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Intimate Opera: Fear no music

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Jaccuse! From left: Sean Manterfield, Chelsea Gurtowsky and Katie Dukes in 'Three Sisters.'
  • J'accuse! From left: Sean Manterfield, Chelsea Gurtowsky and Katie Dukes in Three Sisters.
The folks behind Intimate Opera, a new company devoted to staging “underperformed opera” with “untapped talent,” want you to know that you don't have to be afraid. Nor do you have to wear formal clothes. Their production of two half-hour operas by Richmond, Ind.-born composer Ned Rorem — running this weekend and the next at IndyFringe Theater — will be staged in the comfiest of surroundings. You're encouraged to wear your pajamas — seriously — and there will be booze. The two musicalsA Childhood Miracle, based on Nathaniel Hawthorne's “The Snow Image,” and Three Sisters Who Are Not Sisters, based on a play by the same name by Gertrude Stein — are very much in English, because audiences expressed an interest in seeing contemporary work in their own language, according to Intimate Opera co-founder Amy Hayes. Hayes and Larry Goens, the other co-founder, together answered via email a few questions we put to them about the company; here are the results.

NUVO: Why do you think people fear/shy away from opera?

Intimate Opera tag team: Most people tend to think that opera is strictly performed in grand halls, in foreign languages, over hours and hours, about topics they can’t relate to. Normally, people have very little exposure to opera and their only opportunity to see it performed by true professionals is initially intimidating.

NUVO: What are you doing to address that fear?

IO: We remove opera’s fear factor by performing pieces that were written in a non-threatening style. We perform mostly English works which typically range between 45 minutes to an hour. We eliminate massive sets and costuming which often distance the audience from the action and emotion on stage. Most importantly, our troupe members are very close to the audience so that they are more “real”, not just big voices on a stage. They are people who make connections with our audiences before, during and after performances.

NUVO: Is anything lost in the attempt to make a performance more user-friendly or less imposing to the average listener?

IO: Most Intimate Opera productions are short in length, for small casts and small spaces. Nothing is lost because they are performed as they were intended. When we choose to perform a larger opera, we reduce it to its essence, only cutting those parts which distract the audience from its core. Nothing is lost because we aren’t cutting just to make it shorter. One of Intimate Opera’s goals is to introduce variety into the opera/music scene in Indianapolis because, just as there are different genres of movies and books, there are many different styles of opera.

NUVO: What other contemporary opera do you enjoy and might you perform in the future?

IO: We know we'll be a fixture in Indianapolis when we perform Dominick Argento’s Postcard from Morocco, but that is a larger piece, at 70 minutes, than we are looking perform right now. We are currently casting for Maya:Illusions, which utilizes various works by Gustav Holst. While we will never turn completely away from foreign language pieces by commonly known composers, we are drawn to contemporary, still living composers who write in English.

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