Bravo! Opera Era Dawns at the Sunrise
Come October, the Sandhills will be alive with the sound of a different music: grand opera.
The Sunrise Theater in Southern Pines has contracted with the Metropolitan Opera in New York City to present nine "Live in High Definition" performances on Saturday afternoons next season, beginning with "Tosca." The series, now in its fourth year and transmitted worldwide, has won Emmy and Peabody Awards.
But Bizet in the backwoods? Puccini in the pine barrens?
Indeed, these simulcasts represent a feather in Moore County's cultural cap. Of 850 U.S. venues, only four other North Carolina cities have been approved: Asheville, Raleigh, Charlotte and Concord, all with substantially higher populations.
Opera buffs Anne and Brian Culwick of Pinehurst are thrilled on several levels.
"We go to Charlotte four times a year to see touring companies," Anne Culwick says, "but that's a long way to drive back at night, so we have to stay in a hotel."
Culwick has not experienced high definition simulcasts on movie screens -- only a recent live performance of "Lucia di Lammemoor" on PBS, which she deemed fabulous.
"It's a different medium than watching it in an opera house," she says. "You saw every detail close up."
Magnify these details several hundred times, add digital sound and easy-read supra titles and an appreciative audience, and the experience is like being there.
Exactly, says Dot Greenwood of Pinehurst, who has attended HD simulcasts in Raleigh.
"We saw 'Madame Butterfly' -- for $20," she says. "It was like sitting in the third row at the Met -- the most fantastic thing we have done."
Greenwood has recently been to the Met, where seats cost $150. But location makes a difference.
"I wouldn't want to sit in the front row of the Sunrise," she says.
Tickets cost $20 per performance, or $160 for the season. More information on ticketing will be available through the Metropolitan Opera (www.metoperafamily.org) or the Sunrise Theater (www.sunrisetheater.com). The Sunrise and the Met share the revenue.
The goal is to raise the $40,000 equipment outlay through a $20,000 challenge grant from two Fayetteville contributors and an equal amount from local sources, says John Rudd, president of the Sunrise Preservation Group board.
Fundraising is proceeding at an encouraging pace, says board member Beth Carpenter.
"With the money in hand and the pledges coming in, we feel sure we'll meet our goal," Carpenter says.
A portion of the amount will be spent on upgrades to the 370-seat theater. The equipment -- which includes a video projector, satellite receivers, lenses, cables and monitors -- will not be reserved for opera alone. Rudd notes that sporting events and films are available in high definition.
"We're a community theater," he says. "What we really hope to do is stretch the Sunrise programs into a younger age group."
They will start with the opera, approaching schools to add instruction during winter music programs, perhaps with appearances by two Moore County residents involved in the New York opera scene.
Most operas, organizers point out, were not written for occupants of the cultural stratosphere. In fact, like Shakespearean plays, many were populist entertainment and some, like "Barber of Seville," "Falstaff," "Don Giovanni" and "Marriage of Figaro" resemble fast-paced musical comedies. Even heavier opuses, also like Shakespeare, offer folksy characters with whom a mixed audience will identify.
The Sunrise project brings back memories for Peggy Reuter of Pinehurst, who remembers listening to old "Saturday Afternoon at the Met" broadcasts on radio, with longtime commentator Milton Cross.
"There was no TV, and we had no money, so we listened to opera on the radio," she recalls nostalgically.
Reuter and her husband, Bart, drive to Charlotte for touring companies but, like Anne and Brian Culwick, find that sporting events have sent hotel prices through the roof. Opera at the Sunrise, she says, will be "absolutely wonderful" -- and different, as viewers noticed during the PBS telecast, since these productions are staged for transmission-in-the-round. Instead of one or two stationary cameras, up to 10 remote-control cameras will close in on details and expressions from several angles.
In an interview posted on the Metropolitan Opera Web site, series director Gary Halvorsen, whose credits include "Friends," "Everybody Loves Raymond" and the Macy's Thanksgiving Parade for NBC, said "My job is to make the production clear. I (pretend) that my mother in Minnesota is watching. If she doesn't get it, I'm not communicating."
Although informality is the norm, seasoned opera lovers may be tempted to dress the part.
"It's not the place for shorts and T-shirts," Anne Culwick says. "My husband will wear a suit, and I'll put on something dressy. The opera inspires the mood."
Contact Deborah Salomon at email@example.com
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