Musical company

A young Raleigh opera company is determined to make the musical form more accessible

Covid Chronicles: Opera Paradox Live stream: Twitch.tv/Divatron9000, July 15, 7 p.m.

Live Performances: Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of Raleigh, July 16, 7 p.m. | St. Paul’s Lutheran Church, Durham, July 17, 7 p.m. | St. Matthew’s Episcopal Church, Hillsborough, July 19, 7 p.m.


Alissa Roca is a very rare thing: a maverick soprano.

And since it is, we have an unconventional new opera company, devoted to emerging artists, new music and intriguing interpretations of older works, in its first performances in the Triangle this weekend. end.

Paradox Opera – a brainchild born out of a generation of artists’ frustrations with the outdated aesthetic of privilege cemented in the art form’s conventional training and practices – bows this weekend in its first production: Covid Chroniclesa resolutely accessible and far-reaching concert/cabaret that takes stock of what the world and we have changed after two years of the pandemic.

The next works of the company? Autonomy, a cycle of newly commissioned songs on Roe vs. Wadecoming this fall.

The path to creating a new opera company in the region, particularly dedicated to the long-needed changes in the genre, has not been easy. After a 12-year career as a coloratura who had worked with professional companies such as Dallas and Miami operas, Roca moved to the area in 2020. She wasn’t looking to reset her career. She had concluded that opera desperately needed to be reset as an art form.

“Opera is dying because the audience is dying,” says Roca. Despite a long decline in ticket sales at most opera houses, she notes, “It’s very exclusive. It’s museum culture: on all fronts, the industry is extremely protective, both of the public and of the singers.

“The big hitters right now aren’t interested in pitching things to young people and making things accessible. I’ve scoured the entire industry, and it’s very rare to find people who encourage you to do something different.

Legendary director Peter Brook came to the same conclusion decades ago. In his 1968 book empty spaceBrook wrote that the opera “is a nightmare of vast squabbles over minute details…all revolving around the same contention: nothing must change”.

According to Roca, this dynamic has not changed. “There’s this overwhelming idea that this kind of music has to be done only one way, and if it’s not done that way, it’s wrong.”

The traditional, constraining aesthetic has virtually no opera students, and women in particular, says Roca. She recalls a heartbreaking performance at a collegiate competition during her freshman year in college, where the judges tore her work to shreds.

The judges had no criticism of Roca’s singing, she recalled; they were just distressed that she made a single hand gesture during her performance.

“I think the audience feels like we’re just some kind of puzzle piece in someone else’s museum piece,” Roca says. “I’ve been told so many times in my college career, ‘Just stand there and be the pretty girl in the dress.’ What is this shit?” After this experience, she began to push convention in her training. “I was really the anomaly among singers. I just said no to people. And that was weird. When his graduate singing teacher gave him repertoire works, Roca introduced new music through new songwriters.” He kind of gave up and just said, ‘OK, what are you doing?'”

Roca has forged his own path ever since.

“It’s funny. My whole career has basically been about showing up to an ensemble or a band and saying, ‘I’m doing this, I’m going to produce it, and here it is.’

To further test this proposition, Roca launched Paradox Opera during the pandemic, assembling a board of directors and reaching out to longtime colleagues to get things done.

The company and its work represent a series of departures from the status quo in the world of opera. Both stress and subject are clearly in the present tense; the production logos, which fuse graffiti with edgy graphic novel sensibilities, are clearly aimed at a younger audience.

In another divergence from the industry, the production is more cabaret than recital: a multifaceted compilation of 19 works ranging from Mozart to Sondheim, with new composers highlighted alongside canonical mainstays such as Verdi, Rossini and Saint-Saëns . Among the set, thoughtful takes on the isolation and loss of recent chamber operas like William Finn A new brain and Jason Robert Brown The last five years contrast with the irreverent updates of Gilbert and Sullivan and excerpts from Lend me a rollVince Gover’s unlikely pandemic prank on the toilet paper crisis of 2020 and 2021.

“It’s not just like, OK, come here and be depressed for 90 minutes,” smiled Roca. “To have all these different stories, it’s likely that everyone in the audience will have something that happened to them that fits into some of those boxes.”

Plus, the band won’t be performing their music at an exclusive downtown opera house with overdressed swells in black tie and evening gowns. After streaming live Thursday night on Twitch.tv, the quartet takes their unconventional show to equally unconventional venues: a three-night tour of churches in Raleigh, Durham and Hillsborough.

The dress is casual, they say; come as you are.

Offstage, the company also deviates from the norm. Soloists rarely have the opportunity to choose the work they perform in public. The music here reflects the tastes and aesthetics of the performers on stage: old friends whom Roca called on for his company’s first show, including Chicago mezzo-soprano Melissa Simmons, Brooklyn baritone Christopher Fotis and composer and pianist Rachel Dean, who is currently on Broadway red Mill. (Future productions will rely on local artists, Roca notes.)

“I want to empower the artists again, so they feel like they’re really part of what’s being created,” Roca says. The stubborn singer and producer wants her artists “to have the ability to say what they want to say, not what someone else tells them they want to say.”

“If I can and if I have to,” she concludes, “I can lead the way.


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