Knoxville Opera presents “Mefistofele” at the Tennessee Theater
When the curtain closed in March 2020, Knoxville Opera representatives had two options: let their part of the local arts scene darken or compose new ways to reach the community.
“Our opera house has become the very city of Knoxville,” executive director Jason Hardy told Knox News. “So we were on boats, on street corners, in public parks and public spaces – anywhere and everywhere we could be. … No ticket income.”
The opera house held about 120 free shows that first year, Hardy said, but managed to keep its doors open. The hardest hit have been itinerant independent artists who depend on contracts.
Hardy should know; he relied on these contacts for 18 years.
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Although much has changed since the last theatrical performance, Knoxville Opera is equipped for a return to the stage this Friday, with more than 150 artists coming together after weeks of pandemic practice and personal sacrifice to share a moment of beauty in Tennessee. Theater.
“I can only imagine what it must be like if it’s been two years since I’ve been on stage under the lights with a crowd full of people,” Hardy said. “Those 10,000 hours of practice to become extraordinary and virtuoso – you spend all that time for those times when you can actually practice your craft and hopefully do it at the highest level possible.”
An “opera of phenomenal beauty”
Brian Salesky has devoted many hours to this moment. The next production of Arrigo Boito’s “Mefistofele” will be his last as artistic director, a role he has held since 2005.
An average Knoxville opera performance may involve just six principal artists, 16 chorus members and about 35 orchestra members, Hardy said.
This specific opera, which the Knoxville band last performed in 2015, involves more than 150 performers, from dancers to instrumentalists to singers.
“Big houses don’t often do this production because of the amount of logistics involved,” Hardy said. “I think it’s a beautiful statement that solidifies (Salesky’s) legacy here. … Plus, it’s a phenomenally beautiful opera.”
Hardy is excited to see the final product. He wasn’t there for the 2015 performance, as he was named executive director shortly after the local arts scene shut down in 2020.
Hardy previously worked with Opera Memphis.
“This is what we are called to do”
Most Opera artists have day jobs. Committing time to a performance involves a lot of coordination, especially when traveling from out of state. The main artists arrived three weeks ago for rehearsals, while the local choir has been training for months.
Thanks to Hardy’s experience, a major key to success is chemistry – something that’s hard to come by during a pandemic.
“It’s a small network of people, and it’s nice when you mix them up and see how everyone is interconnected,” Hardy said. “But really what was missing… they come to rehearse, they do what they do – masking up as much as possible – then they go back to their hotels or homestays or whatever.
“That feeling of isolation is still kind of there, but the release is at least that you can still do your art.”
The Opera didn’t even have a cast night this year, but it’s a necessary burden. A single positive case of COVID-19 can cause the entire production to collapse, and artists have already sacrificed so much.
They trained in pods in any large open space that would accommodate them. The first dress rehearsal held earlier this week was the first time everyone got together, from the main performers to the Knoxville Symphony Orchestra to the Momentum Dance Lab.
In a way, “Mefistofele” will be a complete celebration of the return of visual and performance art to Knoxville – not just opera.
“That’s what we’re called to do,” Hardy said. “And that’s our own kind of ministry. A ministry to the heart, to the community – to bring the art, the music, the beauty, the humor, the compassion, the empathy – to bring those things into our world to to make the world a more tolerable place to live. . And that’s why we do what we do.”
Need help deciding to go?
“Mefistofele” will take place at 7:30 p.m. on Friday and 2:30 p.m. on Sunday at the Tennessee Theater. Tickets are available between $15 and $115 on knoxvilleopera.com.
“There is no dress code,” Hardy said. “The biggest question I’m usually asked is, ‘What are people wearing?’ Step into what makes you comfortable…. You want to be classy, to be classy. You want to be laid back, to be laid back. But come on.
The orchestra is made up of 50 members, according to the Knoxville Opera House website, and stages will emerge from the orchestra pit. Brass choirs will be placed throughout the theater during the performance.
Hardy said “Mefistofele” is a good opera for new participants. It’s melodic, with an engaging story and words projected onto the stage, so there’s no language barrier.
“You should try it,” Hardy said. “Try it, then try something different. … The power of the unamplified human voice – it’s a real thing.”