Thompson Street Opera Company Dreams Big, Thinks Small

Claire DiVizio launched Thompson Street Opera Company last year to lift up works by living opera composers – no old warhorse productions here. That approach was novel last year, but with the Kentucky Opera’s announcement that the next five seasons of the flagship company’s programming would also be devoted to new and rare work, Thompson Street’s new defining characteristic is its size. Rather than aspire to the grand scale of traditional opera (even with nontraditional fare), the fledgling company wants to grow a big audience for small shows.

“One thing that we do that a lot of other companies around the country are doing but isn’t necessarily happening in Louisville is we’re performing in smaller venues,” says DiVizio. “And we’re performing in a setting that isn’t intimidating to people who, perhaps, haven’t been to an opera before.”

Thompson Street Opera Company returns this weekend with the first of three productions for its 2014 season. All performances will be held at Vault 1031 on South Sixth Street. 

In Vault 1031, the performances are up close and personal. And the chamber operas DiVizio selects fit the scale – pieces that are relatable and actable, with very human roles. 

“The focus becomes a lot less on the visual aspect of grandiosity that we come to expect from opera in large house, and it becomes focused a lot more intently on the quality of performers,” she says. “When you’re really that close to someone and you’re in an unfinished space or with a really small set, you tend to notice things more evidently, like if the acting is bad.”

“Mostly we are specifically interested in pieces that haven’t been performed very much or haven’t been performed at all,” says DiVizio. “The first piece on our season this year is a regional premiere. These are mostly by composers who are not famous – you haven’t heard of them – but they’re doing great work.” 

The season opens Friday with “Emily,” a bio-drama about American poet Emily Dickinson by Eva Kendrick (May 23-25).

“It’s a combination of mostly history with some dramatic license taken,” says DiVizio. “The poems get interwoven into the dialog.” 

The season continues with a double-bill the following weekend (May 30-June 1), the world premiere of Yvonne Freckman’s children’s opera “Rootabaga Stories,” which are based on the absurd stories for young people by Carl Sandberg, and the regional premiere of Ronnie Reshef’s darkly funny one-act opera “Requiem for the Living,” about a hypochondriac who, thanks to a doctor mix-up, believes he’s dying. 

And the company closes its sophomore season with Ezra Donner’s “Ile,” (June 6-8) a whaling tale set in 1890, based on Eugene O’Neill’s one-act play of the same name. 

“They’ve been at sea for two years, and the captain is obsessed with [whale] oil,” says DiVizio. “It’s a very intensely dramatic and ultimately tragic story about conflicting senses of duty and love and manhood.”

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