Site-Specific Opera

On-Site Opera refers to itself as site-specific.  I’d also add the adjectives intimate and immersive.

Several years ago I received a mailing from the Harlem Opera Theater for a performance of George Gershwin’s opera, BLUE MONDAY, at the current reincarnation of the Cotton Club on West 125th Street.  The flyer invited us to come early to listen to the Jazz Band play big-band jazz and to dance prior to the opera.

We took the 6 train (I wanted to Take the A Train to get In The Mood but it was a longer walk) and got to the club early enough to get a table up front.  The jazz band cranked up as advertised and there was an active group on the dance floor.  At some point, a pianist and a few string instruments were seamlessly added to the ensemble and , as the NY Times reviewer wrote, “an opera broke out”.  For us it was happening in front and around us.  The music was good…it was early Gershwin, but it was distinctively Gershwin…and the opera cast was very good. It was a special night.

Although I didn’t know it at the time, the performance was a collaboration among the Harlem Opera Theater and On-Site Opera.  Fast forward a couple of years to the summer of 2015. We received a flyer for THE BARBER OF SEVILLE to be performed at the Fabbri Mansion on the Upper East Side.  It sounded like a fun thing to do.  The opera is famously based on a play by Beaumarchais and it is the first of his Figaro trilogy. The opera we were hearing was not the one composed by Giacomo Rossini but by Giovanni Paisiello some 34 years prior to the Rossini version.  We took the 1 train to 96th St. and walked to the Mansion (which is now the House of the Redeemer), part of which is an adjacent courtyard.

The courtyard was set up with musicians at the back, rows of seats along the side facing the entrance, and a supertitle screen.  This is the opening scene for the opera…what a venue for a hot, summer evening. The cast came in and out of the mansion entrance as needed, with the heroine, Rosina, singing from a balcony window of the second floor.  At the intermission, we all, audience, singers, and musicians, decamped to the mansion’s library which comfortably held us for the remainder of the opera. What an experience.  The music was delightful and the cast superb.  I encourage the reader to look at the photos on OSO’s website of singers and settings of both operas at

Imagine my anticipation of the On-Site Opera performance of the next opera in the trilogy, THE MARRIAGE OF FIGARO, next up in this blog.


Site-Relevant Opera

It’s amazing how much the venue where an opera is performed can enhance the effect of the performance.  Call them site-specific, site-appropriate, site-relevant, or in some cases, site-spectacular, there are opera productions at locations around our city that closely match the opera storyline.  They take place at venues around New York that add considerably to the pleasure of the music and singing.  Most of them are so intimate that one can (but please don’t) reach out and touch one or more of the performers.

I’ll begin this blog with a series about opera company performances in this vein that my wife and I attended.   

On Site Opera and Gotham Chamber Opera are our favorites among the companies that make venue an integral part of each opera performance, enhancing the high quality of the music and singing.

Gotham (we still mourn its closing) under the Artistic Direction of Neal Goren, performed a double bill,
Il combattimento di Tancredi e Clorinda /I Have No Stories to Tell You at the Metropolitan Museum in February, 2014…not in the Grace Rainey Rogers Auditorium but in two of The Met’s Medieval rooms. 
Il combattimento by Claudio Monteverdi was performed appropriately in the Arms and Armor Room.  The two combatants executed this short opera in armor on a circular stage of sawdust on the floor, surrounded by the audience.  The affecting opera,  I Have No Stories…by Lembit Beecher, Composer-In-Residence at the time, was performed on a stage constructed in the Medieval Art Room with the magnificent Spanish choir gate.  In both rooms, supertitles were projected on the walls. 

Also high on our WOW! list of Gotham performances was Eliogabalo by Francesco Cavalli, performed at The Box, a gentleman’s club on Chrystie Street.   It helps to know that Elagabalus, also known as Heliogabalus, was a candidate for the most dissolute and debauched of all the Roman emperors.  He was so over the edge that he had the distinction of being the only Roman emperor who was assassinated by his own Praetorian Guardsmen. The site and the jaw-dropping costumes and choreography etched this event in our memories.

Although Gotham is no longer functioning, you can see photos of past performances on their website,

Next up on this blog: On Site Opera, filling the void in our lives of site-specific opera.