Luskin: Opera North

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(HOST) When commentator Deborah Luskin left New York City for the wilds of northern New England, she thought she’d be giving up live opera. She’s been delighted to discover that she was wrong.

(LUSKIN) When I was in graduate school in New York City, I bought a subscription to the Metropolitan Opera. The best seat I could afford was in the nosebleed section: the second to last row in the balcony about a half-mile from the stage. Even with my binoculars, it was hard to see, but I could hear all right. And one time, when I stood outside the opera house hoping for a Standing Room Only ticket to a performance of La Traviata that was not part of my subscription, a complete stranger handed me a ticket for an orchestra seat.
It was phenomenal to sit that close! And it was terrible, because it ruined me for my seat in the clouds, and everything else was out of my price range. Then I moved to Vermont. For a long time, the only live performance of opera I heard was on the radio.
Until I discovered Opera North.
Every August, Opera North stages two operas at the Lebanon New Hampshire Opera House. With just seven hundred seats, everyone can see the stage, and the very best seats in the house are about half the cost of a seat behind a pillar at the Met. Better yet, the least expensive seats in Lebanon still afford a good view of the stage.
Just like at the Met, I’ve attended some phenomenal productions at Opera North. Opera, which means ‘the works,’ is supposed to be over the top, and a performance of Puccini’s Turandot a few years ago was just such production. I was sitting in the orchestra, and experienced the spectacle with live surround sound..
And the principal singers at Opera North are the same professionals one would hear at any of the nation’s premier opera houses. This summer, Australian mezzo-soprano Katharine Tier, who sings with the San Francisco Opera, will make her Opera North debut in the role of Carmen.
These established professionals are joined by a new generation of performers as part of Opera North’s Young Artist Program. This program, now in its twenty-fifth year, offers talented singers great opportunities to train and perform in the early stages of their careers. The program also offers the audience a chance to hear remarkable new voices.
As has become the trend in most opera houses, Opera North projects simultaneous translation of the libretto above the proscenium stage. I would have welcomed this kind of aid as a new opera-goer. Back then, I tried to memorize the plot beforehand. Now, between the subtitles and the expressive quality of the acting, such advance study is unnecessary. These days, I just bask in the spectacle from my affordable, good seat, listening to great, live opera, 264 miles north of the Met.

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