100 years on, Stonington Opera House stronger than ever

Posted May 31, 2012, at 11:39 a.m.
Stonington Opera House is set to celebrate its centennial season.
Courtesy photo
Stonington Opera House is set to celebrate its centennial season.
Ingrid Michaelson is one of several artists set to appear during the Stonington Opera House's centennial celebration season.
Courtesy photo
Ingrid Michaelson is one of several artists set to appear during the Stonington Opera House's centennial celebration season.
Kenny Barron is one of several artists set to appear during the Stonington Opera House's centennial celebration season.
Courtesy photo
Kenny Barron is one of several artists set to appear during the Stonington Opera House's centennial celebration season.
Suzanne Nance is one of several artists set to appear during the Stonington Opera House's centennial celebration season.
Courtesy photo
Suzanne Nance is one of several artists set to appear during the Stonington Opera House's centennial celebration season.

A lot of things happened 100 years ago, in 1912. The Titanic sank. The Oreo cookie was invented. Fenway Park opened. L.L. Bean was founded. And in Stonington, the Opera House opened its doors for the very first time. To celebrate its centennial, Opera House Arts directors Linda Nelson and Judith Jerome have planned a season jam-packed with more events than the beautiful old theater has seen in years.

“It’s worth celebrating for a number of reasons, not least of which that 15 years ago it was about ready to slide into the ocean,” said Nelson, who, with Jerome, has created the program at Opera House Arts for the past 12 years. “It’s a tribute to the community that this historical building was able to be saved.”

The season kicks off in earnest this weekend, when Suzanne Nance — best known as the voice of Morning Classical on MPBN — will perform in the newly renovated Burnt Cove Church Community Center. Nance, an acclaimed opera singer, will give a concert set for 7 p.m. Saturday, June 2, with pianist Maureen Zoltek, featuring selections from Satie, Faure, Poulenc, Gershwin and Sondheim. The Burnt Cove Church has been empty for nearly three decades, but over the fall and winter, OHA restored the building into an intimate, acoustically perfect performance venue.

“It’s wonderful to have an additional space in which to perform year-round,” Jerome said. “It’s a beautiful building and the acoustics in there are just superb.”

Rounding out the June schedule are a series of music, film and theater events, including a community reading of Maine native Mike Daisey’s controversial play “The Agony and Ecstasy of Steve Jobs” (June 6-7); a screening of the films “Welcome To Lee, Maine” and “A Marine’s Guide to Fishing” (June 19); the Bud Carter Memorial Scholarship Concert (June 16); a concert featuring pianist Paul Sullivan with guests educator Rob Kapilow, Bay Chamber Concerts founder Thomas Wolf and John Bapst student and vocalist Stephanie Colavito (June 17); and a performance of Sumner McKane’s “In The Blood,” an audio-visual look into Maine’s lumberjack culture (June 21).

One of the yearly highlights of the season is OHA’s Shakespeare productions — which this year will be preceded July 5-8 by an all original vaudeville show, inspired by the kinds of shows the Opera House presented in 1912. One hundred years ago, the Opera House was on the “steamboat circuit,” in which vaudeville performers would visit and perform in Stonington. Jeffrey Frace, who has both starred in and directed Shakespeare in Stonington, directs the show.

“We wanted to re-create a show from 100 years ago, so we’ve got a family of vaudeville performers, performing all the music and comedy associated with vaudeville,” Nelson said. “That’s set against a play within a play, a kind of imaginative look into the history of the past 100 years of Stonington.”

Dancer Adele Myers will be in residence during the week of July 9-13, followed by two weeks of Shakespeare. This year’s show is “Antony and Cleopatra,” directed by longtime OHA actor Craig Baldwin, set for July 12-15 and July 19-22. It will be performed at the Burnt Cove Church, and incorporates elements of the site itself into the show.

“We really play on the whole business of Cleopatra’s death, as there’s a graveyard nearby. Craig has worked readings from the Egyptian ‘Book of the Dead’ into the show,” said Nelson.

The season continues through the summer, with a number of entries into OHA’s “Live for $5” series, like circus performer Brent McCoy on July 18, short films inspired by Robert McCloskey’s stories on Aug. 15 and roots rock duo Hymn For Her on Aug. 29. The 12th annual Deer Isle Jazz Festival this year is set for Aug. 2-5, and will host pianist Kenny Barron and saxophonist Roy Nathanson with his ensemble Sotto Voce. For two weekends starting Aug. 9, OHA will revive their original production of “Burt Dow, Deep Water Man,” written by Maia Aprahamian and directed by Joan Jubett.

Toward the end of the summer, pop songwriter Ingrid Michaelson — fresh off a late July performance at the State Theatre — will perform a special show on Aug. 24. Playwright John Cariani will lead two days of readings of short plays written by community members. The season wraps up on Oct. 12 with a performance by blues singer Francine Reed.

“There’s almost too much to mention in one breath,” Nelson said. “We knew we wanted to really take it up a notch for the centennial. It’s going to be a wild summer.”

For a full schedule, visit operahousearts.org.

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