Arts and Culture

Kentucky Opera announced its largely virtual 2020-2021 season Thursday, which will feature pre-recorded performances and videos, plus interviews with community members, crowdsourced artwork and a live performance slated for spring 2021.

The upcoming season is called “Amplify Your Voice,” meant to uplift the voices of Kentuckians through the lens of three topics: faith, justice and family. 

General Director and CEO Barbara Lynne Jamison said the season’s title is a play on words; while opera singers don’t amplify their voices with microphones, she sees the art form as an ideal platform for amplifying people’s stories and experiences.

“We get to explore the voice of our community in a very different way, and to remind us all how our stories are elevated when we can sing them… And that’s why we do opera, is to elevate very human stories,” she said.  

In June, the opera canceled its originally scheduled mainstage season. In an online letter, Jamison had said the pandemic forced them to re-envision what kinds of performances they could safely do in the midst of an ongoing public health crisis. 

The opera will uphold the contracts for the mainstage artists, Jamison said, and the stage directors have also been kept on, assuming the roles of creative directors for the virtual experiences. They’ll begin releasing content for this new re-imagined season on social media this week. 

Exploring Faith, Justice & Family

Digging into the notion of faith, under the themed title of “Conviction and Creed,” Jamison said Kentucky Opera will look at the individual’s connection to faith, as well as the collective expression of it.

“When we’re looking at faith, we’re actually leaning into something that opera does quite frequently, which is to explore an inner dialogue, externally,” she said. “Opera does that through arias, one will sing for three minutes about what he or she is thinking as a character or grappling with.” 

She said they’ll speak with local faith leaders, faith followers and people who maybe don’t have a connection to faith or religion to create operatic art. 

“We believe that by discussing these things externally, we can come together and learn more about each other, which is, I think, what opera and the performing arts can do for us, is to give us a platform on which to become a stronger community and to get to know each other better,” Jamison said. 

On the topic of justice, “Testimonies and Justice,” Jamison said the opera’s artists will perform historical songs, ones that helped shape movements like the Civil Rights Movement in the 60s and women’s suffrage. They’ll also crowdsource ideas, words, poems and messages to inspire original works that could be the songs of today, speaking to the demands for justice and equality being heard in the streets of Louisville and elsewhere. The new music will be written by baritone and composer Jorell Williams

“A Heart’s Home” will explore the concept of family “as it relates to the diverse expressions and manifestations of today’s family units,” according to a press release from the opera. It will be a collection of short webisodes that feature diverse stories from Kentucky families “as used in operatic literature.” It will culminate with a live performance next spring, and Kentucky Opera is partnering with Pandora Productions for this installment of the new season. 

“We’ll have people sharing what they think of their families, and unique ideas about family, because every family is unique and yet we all are united in having a family, whether we know them or not, or sometimes even like them or not,” Jamison said.

During the season, there will also be an opportunity for audiences to vote on one of three operas, which will all reflect the themes discussed above, to be performed by Kentucky Opera at the Brown Theatre in fall 2022. 

Jamison, who came to Louisville by way of Seattle Opera in 2018, hopes the 2020-2021 season will deepen Kentucky Opera’s connection with the people of the Commonwealth. 

“This gave us an opportunity to dive into what… we maybe couldn’t have on the mainstage,” she said. “We thought it was an important opportunity to actually fast track the progress that we were looking to already make, in changing the perception of opera and what it can actually mean to a place like Kentucky.”

Other Louisville performing arts institutions that are making the internet their stage for the 2020-2021 season include Actors Theatre of Louisville,  Louisville Ballet and Pandora Productions. Kentucky Shakespeare is creating a virtual celebration of its 60th anniversary, which will premiere Sept. 25 at 8 p.m. on its Facebook page and YouTube channel.

Stephanie Wolf is WFPL's Arts Reporter.