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Great Barrington’s Mahaiwe Performing Arts Center and Berkshire Opera Festival join forces, announce new long-term collaboration

The Mahaiwe Performing Arts Center in Great Barrington, Massachusetts.
Christina Lane
The Mahaiwe Performing Arts Center in Great Barrington, Massachusetts.

Two Berkshire County cultural entities – the Mahaiwe Performing Arts Center and Berkshire Opera Festival – have announced a new long-term partnership.

The historic Great Barrington theater will serve as the new home for the Pittsfield-based opera group through a multi-year residency plan.

“A lot of it was simply a recognition of how aligned our goals are, and how much our sort of ethos of how we work really fits so nicely together. We've really enjoyed hosting them in our space, they've enjoyed being at the Mahaiwe, and so- And we both have opera audiences. The Mahaiwe has, since 2009, been screening the HD opera broadcasts from the Metropolitan in New York City and has, we have hosted of course, the Berkshire Opera Festival, Boston Early Music Festival, and so there's a real alignment in the people who want to come to our offerings," Mahaiwe Executive Director Janis Martinson told WAMC. “By working together, it gives us both a higher profile, which is really helpful in terms of bringing audiences in to see the work once it's been created. And that's ultimately the mission that we share, is to join audiences and art together. And of course, there are financial economies as well, that, you know, they can really focus on what they do well, we can focus on what we do well, and we hope that we can amplify the revenue and minimize the costs at the same time.”

Under the agreement, the festival’s mainstage productions will be housed in the Mahaiwe for years to come.

“We have been in Pittsfield just for the past two years. Actually, previously, we were in Great Barrington. And our office are just offices that are not rehearsal spaces or performance spaces, anything of that nature. So, anytime that we're doing any performances, we have to be invited or rent the space from another partner, so we haven't had that home," said Berkshire Opera Festival Executive Director Abigail Rollins. “This is what we're really excited about in terms of actually having a final and sort of a permanent performance home, because it just allows us to do artistic planning in a completely different way. So, we're not designing performances in a vacuum and just hoping that we'll find the appropriate venue that has, that can accommodate us for when we've issued contracts and what we're hoping to do it, we can actually have these conversations in advance, get them on the calendar.”

Rollins says the festival can start developing new programming with the security of a home base.

“Our grand ambitions as we continue to grow the company is to be able to have additional fully staged productions in addition to that main stage, some of which may happen during the summer," she said. "But we are also looking at other times of the year, working with the Mahaiwe to find the additional times in the year where we could add additional opera productions to the season. On top of that, we have plans for additional concerts, especially those that can introduce young and new audiences to opera who have perhaps not been exposed to it otherwise. And where I'm really excited is to collaborate with them on additional education and outreach opportunities as well.”

The first major BOF production to be held at the Mahaiwe under the terms of the new agreement will be Faust on August 24th, 27th, and 30th.

“This is actually our first time doing a French opera up at this point," said Rollins. "It's been all in Italian. So, this is a sort of a new debut for us. As part of the Mahaiwe residency as well, we hope that everyone will join us on July 24th at the Mahaiwe where our co-founders, Brian Garman and Jonathan Loy, will be doing a preview of Faust. So, people will be able to go behind the scenes learn about Jonathon Loy's director's vision for the production, Brian will of course get into detail about what makes the music of this opera so special and magnificent, and will be just a really great preview of everything that our audiences will have to look forward to at Faust in August.”

Terms of the deal were not disclosed.

The Mahaiwe opened as a vaudeville house in 1905 and has since been placed on the National Register of Historic Places. It has been a WAMC underwriter.

Josh Landes has been WAMC's Berkshire Bureau Chief since February 2018, following stints at WBGO Newark and WFMU East Orange. A passionate advocate for Western Massachusetts, Landes was raised in Pittsfield and attended Hampshire College in Amherst, receiving his bachelor's in Ethnomusicology and Radio Production. His free time is spent with his cat Harry, experimental electronic music, and exploring the woods.
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