Bringing New Life to Opera – How OperaRox’s Kimberly Feltkamp Hopes To Switch Up the Indie Opera SceneBy Katharine Baran
“A lot of the time it’s just like jumping off a cliff because you don’t know how it’s going to go,” said Kimberly Feltkamp, the general manager of OperaRox Productions in a recent conversation with OperaWire.
“I didn’t conceive of it as a company when I started it,” Feltkamp added. But strong reception to her initial project with OperaRox in 2015 created a snowball effect that has now allowed the burgeoning company to take a fresh look at the opera scene with the hopes of opening up new possibilities to younger and/or newer artists.
Choosing the Cast and Crew
The mezzo-soprano has a unique approach to choosing who does what in OperaRox’s productions. Often times, the people picked to perform for certain roles, wouldn’t have had the opportunity to do so based on how competitive the opera world can be.
“We are doing something that is not being done by anyone else, by the way, that I chose people based on how little they have on their resume rather than how much they have on their resume,” noted Feltkamp. “It’s all about giving people chances.”
“It could be terrible, but I’m okay with that if we tried our best and took a chance on someone and they didn’t step up, then what’s the worst that happens? It’s not a good performance and we move on from there.”
For example, the director for “The Marriage of Figaro,” OperaRox’s first production, had done scenes for theater before, but never a full show, until Fetlkamp gave her the opportunity to pursue her dreams and direct a full opera.
“The Marriage of Figaro” was such a success that many approached Feltkamp and asked what the next production would be and she ultimately expanded OperaRox to OperaRox Productions.
The 2016-17 season has been the first full year for OperaRox Productions, which started off with “Alcina”, along with house concerts that gave people experience in whatever they needed to do to advance their own careers.
A Major Change for this Season
One of the major differences this season has been how OperaRox’s general manager cast the artists. “All the leading roles are people who have finished at least their bachelor’s, if not their grad school, and are in that in between roles,” said Feltkamp.
One of the major focal points has been to give younger artists the opportunity to learn from more seasoned vets.
“I love to have this two tier of artists, where we have the younger ones who know what they’re doing, but just need time and experience, and then the studio artists who are super new, either still in school or came out of school with zero experience, and it’s great!”
This has allowed younger artists to get greater exposure to the craft, while also learning the roles themselves and then ultimately performing them as well.
OperaRox’s Opera Niche
Not only has Feltkamp created a unique way in hiring people, but they have also created an opera venue dedicated to producing LGBT-related operas, something that few other opera companies, both big and small, can boast. As part of this initiative, the company is showcasing the NY premiere of “Sweets By Kate” on July 2, with subsequent performances on the 5th, 9th and 12th. All performances will take place at the Stonewall Inn, the first official monument dedicated to the LGBT community in the United States.
“Being LGBT myself, I have a great love for this area, the West Village. That’s why I was super jazzed to do this opera this summer at Stonewall. It was like a dream,” said Feltkamp. “This idea that there are transgender, lesbian, and gay singers that never really get to play themselves, and again that’s why I love ‘Sweets By Kate’ because this is the first time I’m playing a lesbian character and this is a part of me that I’ve never brought to the stage in that same way.”
Looking to the Future
In terms of budgeting, OperaRox does things a bit differently from the bigger companies. Because the company doesn’t own a rehearsal space, they have to spend a little more on their venue. “Companies like the Met are spending all of their money on the literal production end of it, where we’re spending very little on the production end of it, and more of it on the venue.”
Ultimately, Feltkamp’s dream is for the company to have its own space available to its artists. But as of right now, the mezzo-soprano is focused on next season, which will include a partnership with a new composer based on a libretto written by the company members.
One of Feltkamp’s favorite parts of being the general director of OperaRox Productions is the ability to pick productions for every season. “When I choose the shows, it’s a huge process,” Kim continued. “It’s not just like I love these operas, it’s like which operas would be more conducive and beneficial to the people doing it and which would be fun for the audience.”
OperaRox is putting on a New Works Concert on June 23rd at The National Opera Center, which has excerpts from “The Contract Player” and new art songs. They will be performed by new artists and composers.
“Part of [the challenge of] new opera and songs is learning how to work with a living composer because if you mess up a piece by Mozart, he’s not there, but if you do with the composer sitting right there, it’s a really delicate balance.”
At the end of the day, Feltkamp is hoping to get more people involved in the opera world with OperaRox. “I would just love more integration into pop culture, instead of it being an antiquated thing.”