New York OperaFest Kicks Off with Awards and Preview Concert

Former NYC Council Member Jimmy Van Bramer and Librettist Mark Campbell Honored with Service Awards

By Chris Ruel
Photo: Heather Bobeck

The New York Opera Alliance (NYOA) kicked off the seventh annual New York OperaFest with an evening of awards and previews by 11 of the 20 companies participating in the 2022 Festival. The opera organizations will present 30 events across the city from April 15 to June 15, 2022.

Between sets of music and video presentations, NYOA honored two champions of the arts with Service Awards, with one going to former New York City Council Member Jimmy Van Bramer for his commitment to funding and preserving New York’s art culture and the other to award-winning librettist Mark Campbell for his dedication to raising the visibility of librettists.

Over two years of the pandemic, NYOA has held its Festival virtually. There was plenty of excitement in Marc Scorca Hall at Opera America’s National Opera Center as attendees anticipated and celebrated the return to live Festival performances, and based on the previews, it looks like New York’s opera buffs have a thrilling two months of fresh voices, operas, concerts, and video presentations ahead of them.

Companies taking part in this year’s kickoff included Bronx Opera, Chelsea Opera, City Lyric Opera, Encompass New Opera Theatre, Experiments in Opera, MORE Opera, New Camerata Opera, Opera Pratikos, Regina Opera, the little OPERA theatre of ny, and United Theater Company No.61. Each company presented excerpts of their upcoming productions, works-in-development, and video performances.

The evening opened with remarks by Marc A. Scorca, President and CEO of OPERA America, the fiscal sponsor of the Festival. It was the first time in two years that Scorca had stood in front of a microphone in the eponymous hall. “We are thrilled OperaFest will happen in person this year, and I’m just delighted that this group, this incredible group of creatives, producers, and artists, come together and enrich our city.”

2022 NYOA Service Awards

The first NYOA Service Award presentation of the evening celebrated former New York City Council Member Jimmy Van Bramer, who worked for a decade as the Chief Public Affairs officer for the Queens Public Library, and has been an organizer for campaign causes and LGBTQ+ rights. Bramer spent twelve years working for the people of Queens on the City Council, during which he chaired the Council of Cultural Affairs, Libraries, and International Intergroup Relations Committee. Bramer is now the Chief Growth and Strategic Partnership Officer for the Girl Scouts of Greater New York. Bramer’s work was influential in OPERA America finding a home in New York City, helping to fund the creation of the National Opera Center. During the pandemic, Van Bramer is credited with helping keep many NYOA opera companies afloat.

“It’s very sweet for the Alliance to recognize my work, and am very proud of the twelve years on the council as the cultural czar of the City of New York. We leave with culture and arts funded at the highest level ever in the history of the City of New York—and that’s during the pandemic.

“When people are exposed to the arts, we are lifted. We are inspired; it is aspirational. The city is better off because of all of you exist because artists perform and inspire, and so I’m grateful to have been in a position to amplify, literally your voices, and to get the work done,” said Bramer during his acceptance speech.

NYOA also honored librettist Mark Campbell with a 2022 Service Award. Campbell has written libretti for 39 operas, seven musicals, six song cycles, and three oratorios. His work has been performed at over 90 venues worldwide, and Campbell’s composer collaborators include three Pulitzer Prize winners. His best-known work is “Silent Night,” which received a Pulitzer Prize in Music and is one of the most frequently produced operas in recent history.

“This is really quite an honor and very moving,” Campbell said upon receiving his award. “I really appreciate this award mostly because I like to think I’m sharing this with the librettist community, my fellow librettists, my colleagues who I admire and love, and who I believe are never given enough credit in this industry.”

Campbell continued, “We all talk about contemporary opera and how we’re trying to make new opera more relevant to our audiences and reflect our society. It’s really the librettist who is doing that. The composer is creating gorgeous music, and the thing we love about music is that it doesn’t have a gender, a race, or a sexual orientation and really doesn’t have a political agenda, but the libretto does. And when we are creating new stories that are relevant to our audiences, it’s the librettist who is doing that. We are listening to the words that are driving these agendas that we want to create in opera to make a better world. This is a terrific honor, and I feel very blessed.”

Preview Performances

NYOA divided the evening’s performances into three parts, two of which contained a series of live and pre-recorded video previews, with a third featuring only live performances.

The Part One live set began with two arias from Handel’s “Orlando,” featuring countertenor Jeffrey Mandelbaum performing “Stimulato dalla gloria” and “Fammi combattere.” Opera Praktikos’ 90-minute version will be presented at Campos Garden in Manhattan on May 27-28, 2022, with additional performances on June 2 at the Brooklyn Botanic Garden and on June 10-11.

Next up was City Lyric Opera’s excerpt from “Oh What a Lovely Garden” from Elizabeth Raum’s “The Garden of Alice.” Soprano Laura Soto-Bayomi sang the selection. The opera, which had its premiere in 1985, has been re-orchestrated for violin, cello, clarinet, bass on, percussion, and piano. “The Garden of Alice” will run May 17-21, 2022.

Part One video presentations began with an excerpt from Experiments in Opera’s “Everything for Dawn.” The video featured soprano Britt Hewitt, baritone Joshua Conyers, soprano Laura Strickling, and mezzo-soprano Meroë Khalia Adeeb. “Everything for Dawn” is a video opera series featuring ten 15-minute episodes of the intimate storytelling for which EiO is known. A different librettist/composer team wrote each segment. Experiments in Opera will stream episodes at The Museum of the City of New York from May 4-7, 2022.

Untitled Theatre Company No. 61 presented a cut from their OperaFest offering, “Exagoge,” with music by Avnet Finberg and libretto by Edward Einhorn. The work is half play, half opera and includes an interactive seder, immersing the audience in the story of Moses. Appearing in the video excerpt were soprano Adrienne Danrich and tenor James Rogers. The company will present the opera as a workshop on June 2, 2022.

The live performances of Part Two featured two arias from Encompass New Opera Theatre’s work-in-progress “Unheard Voices: An Immigrant’s Dream”: “El Nido,” composed by Juan Guerra Gonzalez with text by Alfredo Espina, and “Ideale,” by composer Francesco Paolo Tosti, with lyrics by Carmelo Errico. Tenor Oswaldo Iraheta performed the cut from the opera inspired by Latin-American artist Beatriz Ledesma, whose work centers on dreams and the emotional impact of the displacement of native cultures. A music video will release in June 2022, with excerpts presented in Chicago in July.

More Opera presented excerpts from its first opera presented in Spanish and English, “Angelitos Negros (Little Black Angels).” The work, premiered in Sept. 2021, explores African American and Latino opera trailblazers. Soprano Monica Camafreita showcased the production with “Preludios” by Manuel de Falla. The company also presented a duet from Puccini’s “Suor Angelica,” featuring sopranos Camafreita and Cheryl Warfield, singing “Sorella, o buona sorella.”

Part Two video presentations included an excerpt from Chelsea Opera’s virtual concert, “Songs of Summer Past.” The concert will be available for streaming throughout the entire Festival. Chelsea Opera’s excerpt showcased soprano Joanie Brittingham and mezzo-soprano Leonarda Priore singing the “Flower Duet (Viens, Malika, … Dôme épais)” from Delibes’ “Lakme.”

New Camerata Opera showcased Langston Hughes’ text set to music by composer Margaret Bonds. The excerpt, “I, too, Sing America,” performed by baritone Steven Herring, comes from Episode 1 of the video song series, “Refractions,” which highlights works composed and performed exclusively by BIPOC-identifying artists.

The program’s final third kicked off with Bronx Opera presenting the “Recitative and Trio” from Act two of Mozart’s “La Clemenza di Tito.” Vocalists included David Charles Tay as Tito, Perri di Christina as Sesto, and Jonathan Harris as Publio. The production, sung in English, is set in an imaginary 21st century Roman Empire and is scheduled to open at Lehman College on May 14, 2022.

the little OPERA theatre of NY highlighted its product in development, “American One Acts: A Double Bill which will combine two operas: William Grant Still and Verna Avery’s “Highway 1, U.S.A.,” and “Down in the Valley” by Kurt Weill and Arnold Sundgaard. The selection for the evening was an excerpt from “Highway 1, U.S.A.,” “Oh Bob, won’t you understand?” performed by soprano Carami Hilaire, singing the part of Mary. The company will preview the opera at Merkin Concert Hall on June 3, 2022, before premiering in November at 59E59 Theaters.

Closing out the evening were selections from Regina Opera’s final mainstage production of its 52nd season, “La Bohème.” The duo sang “Che gelida manina” and “O suave fanciulla,” with Soprano Dilara Unsal sang the part of Mimì, and tenor Lindell Carter that of Rodolfo. The show opens on May 14, 2022, and runs through May 22.