If there was a soundtrack to accompany the 2013 summer season at Opera House Arts at the Stonington Opera House, it would certainly feature an eclectic mix of genres. A little Cuban jazz, some local bluegrass, a smattering of rock and country, and a generous serving of contemporary classical.
Opera House Arts Executive Director Linda Nelson takes pride in the array of sounds, sights and flavors showcased in her programming, now in its 14th year.
“We’re not the new kids on the block anymore,” Nelson said. “It used to be easy to do new stuff because it hadn’t been done before around here. We could do a kind of settled-in season, but it’s our mission and philosophy to not do that … our world is always changing, so we’re always looking for things that reflect that. That’s what’s able to help us bring such variegated programming forward.”
The season opened last weekend with a concert from songwriters Valerie Orth and Mike Billings and Nova Scotia indie-jazz collective Gypsophilia. Then it’s on to Maine bluegrass band the Royal River Honeybadgers at 7 p.m. June 5, and at 7 p.m. June 8 it’s the annual Bud Carter Memorial Scholarship Concert.
June also will feature the return of Paul Sullivan’s popular “P.S. I Love Music” concert, this year featuring MPBN’s Suzanne Nance, percussionist Gordon Gottlieb and young violinist Jessica Chen, set for June 22.
“We had such great success with the Ingrid Michaelson concert last year, and the Opera House has great acoustics, so we definitely want to showcase that,” said Nelson. “It’s a great room for indie songwriters and for diverse music from all over the world, that folks in this part of Maine might not otherwise have access to.”
The Burnt Cove Church, Opera House Arts’ intimate venue located at 17 Airport Road in Stonington, will feature a number of concerts this summer, including The Hancock Quartet, a local string quartet, on June 25; violinist Johnny Gandelsman of the Brooklyn Rider on July 9; the Baroque Orchestra of Maine on July 16; vocalist Adrien Reju on July 28; violinists Heidi Powell and Richard Hsu and pianist Anastasia Antonacos on July 30; alt-country group Juliet and the Lonesome Romeos on Aug. 17; and string group Trio Nuevo on Aug. 20.
Special for the 2013 season will be events in the month of June focusing on Maine poet Edna St. Vincent Millay. In mid-June, interested readers can participate in a book group at 7 p.m. June 17 about “Savage Beauty,” Nancy Milford’s biography of the poet; Milford herself will lead a discussion at 7 p.m. June 20 at the Opera House. At the Burnt Cove Church over the weekends of July 5-7 and July 12-14, Opera House Arts will premiere “The Millay Sisters: A Cabaret,” a new work detailing the lives of the poet and her sisters through stories and the music of the 1920s, ’30s and ’40s.
“[Millay] published ‘Renascence’ 100 years ago last year, so we previewed this cabaret for the 2012 season. People loved it. The church was absolutely packed,” Nelson said. “We knew we had to bring it back in full this year. It’s a cabaret setup, so the bar and concessions are a part of the show. It’s very Jazz Age … People don’t know what an interesting life she had.”
Opera House Arts is renowned regionally for its inventive Shakespeare productions, presented by an array of New York-based actors and local performers. This year’s play is “Cymbeline,” based on early Celtic legends and one of the Bard’s most elegiac romances.
Directed this year by longtime Shakespeare in Stonington collaborator Julia Whitworth, this will be a production steeped in original music while exploring the Shakespearean themes of innocence and jealousy. “Cymbeline” will open Thursday, July 18, and run two weekends through July 28.
“A lot of Shakespeare festivals will start repeating old chestnuts like ‘Romeo and Juliet’ after a while, but we didn’t want to do that,” said Nelson. “‘Cymbeline’ isn’t as well known, but it’s a fascinating play. We have Philip Owens returning to write an original score for it, and we’ll be having a very unique set, with a revolve and with a long walkway out into the audience.”
Other returning events include the Deer Isle Jazz Festival, set for Aug. 1-4, an annual celebration of contemporary jazz that has brought heavyweights and up-and-comers to the Opera House stage. This year features two performances: one from Cuban reed player Yosvany Terry (Aug. 2) and one from pianist Fred Hersch and his trio (Aug. 3), as well as screenings of the films “My Coma Dreams,” about pianist Hersch’s visions while he lay in a coma in 2008, set for Aug. 1; and “Unfinished Spaces,” a documentary about the arts in Cuba, set for Aug. 4.
For dance programming, there will be four performances Aug. 15-18 by Bridgman Packer Dance, a dance-video collaboration created by renowned choreographers Art Bridgman and Myrna Packer, who will be at the Bates Dance Festival in Lewiston before their Stonington appearance.
“We’ll be tearing up the opera house for this one,” said Nelson. “The audience will be sitting on the stage and the performance will take place on the floor. It’ll be a big installation.”
There’s also the return of the Live for $5 series, a series of inexpensive, family-friendly performances on Wednesdays at the Opera House, which begins July 10 and runs most Wednesdays through Aug. 21, featuring acts including the Top Hat Toy Theater (July 24), the Fred Garbo Inflatable Theater (July 31), and physical comedian Hilary Chapman (Aug 21).
For a full schedule of all Opera House Arts programming through the end of the summer, visit operahousearts.org.