No Intermission: Opera Las Vegas Continues to Strike a Chord in the Community Despite Pandemic


Cast members from OLV's 'Rigoletto'. Photo by: Richard Brusky.

Bringing opera to the community in creative ways, Opera Las Vegas has put a spotlight on new works, while continuing to grow the community’s interest and curiosity in opera during the pandemic.

Opera Las Vegas (OLV) is a local nonprofit professional opera company that produces full-scale productions with a goal of “Celebrating Life’s Grandest Stories on Stage”. They also provide innovative outreach to the local community and educational programs to local schools. Founded in 1999, the company promotes the production of professional opera here in Las Vegas, and creates opportunities for young singers to train and have opportunities to perform it.

The company just celebrated its 20 year anniversary last season in 2019 and holds the prestige of being Nevada’s professional company member of Opera America - the national association for opera companies and artists.

Jim Sohre, General Director of OLV, shared that the company produces many of the classic opera titles, such as Carmen, Madame Butterfly, and The Magic Flute, and does so through shared venues with local area partners.

“Through these productions, Opera Las Vegas works to give people the opportunity to experience professional opera in the valley and the region,” Sohre said.

OLV casts rising stars on the national opera scene, such as Cecilia Violetta Lopez, who starred in a full stage production of The Elixir of Love in the company’s last season. Sohre shared that Lopez will be giving a recital on Saturday, October 17th through a virtual event where she will be performing with accompanist Nathan Salazar. Tickets are available through the company’s website.

Opera Las Vegas recently received its first National Endowment for the Arts grant, which provided $10,000 in funding for its Living Composer and Librettists Initiative. The impetus for the award was their April 2019 West Coast premiere of an original piece created by composer Ricky Ian Gordon and librettist Royce Vavrek, titled 27 - which premiered in 2015 in St. Louis - and was co-produced with the Vegas Theatre Company.

Company members from the regional premiere of '27'.

Sohre shared that they wanted to start bringing new works to the stage and expand their productions to include more than just the classics.

“We started doing these West Coast premieres of new operas to let new artists and librettists get an opportunity to learn and to perform,” Sohre said.

Another contemporary piece that the company plans to produce for the coming 2021 season is The Ghosts of Gatsby. Created by Evan Mack and Joshua McGuire, this production won an award through the National Opera Association’s competition for the 2018-2019 season.

According to Sohre, there have been student performances, but this would be the first professional production. “We don’t know if it will be live or virtual yet, but we have permission to stream it if that’s the only thing we can do,” Sohre said.

The opera will otherwise be performed at the Charleston Heights Arts Theatre, if a live performance is safe to do. “We may do a combination of both, if we can socially distance the event and ensure everyone’s safety, but we are ready to go fully online.”

The Ghosts of Gatsby will premiere in April of next year.


Jim Sohre, General Director of OLV.

Another production of interest that is planned for the upcoming 2021 season is Derrick Wang’s Scalia/Ginsburg, an acclaimed work based on the words of the two former Supreme Court justices, with a theme of “We are different. We are one”.

“Even though they were philosophically divided, Scalia and Ginsburg shared a love of the opera, so this is a clever opera piece that talks about their friendship,” Sohre said.

The sight-specific experience is scheduled to take place in July 2021 in a real courtroom at the Thomas and Mack Moot Court at the University of Nevada Las Vegas’s Boyd School of Law.

Given Justice Ginsburg’s recent passing, the opera will have even more meaning and importance in the telling of the story.

to bring fairy tales adapted into operas for kids and their families. These popular events offer young audiences exposure to the world of opera through familiar, classic tales that are performed live music, just with different words. “We might even have some cool prizes for families”, he said.

Another outreach program impacted by the pandemic, Sohre shared, is ‘Opera with Class’ which is focused on finding students who might be afraid of opera, and teaching them the basics of it like singing without a microphone.

Accompanist Alexandria Le records music at Vegas PBS for 'Who's Afraid of Opera'.

Until it’s safe to conduct in-person events, the company is finding other ways to continue this program. On October 21st, Opera Las Vegas will film a 30-minute presentation at the local PBS station and make it available through CCSD’s ‘Classroom Cast’ service along with a study guide and quiz for teachers to support the lesson. There is also the possibility of it reaching beyond Las Vegas, depending on the distribution of the network.

The company has also been working on a program through the local libraries where they hope

to bring fairy tales adapted into operas for kids and their families. These popular events offer young audiences exposure to the world of opera through familiar, classic tales that are performed live music, just with different words. “We might even have some cool prizes for families”, he said.

Opera Las Vegas plans to record these fairy tale operas for the schools and libraries. This way,

even during the pandemic while school is online, students and their families can still have the

experience.

“There’s a lot of outreach going on right now,” Sohre said. “We’re trying to find ways to get out into the community at this time.”

He went on to share how the company is also recreating their concert tribute, ‘Opera Legends in Black’, which will be presented online through a one-hour program in the coming months to honor “superstar African-American singers and composers”, Sohre said.

Two hosts will introduce the stories of these Black artists represented by a cast of four to celebrate their accomplishments in life. “We’re hoping ‘Opera Legends in Black’ will have great resonance with the community and support social justice efforts by showing how artists of color overcame adversity through the quality of their talent.”

Addressing the impacts of the pandemic and its effects on the company, Sohre shared how, just like everyone else in the performing arts world, they are shut down for live performances. Many of the largest arts companies are not currently scheduling events in the coming season.

“We have to consider the audience's safety, as well as the performers’ safety,” he said. “Backstage, they are in tight quarters, and that needs to be addressed.”

In the summer months, it was too hot to perform outdoors, but Sohre touched on how outdoor performances are one of the ways to safely work with the restrictions, where they can socially distance themselves and the audience.

The finale of 'Cinderella'.

The company is also reducing the size of their casts. Usually having around 25 cast members, they will instead have four or fewer principal singers and only 10 people in the orchestra.

They are also looking at recording a live video performance in a concert hall with the stage far away so the singer and the technicians will have ample distance between them. For that, Sohre said that the quality of the venue’s circulation system is a concern. “We’re going to be very fastidious about making sure to not have anyone too close together.”

Sohre spoke on the frustration that artists and audiences are having right now, related to the pandemic and the effects on the industry.

“We all want to perform, and [audiences] want to see performances in person, but it’s just not possible right now,” he said, adding that the biggest issue with the restrictions is the loss of revenue and the funding shortfall for everyone in the art community.

“If someone has a theatre or other musical organization or company they love and can support them, this is the time to do it,” he said. “Funding is critical to all arts organizations right now, especially those with physical locations and full-time staff.”

In April of this year, The National Endowment for the Arts received funding from the CARES Act, which was distributed to each state in an allotment in which nonprofit arts organizations could apply to receive a grant through the program. Most of the funding was used to help preserve jobs in the arts and “preserve jobs and help support organizations forced to close operations due to the spread of COVID-19,” (NEA).

However, those funds have been exhausted and there has yet to be additional funding approved by Congress. “A block grant is currently being held up in budget discussions right now in Washington,” Sohre said. “The talent and will is there, but the opportunities aren’t available.”

Because Opera Las Vegas has freelance contract positions, they couldn’t apply for the small business loans through the Paycheck Protection Program, but added that they nonetheless are “grateful to the Nevada Arts Council for its support and its part in helping arts organizations all across Nevada.”

Sohre said that the best way people can help Opera Las Vegas is by donating directly to the company. “Not all of our events can be monetized to cover the cost of events,” he said. “There is a chance for some small amount of income from some ticketed events, but mostly we aren’t going to make much at this time.”

Ticket sales only cover 25% of the company’s annual operating expenses, so they rely primarily on donations to fund their productions and their outreach programs.

“Our programs cost money to run, and with funding, we can increase our reach and impact,” he explained. “We have to find an income stream that will keep up with producing opera”.

Opera is presently the most expensive discipline, Sohre added, given the complexity and detail of everything that goes into it: the singers, the orchestra, the scenery, the attire - which is all very costly to bring together to put on a performance.

He concluded by saying, “We’re all in this together. We wish all of our sister arts organizations the very best in coping with these times, and if Opera Las Vegas can be part of it and be helpful, we’d like to do that.”

To learn more about Opera Las Vegas and get news and updates from the company, please visit their website www.operalasvegas.com, and follow them on their Instagram and Facebook.

To make a tax-deductible donation to Opera Las Vegas, you can do so here.

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