all about Opera Manhattan per a ‘bel canto bear’

Opera Manhattan Repertory Theatre (OMRT), a young opera company that puts the new in New York (compared to the 132-year-old Met), is offering some ironic Valentine’s weekend fare, with particular appeal to those who can’t abide Cupid’s favorite holiday. (Take that, Hallmark.)

Called Women on the Verge, the project includes Francis Poulenc’s La Voix Humaine and two monodramas by Thomas Pasatieri, Lady Macbeth, based on speeches from the play that OMRT representatives dare not name, and Before Breakfast, based on a Eugene O’Neill monodrama. The production features a wonderful cast of young, rising singers.

Women on the Verge poster

Joining us to talk about their upcoming Women on the Verge and the Opera Manhattan Repertory Theatre is David Browning, a self-described “bel canto bear in a verismo world,” and OMRT principal.

Welcome, David.

So, according to a 2009 New York Times article, OMRT is turning three years old. Is that correct?

Actually, Opera Manhattan Repertory Theatre grew out of a single performance project put together by a group of friends in the summer of 2008.  Before the first performance was over, the group had decided to create an opera company.  OMRT was incorporated in the state of NY in April of 2009.  So we’re coming up on the group’s fourth birthday this summer, if I count correctly.

David Browning, OMRT General Manager

Have you been involved with them since the inception?

Not at all.  I met Bryce (VW) Smith, OMRT’s Executive Director and co-founder, at a church choir gig.  We started together in the fall of 2009

at a great little Lutheran church on Long Island.  I hadn’t even seen an OMRT show before he asked me to help out with OMRT’s production of Dido and Aeneas in early 2010–the chorus was down to a single tenor.  It was so late in the process there wasn’t even time for me to memorize the chorus music and learn the staging–I sang it all off stage.  After that I helped out occasionally in other ways, like working box office and doing some occasional writing.  I did chorus in OMRT’s La Boheme in November, 2010, and wound up singing Parpignol for all the performances.

Some of the original organizers left the group last spring, and I became more involved in an official capacity at that point, having a PR/Communications title with the organization. Bryce remained as Executive Director, but his own performing activities began to take off and I became more involved in the day-to-day running of the company.  And here I am, General Director!

What is your background briefly?
I went to a small liberal arts college in NC called Pfeiffer College (now Pfeiffer University).  When i started out I wanted to be high school music teacher, but I got the performing bug.  I started grad school at a big-name music school known around the world as an opera factory, but I wasn’t prepared for that at all, and left with my tail between my legs after a year and a half.  I complete grad school–well, almost–at the University of Miami, where I learned a lot more than I had at the big name school.  I also learned that I’d had a pretty darn good education in music history and theory at my tiny liberal arts college.

I came to NYC to pursue performing in the early 1990s, but again, I was very poorly prepared for it.  To briefly summarize 20 years, one day job led to another, so that I now make a reasonably comfortable living in financial printing technology while singing has been relegated to a sideline.  Along with arts administration and writing about opera.

As general director, are you responsible for selecting the season? For staging the works? Help us understood what you do at OMRT.
The repertoire is selected by the management as a group.  The core group currently includes Bryce, me, Communications Director Nathan Fuhrman, and Education Director Becky Hicks.

My duties have to do with the day-to-day running of the group–overseeing the administrative, financial, operations, and production functions.  Because we don’t have enough people to do everything, I also wind up producing and managing some of our shows and events, toting props around in my car, comforting distraught artists, and doing whatever else needs to be done.

Needless to say, the plan is see Opera Manhattan grow so that being OMRT’s General Director will be my full-time job.

Where do you find your talent? (Don’t reveal any state secrets if it would compromise your recruitment.)
We have general auditions every spring, and in fact there will be a public announcement soon about the auditions we plan for this spring.  No one is cast without being heard by more than one of our management and artistic team.  If we don’t have the right people for the repertoire we want to do from the auditions, we put out feelers to past artists, friends and contacts, and the general population of singers, but we still audition every singer we cast.

Are you looking for new performers?
Always.  We’re at a tricky professional level, one where our means are extremely modest but we still insist on professional-level talent.  Singers often pass through quickly on their way to bigger and better-paying gigs–especially men–but there are usually lots of singers arriving on the scene at that level.

Our  mission is to work with singers at just this stage, not only giving them performance opportunities, but also helping them gain the business and entrepreneurial skills they need to a build a career.  Conservatories are just beginning to teach this now, and so many young singers really need a lot of guidance in that area.

How did you decide on your melancholy Valentine-themed production?
We first decided we wanted to do “La Voix Humaine.”  Then we found the two Pasatieri monodramas, Before Breakfast and Lady Macbeth, to round out a program.  We decided on mid-February because it fit in with other plans for the season.  It was only then that we noticed the dates of the program were just before Valentines Day.  A friend suggested we make a big deal of that, and the fact that all the monodramas are about women and the men made them miserable.  (OK, Lady Macbeth is a stretch, but work with me here.)  We did a RocketHub fundraising project where some of the premiums included a voodoo doll made to look like the man who done you wrong, making sure a black cat crosses the path of the man who done you wrong, etc.  Some of our contributors had very interesting suggestions about how to treat the voodoo dolls.

Who discovered the Clown Prince of Opera? (The headline act for OMRT’s upcoming fundraiser.)
Actually, I met Michael Wills, who with his business partner Amber Spradlin manages Operation Adelmo, socially.  They had just returned from the Edinburgh Fringe Festival with Operation Adelmo, and we wound up talking about how our two organizations could work together.  Michael, Amber, and Adelmo Guidarelli, the genius behind Operation Adelmo, very generously offered to donate a performance as a benefit for Opera Manhattan.  We’re very excited about this event–it’s Feb. 20 at Symphony Space.

And here is your lightning round of questions (five words or less, David): Five words?  Yeah, it’s good to have a dream.
Greatest success at OMRT:
  Hansel & Gretel 2011.  Or Erwartung/Bluebeard’s Castle (2010).
Greatest challenge:  Making our dreams fit our means.
Greatest risk:
  Losing money!
If only [this] would happen, life would be hunky-dory:
  A winning Lotto ticket?
Would most like to produce:
  Norma.  Or Dialogues.  Or Idomeneo.  Or The Rake’s Progress.  Or….
Would most like to direct (if different answer):
   I don’t direct.  I produce.
The greatest thing about your performance space:
  We adored Acorn Theatre at Theatre Row–the space was great, the staff at Theatre Row was great, and the location was amazing.  But we don’t have a permanent home yet.

What’s next:  Women on the Verge, Feb. 10, 11, 12

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For more information about OMRT, visit their website. You can like OMRT on their Facebook fan page or follow them on Twitter @operamanhattan. You can also visit David’s blog “Taminophile,” because it’s a super cute blog and find him on Twitter at @taminophile.

1 Comment

Filed under 21st Century Opera, Interviews, opera and irony, Q&A

One Response to all about Opera Manhattan per a ‘bel canto bear’

  1. Mr. Smith, I just discovered your website and am interested in your up-coming season. I’m a stage director, having helmed 14 professional
    productions. Kindly check out my website. I wish I could volunteer my services but that is not a current option. But perhaps we should open up
    a dialogue. Regards, E. Randahl Hoey

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