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Opera Festival Looks To Add To Berkshire Cultural Scene

Berkshire Opera Festival 2016 Poster
Berkshire Opera Festival

The Berkshires are a cultural hotspot for theater, music, art and dance, offering plenty to entertain residents and visitors, especially in the summer. But is something missing? WAMC caught up with a group that thinks there is.The songs of Madama Butterfly, heard in this Opera Australia production, will fill Pittsfield’s Colonial Theatre for three nights this summer. Those performing and producing the show will be members of the Berkshire Opera Festival. Led by opera veterans Jonathan Loy and Brian Garman, the group is embarking on its inaugural season. Loy and Garman met in Pittsburgh and together developed a desire to form their own festival. Having spent summers with family in the Berkshires for the majority of his life, Loy says the opportunity came in 2014 as Garman was moving back to New York from Seattle.

“Also being well aware that the Berkshires is probably the most culturally rich place in the country in the summer,” Loy said. “I don’t think anyone would argue that. And yet there was no opera here. So I said ‘What do you think about doing what we’ve always talked about?’ And he [Garman] said yes.” 

For the past two years the two have built the company, cast the opera with singers they have worked with and formed a production team. About 30 people make up the orchestra, complementing a chorus of roughly 20. Many of the performers live at least part-time in the Berkshires. The company has offices in New York City and Great Barrington. Loy says they steered clear of producing a top three opera — La Traviata, Carmen, Barber of Seville — during their first year for a reason.

“I think Butterfly was a great introduction to say ‘You all know this piece. This is what we’re going to do with it,’” Loy said. “But we are going to explore the entire operatic repertoire as we go forward and hopefully commission new works — that is going to be a strong part of our mission as well.”

The last full-time, professional opera group to run in the area was the Berkshire Opera Company, which took its final bow in 2008. Loy says opera is the most expensive art form to produce, saying that’s one reason no one else has filled the gap. Three shows, August 27 and 30 and September 2, are scheduled at the Colonial Theatre. But Loy says the plan is to adapt smaller shows to the numerous other performance spaces throughout the Berkshires.

“What we want to do is what we would call ‘diversifying our product’ which means that we’re not defined by a particular theater,” Loy said. “So that we’re throughout the community from Egremont up to Pittsfield and everywhere in between.”

Loy says the opera festival also wants to set up a young artist program.

“Where we bring the highest level singers that are just about to have a career and they get to have master classes,” Loy explained. “They would get to do their own productions which would create a third opera slot for the season.”

The festival is also putting on two recitals in August in Lenox and Stockbridge featuring songs by Butterfly’s creator Giacomo Puccini and female composers of his time.

Click here for more information about the festival.

Jim is WAMC’s Assistant News Director and hosts WAMC's flagship news programs: Midday Magazine, Northeast Report and Northeast Report Late Edition. Email: jlevulis@wamc.org
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