The Lowe Down: Is Opera North beginning a new era?

 

Opera North opened its 2018 season last weekend with four sold-out performances of a very different program at a very different location. Instead of an opera, it was popular opera arias, but mixed with intimate circus acts, all accompanied by the Opera North orchestra, under a tent at the visually stunning Blow-Me-Down Farm. “We’re very excited about the response from last weekend,” explained Evans Haile, Opera North’s general manager. “It kind of shows me that this is the direction that Opera North should be going in terms of creating a home, a true destination home. This is really our first production out there, our opening of a new chapter.” Rest assured, Opera North is continuing to present operas traditionally at the Lebanon Opera House in Lebanon, N.H. This year, the regional professional company is performing Offenbach’s “Tales of Hoffman” Aug. 3-12 and Rossini’s “Barber of Seville” Aug. 5-14 in repertory, fully staged with orchestra, and in their original language with English supertitles. But recently, Opera North signed a long-term lease on the Blow-Me-Down Farm, which is adjacent to the Saint-Gaudens National Historic Site in Cornish, N.H. The property was the historic home of Charles C. Beaman, a New York City lawyer who was responsible for bringing Augustus Saint-Gaudens and many others to Cornish. The result was the Cornish Colony, an extraordinary group of visual artists, writers, architects, landscape designers, musicians, and others who lived and worked in Cornish and nearby Plainfield 1885-1935. The group included Maxfield Parrish, Ethel Barrymore, Percy Mackaye, Ellen Shipman, Paul Manship, Charles Adams Platt, and novelist Winston Churchill. “There are very few places that have that view of the river and mount Ascutney right there,” Haile said. “The location is amazing, given that it’s just 15 minutes from the intersection of 89 and 91, two major interstates.” The 48-acre property is located across Route 12A from Saint-Gaudens historic site and on the Connecticut River and facing Mount Ascutney in neighboring Vermont, and includes the Beaman house and several other buildings. The main residence is an expanded version of what was once known as Charles Beaman’s “Casino,” a building that had served the social center for the Cornish Colony. Following a fire that destroyed Beaman’s main house, the three-story Casino was expanded and has since served as the primary residence. The house consists of three floors, seven bedrooms, seven bathrooms, dining room, an industrial kitchen, and numerous other rooms. “We are looking at restoring the manor house to be used as offices, as backstage space, as green room, as all sorts of things, as potential for a year-round retreat for us and other people,” Haile said. “Meanwhile we are still going to be doing productions at the Lebanon Opera House – but this is a great way to combine nature and music.” The Blow-Me-Down Farm is a magnificent property, like a smaller version of Shelburne Farms. But unlike Vermont’s former Webb estate, this one will be dedicated entirely to the arts. “It’s not just about Opera North wanting to do productions, it’s something that is going to serve the entire community,” Haile said. “The whole property I see as a true summer festival under the umbrella of Opera North, presenting opera, music, theater, dance and the visual arts, in conjunction with the National Park Service.” Jim Lowe is the music critic and arts editor of The Times Argus and Rutland Herald, and can be reached at jim.lowe@rutlandherald.comor jim.lowe@timesargus.com.   Opera North

  • Offenbach’s “Tales of Hoffman”: Aug. 3, 8, 10 and 12 (5 p.m.)
  • Rossini’s “Barber of Seville”: Aug. 5 (5 p.m.), 9 11 (2 p.m.) and 14

Performances are at 7:30 p.m. (except where indicated), fully staged with orchestra, in the original language with English supertitles, at the Lebanon Opera House, 51 N. Park St. in Lebanon, N.H. Tickets are $20-$90; call (603) 448-0400, or go online to www.operanorth.org.

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