It’s hard to imagine the days before the Deer Isle Bridge existed. Can you picture there only being ocean between the mainland and the island — before that narrow, oddly humped stretch of pavement and steel spanning Eggemoggin Reach irrevocably changed life for the residents of Deer Isle and Stonington?
There aren’t too many people left who do remember those days, since this year marks the 75th anniversary of its opening. In the spirit of change — on both the local and universal levels — the folks at Opera House Arts at the Stonington Opera House have planned a summer season full of transformational themes.
“This year is all about change,” said Linda Nelson, executive director of OHA. “Whether it’s the real change the island has seen with the opening of the bridge, or change and transformation in general.”
“The Bridge Project,” in the works for several years, examines through words and music the ways in which the community has changed because of the bridge. Presentations about the project were held in the spring; the first of two summer events is set for next Saturday, June 21, when the bridge will close to traffic from 10 to 11 a.m., and people can walk or run across it — something that’s dangerous to do most of the time. The walk will end with a picnic and bridge rededication ceremony, and a dance party is set for 8 p.m. that night at the Opera House.
“We’ve had so many people come to us who are just itching to walk across that bridge,” said Nelson. “It’s a real treat for people to get to actually do it.”
Later in the summer, OHA will premiere an original light opera — a “popera” — titled “The Last Ferryman,” with lyrics and music by Grammy Award-winning, Blue Hill-based composer Paul Sullivan, and book and research by Linda Britt. It tells the story of the bridge, before and after, through the eyes of the last ferryman (a real person named Charlie Scott) to carry people back and forth. It will be performed at 7 p.m. Aug. 14-16 and Aug. 21-23, and 3 p.m. Aug. 17 and 24, at the Opera House.
“The Last Ferryman” follows in the spirit of another original light opera commissioned and developed by OHA: the musical “Burt Dow, Deep Water Man,” based on the Robert McCloskey book, which premiered in 2010 and toured the state last year. “The Last Ferryman,” directed by outgoing OHA artistic director Judith Jerome, combined collected oral histories from community members and historical documents to paint a picture of island life in the 1930s.
The change that came from the bridge is just one of the many change-themed performances this summer — OHA’s annual Shakespeare production is this year “Romeo and Juliet,” which will run in repertory with a brand new play, “Romeo and Juliet and Zombies,” an original take on “R&J,” written by longtime OHA collaborator Melodie Bates. Performances of “R&J” are set for Thursdays-Sundays, July 3-20; “R&J&Z” performances are set for Thursdays-Sundays, July 10-20.
“‘Romeo and Juliet’ was, in a way, Shakespeare’s vision for a new world, with the Montagues and Capulets representing the old world, and the young lovers the new,” said Nelson. “‘Romeo and Juliet and Zombies’ picks up after their deaths in the fifth act, and features another kind of transformation. What if their deaths weren’t the end for them?”
Instead of turning into your typical brain-hungry, mindless monsters, however, Romeo and Juliet turn into a more self-aware kind of undead being — though “Walking Dead” fans need not worry, there’s still plenty of blood and gore to be found.
A transformation that’s still ongoing is what’s been happening at the beautiful, intimate Burnt Cove Church, located on the Airport Road just a few miles from downtown Stonington. The concert series kicked off earlier this week, with pianist Anastasia Antonacos and violinist Richard Hsu; upcoming performances include the DaPonte String Quartet, June 24; Cuban jazz and classical fusion ensemble the Bohemian Trio, July 15; the Cello Monologue Project featuring Vasily Popov, July 29; string group Trio Nuevo, Aug. 12; the Baroque Orchestra of Maine, Aug. 26; and Maine violin and piano trio 238 Strings, Sept. 23. All performances are at 7 p.m.
There’s much more to see and hear with OHA this year that what’s listed above, though, from a dinner and concert program featuring Suzanne Nance singing the music from “West Side Story” set for July 7, to the Deer Isle Jazz Festival, July 31-Aug. 2, which this year features the Danilo Perez Trio with guests Ben Street and Adam Cruz, and the Henry Butler Trio. A full list of all Opera House Arts summer performances can be found on the OHA website.