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Opera’s leap to Proctors

Hubbard Hall performance of ‘La Traviata’ is expected to attract a new audience

Thursday, February 7, 2013
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Hubbard Hall Opera Theater performers Christopher Lucier and soprano Rachele Schmiege are fitted for costumes at The Costumer in Schenectady for “La Traviata,” which will open at Proctors GE Theater tonight. Schmiege plays Violetta and Lucier plays Alfredo in the Verdi opera.
Hubbard Hall Opera Theater performers Christopher Lucier and soprano Rachele Schmiege are fitted for costumes at The Costumer in Schenectady for “La Traviata,” which will open at Proctors GE Theater tonight. Schmiege plays Violetta and Lucier plays Alfredo in the Verdi opera.

— Soprano Rachele Schmiege, dressed in a long purple gown, looked critically at her reflection in a mirror at The Costumer.

“No one else is in purple,” said Heidi Lauren Duke, the director for the Hubbard Hall Opera Theater (HHOT) production of “La Traviata,” which opens today at Proctors. “But I want the dress to pop. We need some jewel trims to make her look special.”

Schmiege will sing the role of Violetta Valery, a successful Parisian courtesan, who is doomed to fall in love with Alfredo Germont, only to agree to leave him at the behest of his father. Eventually she succumbs to consumption in Alfredo’s arms.

While Helen Porter, The Costumer’s designer, patternmaker and draper, played with various trims or adjusted Violetta’s hem (Porter made the costume in a day, she said), bass Nicholas Wiggins posed in his period suit to represent the Barone Douphol, the man who keeps Violetta after she has left Alfredo and who later duels with him.

Hubbard Hall Opera Theater

WHAT: Verdi’s “La Traviata”

WHERE: Proctors GE Theatre, 432 State St., Schenectady

WHEN: 7:30 p.m. today, Friday, Feb. 14 and 15; 2 p.m. Sunday and Feb. 17

HOW MUCH: $40, $30 (members and students)

MORE INFO: 346-6204, www.proctors.org/events

“This is a cool-looking suit. I like it a lot,” Wiggins said. “I can sing in anything.”

As other singers came in to get fitted, Alix Jones, the founder of HHOT and this show’s producer, looked on. This is the sixth season for the company, which still performs most of its shows during the summer at Hubbard Hall in Cambridge. The leap to Proctors’ GE Theatre is a big one.

Trial run

“We’d been selling out our last two seasons,” Jones said. “A year ago, it was just an idea. I approached Philip Morris [Proctors’ executive director] about doing a winter opera. He was looking for something like that. So this is a test case.”

Jones said she chose Verdi’s “La Traviata” because it is so well-known that even people who have never attended an opera recognize it. She wanted at least two weekends to perform the show to give the company a framework to work within.

“It will be a different audience. Most will be first-time opera goers, and this is the first time in a space with a staff that is not my own,” she said. “Proctors is doing the marketing, the programs. I love collaborating with them, but usually I have a Hubbard Hall team who deals with all Hubbard Hall programs.”

Not having to worry about funding to handle these background issues has been a blessing, because even though HHOT is under the Hubbard Hall’s umbrella, Jones is still responsible for finding the funds to mount the productions. Sometimes a local business will provide in-kind services, such as a hair salon that does the hair and makeup.

Struggle for funding

“There are no grants. It breaks my heart. Chorus members come for gas money as their way to give back to the community,” Jones said. “This has been a one-woman show. I have to reinvent the wheel for grant writing. I would love a staff to do this.”

It’s not as if she hasn’t tried. She almost got a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts but just missed because, according to feedback, the Village of Cambridge didn’t show enough community impoverishment, she said. But the company did win second place last year in the community opera division in the American Prize competition, which is open nationally.

“We got recognition for artistic excellence, which considering we were in competition with major companies in larger cities like Boston, felt good. We also got a certificate and judges’ feedback,” Jones said.

To find the singers for this production, Jones, the conductor, Maria Sensi Sellner (who won last year’s American Prize in the college conducting division) and Duke held auditions locally and in New York City. As part of the company’s mission, half of the singers are local talent.

For “La Traviata,” that will include Wiggins, mezzo-soprano Kara Cornell, who sings the role of Flora Bervoix; soprano Vedrana Kalas, who will cover the role of Violetta; Amy Shake, who sings as Annina; and some of the chorus members.

The three leads — tenor Christopher Lucier (Alfredo Germont), bass Robert Aaron Taylor (Giorgio Germont, his father), and Schmiege, are from out of town. All will be making their debuts with the company.

This show will be different from what HHOT does at Hubbard Hall because there will be a high-tech element as part of the set/scenery.

scenic advantage

Most Hubbard Hall audiences know that the sets and props have been imaginative but rudimentary because the company works on a limited budget. But in the GE Theater, there is a 50-foot high-definition screen that Duke wanted to use.

“It was Heidi’s idea and new to me, and Philip wanted to include the screen,” Jones said.

Caite Hevner will design projections that will mix time frames between modern and old movie clips, among other ideas, that will provide a backdrop to the scenes and interweave with line feeds with the singers.

“It will be an integrated experience,” Jones said.

The production will be sung in Italian with supertitles and there will be a 22-piece orchestra of local freelance musicians.

After the two-week run at Proctors, Jones is looking to hold March auditions for the August production of “The Barber of Seville” at Hubbard Hall.

She wants to continue touring a small group of singers with piano as they did very successfully to Dorset last season and possibly beef up the budget to travel to more locales in New England. All this is still a marvel to her.

“I never dreamed I’d get so far with the company. It was just an idea over breakfast,” she said.

“I’ve always liked doing projects and being an entrepreneur and this has been a lot of fun. Now, though, it’s evolved into more of a job.”

 
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