Art Notes: Mix of circus and opera remains unique to Opera North

Circus artists Shereen Hickman, left, Joel Jeske, Andrea Murillo and Brianna Mae Clements rehearse a scene from Opera North's

Circus artists Shereen Hickman, left, Joel Jeske, Andrea Murillo and Brianna Mae Clements rehearse a scene from Opera North's "Cavalcade" on Wednesday, July 5, 2023 in Cornish, N.H., at Blow-Me-Down Farm. (Valley News - Jennifer Hauck) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com. valley news — Jennifer Hauck

Circus artist Shereen Hickman runs through a song during an Opera North rehearsal on Wednesday, July 5, 2023 in Cornish, N.H., at the Blow-Me-Down Farm. (Valley News - Jennifer Hauck) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

Circus artist Shereen Hickman runs through a song during an Opera North rehearsal on Wednesday, July 5, 2023 in Cornish, N.H., at the Blow-Me-Down Farm. (Valley News - Jennifer Hauck) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com. valley news photographs — Jennifer Hauck

Part of the set for Opera North's production of

Part of the set for Opera North's production of "Carmen" sits on the ground at Blow-Me-Down Farm with Mt. Ascutney in the background Wednesday, July 5, 2023 in Cornish, N.H. (Valley News - Jennifer Hauck) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com. Jennifer Hauck

By ALEX HANSON

Valley News Staff Writer

Published: 07-05-2023 4:32 PM

It’s been five years since Opera North first united opera with the circus arts. The productions, performed under a tent at Blow-Me-Down Farm in Cornish, show no signs of letting up.

“The fun part is to create a new concept every year,” Evans Haile, Opera North’s general manager, said in a recent interview.

This year’s installment, “Cavalcade,” kicks off Opera North’s annual Summerfest on Friday night. It will be followed later this month by productions of the classic opera “Carmen” and by the Rodgers and Hammerstein’s musical “Carousel.”

“Cavalcade” takes the theme of a 1950s TV show. Think of “The Ed Sullivan Show,” “Cavalcade of Stars,” which featured Jackie Gleason, or “Your Show of Shows,” which starred Sid Caesar and sounded pretty meta for the Eisenhower years. It would be fair to wonder if “Cavalcade” will be in black and white.

As anyone who’s seen any of the previous four shows (it was canceled in the 2020 pandemic year) can attest, there’s no risk of that. Between the color provided by Broadway set designer Nate Bertone, the bright costumes on the singers, aerialists, clowns and acrobats, and the full orchestra underpinning it all, Opera North puts on a spectacle. The mix of opera and circus remains unique to Opera North, Haile said, at least in the U.S. It’s not unheard of elsewhere.

After performances through Sunday, “Cavalcade” will give way to “Carmen,” Georges Bizet’s beloved opera, now approaching the 150th anniversary of its first performance, in Paris in 1875. If “Cavalcade” is a one-off, “Carmen” is the opposite, though Opera North’s might be the only production of it in a tent this summer.

It’s also more global, with singers coming to Cornish from as far away as South Africa and South Korea.

“I’ve been wanting to work with the company because it has a very good reputation,” Lwazi Hlati, a 31-year-old singer from South Africa who’s now a student at Southern Methodist University in Dallas. A tenor, Hlati will sing the role of Don Jose in “Carmen.”

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Opera North has long been a feeder program for larger opera companies. Singers who come to the Upper Valley one summer work their way up into larger venues with companies like Glimmerglass, in Cooperstown, N.Y., or the Santa Fe Opera in New Mexico, another step on the way to the pinnacle, places such as La Scala or the Metropolitan Opera.

“We usually get well over 1,000 applications a year,” Opera North Artistic Director Louis Burkot said in a phone interview from Cambridge, Mass., where he has lived for the past couple of years. He winnows them down and visits several cities to hold auditions before making offers to singers.

“I got pretty much all my first choices this year,” he said, not a guarantee with other opera companies also choosing their casts for the summer.

The addition of singers from new continents demonstrates opera’s growth, Burkot said. “It’s an opportunity for Opera North to be exposed to a very different background and training background,” he said.

The mainstage season closes with “Carousel,” which Burkot called “one of the great American musical theater works.” The production runs from July 27-30.

In addition to the theatrical productions, Opera North will host Jazz on a Sunday Afternoon, the long-running series of performances at Eastman, the planned community comprising parts of Grantham, Springfield, N.H., and Enfield, in the tent in Cornish on Aug. 6.

Prior to 2018, Opera North focused almost entirely on opera but has since spread its wings a bit into territory that’s opera-adjacent. That shift coincided with the company’s move to Blow-Me-Down Farm, where it is partnering with the National Park Service to create a national park for the arts. That work is ongoing, Haile said.

The grounds of the farm, the former estate of Charles Beaman, provides opera-goers with a place to picnic and views across the Connecticut River to Mt. Ascutney.

“I believe it’s a unique experience, certainly in our region,” Haile said.

Opera North’s Summerfest begins Friday. For tickets and more information, go to operanorth.org.

Meetinghouse Readings

The Canaan Meetinghouse is probably the best place in the Upper Valley to hear writers read from their work. The long-standing series of summer readings returns next Thursday, July 13, the first of three consecutive w.

On the 13, poet Ellen Bryant Voight and journalist Jeff Sharlet will read from their recent work. July 20 brings novelist Douglas Bauer and novelist and memoirist Joyce Maynard to the Meetinghouse. And the series concludes with poet Vievee Francis and Peter Orner, who writes short fiction and essays. Like Sharlet, both Francis and Orner are Dartmouth creative writing professors.

The readings are a benefit for the Canaan Town Library; admission is free, but the baked goods and drinks sold at intermission are by donation. The organizers welcome everyone but advise no infants, toddlers or “squirmers,” who could be any age, I guess.

Call the library for more info at 603-523-9650.

Bunch of phonies

You’ve heard of Astroman, perhaps (the comic book, not to be confused with the surf-rock band Man or Astro-Man?). And as worldly as you are, maybe you’ve also heard of dan dan noodles, a staple of Sichuan cuisine.

Well, get ready for Astro Dan Dan, who is not part-man, part-noodle, as far as I know, but is the next-best thing: an artist from Hanover who’s showing recent paintings at the Tunbridge Public Library.

You can find out what kind of man Astro Dan Dan is yourself on Sunday by attending a reception for the artist from 3 to 5 p.m. The show, titled “Manufactured Phonies” and comprising abstract work inspired by the music the artist was listening to, looks colorful and fun, from what little I’ve seen, like summer on paper.

The show is on view through September. Call ahead for hours and information: 802-889-9404.

Too loud?

If all of the above seems a bit staid — Opera? Literature? Noodles? — head on down to the Main Street Museum on Saturday night at 8 to hear three bands from Windsor’s What Doth Life music collective: Chodus, MCash and Magic User. Admission is 10 bucks at the door, but pssst!, the museum never turns anyone away for lack of funds. Expect some raucous fun.

Alex Hanson can be reached at ahanson@vnews.com or 603-727-3207.