New York Opera Fest 2018 Preview: Check Out New Operas At the Center for Contemporary Opera

By David Salazar

With the New York Opera Fest 2018 officially underway, OperaWire will be showcasing small previews for each major participant at the festival, as we did during last year’s event. However, we are doing things a bit differently this year and giving the floor directly to each company to speak to you, the reader, directly. Enjoy!

At this year’s New York Opera Fest, the Center for Contemporary Opera will do what it does best – present new works and incubate another. The company is billing its offerings as “something for everyone.”


May 17 & 19 – Center for Contemporary Opera presents “To Be Sung:” Irondale Theater, 85 South Oxford St, Brooklyn, NY

May 18 – Center for Contemporary Opera presents “Sorrows of Frederick:” Irondale Theater, 85 South Oxford St, Brooklyn, NY

May 25 – Center for Contemporary Opera presents “Backwards from Winter:” Symphony Space, 2537 Broadway, Upper Level, New York, NY

Tell us a bit about your company in general and what you’re all about!

For more than three decades, the CCO has been a leading opera company devoted exclusively to the development and production of modern operas, seen in both the United States and abroad producing a remarkable body of work including staging some 59 contemporary operas including more than 15 premieres as well as 55 operas in development. Founded in 1982 by Richard Marshall with Robert Ward as its first president, CCO continues its mission to produce and develop new opera and music-theater works; revive rarely seen American operas written after World War II; promote an interest in new operatic and music-theater culture among the public; and to produce contemporary opera outside of the United States.

Tell us a bit about your production(s) and why you’re excited about them!

We open with the U.S. professional premiere of “To Be Sung” by Pascal Dusapin, adapted by from a short story by Gertrude Stein.

Next is a reading of Scott Wheeler’s opera “Sorrows of Frederickm” which uses modern language to create a darkly comic opera (in the sense that “Don Giovanni” is a “comic drama” dealing with evil and death) based on the life of King Frederick the Great of Prussia.

We close with the world premiere of “Backwards from Winter” by Douglas Knehans. Written for one soprano and electric cello, “Backwards from Winter” is an hour-long operatic monodrama exploring a single woman’s reflection on a love relationship as seen through various elemental filters of seasons, color, nature, emotion and memory and told through live voice, live electronic/computer music and multiple video streams. She traces the past year with her beloved, moving backwards through time: from deep winter where she is in grief over his death, to autumn, where she experiences the sharp pain of losing him in a storm, through the summer’s heat of their passion, to the heart-opening birth of their love in spring.

Tell us why you’re excited about this year’s New York Opera Festival!

The Center for Contemporary Opera has made a significant commitment to the New York Opera Festival. We are producing two important premieres as well as a reading of a work in progress by one of America’s leading composers. We also are delighted to see the many and diverse offerings from other member companies. To use an old cliché, there is literally something for everyone. The organizers have done a great job and deserve our thanks.

What do you feel is the biggest challenge small opera companies face?

I can’t speak for the other companies but I would think the largest challenge facing the smaller companies is actually remembering that you are running a business and conducting your fiscal affairs as such. We have lost some really excellent companies in the past few years due to financial insolvency. As far as CCO goes, our biggest challenge is our AFM union status. Musical America lists over 40 opera companies in NYC and of those still active, and as far as I know, it is only the Met, NY City Opera, and CCO that have union contracts. Our current operating budget is about $800,000 and almost a third of that goes to pay our orchestra. Other companies can hire talented students or other freelancers for less than one-tenth of what we pay. The plus side of being a union company is that it allows CCO to maintain a truly excellent orchestra. While our union affiliation remains a challenge, we are proud to have an orchestra that the NY Times has called “A-List.”