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Posted at 5:08 AM ET, 01/14/2011

Urban Arias: Opera in the City

By Anne Midgette

When I first heard about a new opera company called Urban Arias, my initial reaction was, Welcome to the club. There are a lot of small opera companies springing up all over the place these days. Because of the company's name, I had an idea what it was offering was opera scenes, on a shoestring, and I made a mental note to check in at some future point.

I'm checking in tonight at Artisphere, when Urban Arias offers its second production. These are not, in fact, opera scenes, but complete mini-operas: seven of them, by known quantities in the opera field, like Jake Heggie (whose "Moby-Dick" was the operatic hit of 2010) or Lori Laitman, who lives in the DC area. Urban Arias, according to its founder, Robert Wood (a coach and conductor who's worked at the San Francisco and Minnesota Operas, among others), plans only to offer whole works, not excerpts; and only works written in the last 35 years, an arbitrary cutoff point intended to keep its offerings topical and relevant.

This evening is merely an appetizer for Urban Arias's main season: the new company is presenting three operas in two weeks in March and April, two by the acclaimed composer Ricky Ian Gordon (whose autobiographical musical "Sycamore Trees" played at the Signature Theater last year). To underscore this company's difference from many startups, Gordon's "Orpheus and Euridice" will star Elizabeth Futral, the soprano last heard in DC as Ophelia in the Washington National Opera's "Hamlet" last May. This upcoming season got my attention, and I'm curious to see what Urban Arias has to offer tonight. There are two shows, at 7 and 9; this is not your grandmother's opera, and Urban Arias doesn't want performances to last more than 90 minutes.

The last item I wrote about contemporary opera involved a company closing, not opening. but American Opera Theater is going out with two more productions this spring. This means, if you're counting, that there will be a steady stream of notable contemporary opera in this region all through the coming months. Do these smaller productions mean that the field is in good shape? I hope so; but what they definitely mean is that the big companies aren't pulling their weight. They are therefore a sign of the times in more ways than one.

By Anne Midgette  | January 14, 2011; 5:08 AM ET
Categories:  Washington, news, opera  
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Planning to be at Urban Arias this evening as well - but especially looking forward to the Glory Denied performances in April with Michael Chioldi.

Chioldi was a fabulous Hamlet with WNO last season.

Posted by: barbiere96 | January 14, 2011 7:29 AM | Report abuse

Doing an opera in 90 minutes is wonderful, though Wagner might not appreciate it. I believe - and I have been saying this for years - that the future of classical music lies in great (not mediocre) new music, a constant stream of it. The ultimate judge is the audience and the audience has been reminding us that they definitely do not care for the atonal, dissonant, loud, uninspired, simplistic, unmelodic fare we have been getting from contemporary composers for the last sixty years. Give us something we can whistle. (Anne Midgette, I love your reviews)

Posted by: pronetoviolins | January 14, 2011 10:59 AM | Report abuse

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