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Posted at 8:12 AM ET, 01/ 4/2011

AOT lowers the curtain

By Anne Midgette

In Wednesday's Washington Post: Local opera company closes curtain, by Anne Midgette.

Not with a bang, but with a lapidary press release, American Opera Theater, a flagship of the many pocket opera companies in the Baltimore/Washington areas, announced that it's pulling the plug. Its next production in February -- a double bill of "Dido and Aeneas" and the stage premiere of "The Gonzales Cantata," a setting of the transcripts of the congressional hearings of former Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, both presented in co-production with the Peabody Conservatory Opera -- will be its last.

The company, which specialized in innovative productions of both early and contemporary music, frequently performing with its own period orchestra, has existed for 8 years. Though not uniformly successful, its productions consistently brought new ideas and creative flair to a field that could use more of both.

"It just felt like it was time," wrote Timothy Nelson, the company's founder and innovative director, on the American Opera Theater website. "This company began as a group of students wanting to create a new vision of opera in Baltimore. We did that, and over the years have made works of musical theater like none others [sic]. Now its [sic] time for us to move on and forge new paths."

The announcement said that this production, which will play on February 4, 5, 11 and 13, will be AOT's last, meaning that the planned productions of Kurtag's "Kafka Fragments" and Kurt Weill's "Lost in the Stars" -- conceived as a project with inner-city kids at the Baltimore School of the Arts -- are no longer taking place. Nelson's blog, Yugen, appears to have been taken down Update:Nelson has also moved his blog, Yugen, formerly focused on AOT, to a new address and a new, personal focus.

It's a switch for Nelson, who as recently as July seemed committed to the company's future. "My personal dream," he said then, speaking in an interview for an article about small opera companies in Baltimore, "is that the administrative infrastructure will take hold and I’ll be able to act like a real artistic director but also maintain the freelance career in Europe that I’m enjoying." Future projects include productions in the Netherlands for the Dutch National Opera Academy.

The Classical Beat is awaiting comment from Nelson.

Update: "The major reason to stop now," Nelson said in an e-mail message this morning, "is that as my freelance directing career has finally started to take off (to the point now that I'm in rehearsals or production solid from now until September, and not home once), I've found it increasingly difficult to manage the administration of the company... Finally it just felt like I could no longer do a good job of the details, and the resources don't exist for a paid staff."

"There is a small chance," he added, "that we could still continue with 'Lost in the Stars,'" the production with young inner-city Baltimoreans that was scheduled for May. However, he said, "We still need about $15,000 to do it, and I'm not holding my breath."

Update: After Nelson wrote this e-mail this morning, the money came through; "Lost in the Stars" will now be AOT's final production.

He's not abandoning the AOT brand altogether. "Most likely we will become more of a production company that creates individual projects when funded by an outside festival or house," he said. "I do hope we will be able to offer the occasional performance in Baltimore."

Some past reviews of American Opera Theater in the Washington Post:
Joe Banno on a staging of Handel's "Messiah," 2007 (scroll down).
Anne Midgette on "David et Jonathas," 2008.
Anne Midgette on "Songspiel," with Sylvia McNair, 2010.

By Anne Midgette  | January 4, 2011; 8:12 AM ET
Categories:  Washington, news, opera  
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Anne Midgette, if you weren't so down-to-earth you could be writing for the New York Times. I mean it as a compliment, of course. Arts organizations, small and large, need patrons to survive. That has always been true. Rare is the artist who can support himself at a middle class standard. It's very much like society at large - the top 10% earn 80% of the proceeds. Creativity is almost irrelevant, even if we wish it weren't.

Posted by: pronetoviolins | January 6, 2011 3:24 PM | Report abuse

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