• Opera festival transcends turmoil
    By Jim Lowe
     | January 06,2013
    Provided photo

    Green Mountain Opera Festival presented Puccini’s “La Boheme” at the Barre Opera House in June 2012. Mozart’s “Don Giovanni” is scheduled for 2013.

    When Green Mountain Opera Festival’s founding artistic director resigned abruptly last July, the Green Mountain Cultural Center, the festival’s sponsor, chose to find a replacement within. And although Bruce Stasyna, the festival’s Emerging Artist Program’s director, took the reins only several months ago, a substantial 2013 season has begun to emerge.

    “I think what’s important, at least as far as 2013 goes, is to allow for change, enough change to make an imprint that Green Mountain Opera is alive and well, and really presenting cutting-edge artists in a really interesting repertoire that the festival can present in a responsible way,” Stasyna said in an interview Thursday from his New York City home.

    The 2013 season culminates with a production of Mozart’s “Don Giovanni” June 23 at the Barre Opera House (a June 21 performance may be added), and the annual Emerging Artists production, June 20 in Warren, is Benjamin Britten’s comedy, “Albert Herring.”

    “I felt that if there were too many changes from one season to the next, it might become a little bit alienating,” he said. “And the thing that is important to me is to make sure, in presenting these operas, I’m embracing the spirit of what Green Mountain Opera Festival is, should be and will be.”

    After the Mad River Valley festival’s fundraising dinner, March 16, the summer season will open with the Emerging Artists Concert June 9 in Stowe, followed by the Festival Gala June 14 in Burlington, sponsored by the UVM Lane Series. An opera brunch is June 20.

    The Green Mountain Opera Festival opened in 2006, founded by Taras Kulish, a Montreal bass-baritone and aspiring opera administrator, in conjunction with the Green Mountain Cultural Center, a Waitsfield arts organization. Kulish quit this past summer when the board was reluctant to meet his demand to separate the opera festival from the Cultural Center.

    Kulish and the board had already been sparring over Kulish’s wish to move the festival to Burlington and the burgeoning annual budget, which reached $200,000 in 2012. After Kulish’s resignation, the GMCC board, along with its opera advisory committee, invited Stasyna to meet with them at the end of August. After several meetings, Stasyna was made artistic director.

    Stasyna’s experience, in addition to conducting and teaching at the GMOF, includes the last six seasons as director of the Young Artist Program at Palm Beach Opera. Recently he performed as pianist with soprano Deborah Voigt and Italian tenor Marcello Giordani, and conducted such operas “Cosi fan tutte,” “Don Pasquale” and “The Marriage of Figaro.” From 1999 to 2006, Stasyna was head of music for the Minnesota Opera.

    “It’s a big learning curve for me, stepping in as artistic director,” Stasyna said. “I’ve been in the field now for 12-plus years, I know how the game is played, I know how to play various positions, but now I’m quarterbacking it.”

    Since October, Stasyna has achieved several coups for the festival, the first of which, was securing Michael Mayes for the role of Don Giovanni. The up-and-coming baritone made his debut in the role last season at the Des Moines Metro Opera.

    “Opera America (magazine) just sang his praises for a visceral presentation,” Satsyna said. “He is a scary guy — because he’s a fantastically committed actor and he really embodies every role he takes on. Michael is one of the reasons I wanted to do ‘Don Giovanni’ in the first place.”

    Stasyna also managed to secure as conductor for “Don Giovanni” Antony Walker, the-born music director of the Pittsburgh Opera and artistic director of the Washington (D.C.) Concert Opera. He made his Metropolitan Opera debut two seasons ago conducting Gluck’s “Orpheus and Eyrydice.”

    “He’s one of the most complete musicians I’ve had the privilege of knowing and working with,” Stasyna said. “He’s a fantastic conductor, great technique, and really does Baroque and Classical music in such a stylish way.”

    Leoporello, Don Giovanni’s ever-suffering sidekick, will be sung by Tom Corbeil, another young up-and-comer.

    “He’s a fantastic young bass,” Stasyna said. “He’s been at New York City Opera, Palm Beach Opera, where I met him. He’s just finished a run in the role of Lurch in “The Addams Family “on Broadway — 440 performances. “A beautiful voice and a fantastic actor!”

    One visible change is that this year’s main-stage production, “Don Giovanni,” will be a hybrid of a concert and staged production. While the orchestra will be on the stage of the Barre Opera House, the action will take place on the downstage apron, the two boxes on either side, and in the orchestra pit.

    “So it’s actually going to be extremely theatrical,” Stasyna said. “The only thing that’s not going to be utilized is any sort of fixed set. The premium is being put on the innate theatricality of the story of ‘Don Giovanni’ itself — it will be told, and it will be staged in a very theatrical way.”

    Stasyna auditioned for both the main-stage production and the Emerging Artist Program in New York City at the end of November and the beginning of December, the time when most summer opera festivals make their choices. There were 465 applications for the GMOF Emerging Artists Program, more than ever before.

    “I heard about 200 singers,” Stasyna said. “Traditionally, we cast for the Emerging Artist production and then, depending on the needs for the main-stage production, we also supplement that production. I was very excited about the quality of the singers.”

    Some singers have yet to confirm their appearances, and negotiations are under way for the stage director, who will supervise both productions. The professional orchestra is being assembled with a mix of Vermont-area players augmented with high-level outsiders, including many former participants.

    “The quality of musicians in the Vermont area is of a very high caliber,” Stasyna said. “I like to use and rely on those very fine musicians to still be the core.”

    Although the festival schedule remains similar to previous years, Stasyna’s message to the board represents a subtle but important change.

    “The big thing I’m telling them is that this is your festival,” he said. “This is the festival for the Green Mountains. It’s my job as artistic director, to present something that is for the community and, as much as possible, collaboratively by the community — so that there’s a real sense of investment in the area from the ground up.”

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