New Operas, New Company in Town

No “La Traviata.” No “Don Giovanni.” Absolutely no “La Bohème.” You won’t find the usual suspects from the classical repertoire in Thompson Street Opera Company’s season. The young company is more interested in exploring new works by living composers, like Marcus Maroney’s morality play “Dust of the Road,” a one-act opera that opens Friday at Central Presbyterian Church. 

Executive producer Claire DiVizio founded Thompson Street two years ago in Ann Arbor with the world premiere of Ezra Donner’s one-act chamber adaptation of “Antigone.” The company moved here with DiVizio, a graduate vocal student at the University of Louisville.

Along with “Dust of the Road,” which is an adaptation of Kenneth Sawyer Goodman’s play of the same name, the company will stage the world premiere of Andrey Komanetsky’s adaptation of Fyodor Dostoyevsky’s graveyard short story “Bobok.”

DiVizio says the landscape for working opera composers is improving, but it’s still difficult to build a production history for a new opera. Opera is expensive to stage — in addition to standard performance costs, an orchestra and a conductor are necessities, and opera singers who can and will to stretch beyond the classical repertoires they work to master to learn new pieces command high salaries.

“This is changing a bit,” says DiVizio“But mostly, there really aren’t all that many opportunities for composers of opera who aren’t already famous or who don’t already have the connections in the larger world of classical music to get their piece performed.” 

Enter small companies like Thompson Street that can be more flexible in their programming.

“In a way, it’s a lot easier for smaller companies to perform these pieces that are untested because there’s not as much for them to lose. And there’s a different expectation from their audiences,” says DiVizio.

And Thompson Street will nurture those different expectations by also staging very short pieces that might also struggle to find a home because of their length. A bill of short operas rounds out these first two weeks of programming. It’s a diverse slate,  including a delicate piece by recent U of L Moritz von Bomhard fellow Hong-Da Chin, “Conversations between Owl, Nightingale, and Lark,” written for soprano and flute, and fellow Bomhard fellow Yvonne Freckmann’s semi-autobiographical comedy “Close Encounters of the Hillbilly Kind,” about a young girl taking a city bus for the first time.

In August, the company will perform another world premiere, Donner’s “Ile,” based on Eugene O’Neill’s one-act play.

While the tried-and-true classics are not on the table, DiVizio says the company is open to producing work in the future by canonical composers who have fallen out of production. She points to William Grant Still, the first African American composer to have a symphony performed by an American orchestra and the first African American to have an opera produced by a major company (“Troubled Island.”) 

“Still wrote a great number of operas that were never produced. That’s a name people recognize,” she says. “But his operas just aren’t done.”

Here’s a look at the upcoming shows:

May 24-25, 8 p.m.

“Dust of the Road” by Marcus Maroney

A preview of “Bobok” follows the performance.

May 26, June 2, 2 p.m.

An afternoon of shorts: “Quantum Mechanic” by John Bilotta, “Conversations Between Owl, Nightingale, and Lark” by Hong-Da Chin, “Close Encounter of the Hillbilly Kind” by Yvonne Freckmann, “Snow White Turns Sixty” by Dale Trumbore

May 31-June 1, 8 p.m.

“Bobok” by Andrey Komanetsky

A reception with Russian food and drink precedes the performance.

All performances are at Central Presbyterian Church (318 W. Kentucky St.). Tickets are available at the door and online

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