Conversations. By the end of the season, a 20-piece song cycle will be born.
The last half hour of the Conversation will be an opportunity for audience participation, using the Virtual Porch’s chat box feature. Osgood hopes to create an environment similar to the 30 minutes after a performance at the Institution.
“Some people will have to run out … but other people will take the time to linger and chat with each other,” he said. “(We want to) create a real sense of participation — active participation. That is what we strive for in a ‘traditional’ season, and that is what we will be striving for in our virtual season.”