Madison Opera keeps its audience in mind

Check out the season's line-up
Madison Opera keeps its audience in mind

Under the agile and innovative leadership of general director Kathryn Smith, Madison Opera continues to offer a mix of outstanding theatrical productions while finding varied ways and interesting venues to serve a widening audience.

The upcoming season is an exciting blend of new and classic works: a mainstream semi-rarity (Gounod’s “Romeo et Juliette”), an American opera (Schnyder’s “Charlie Parker’s Yardbird”) and Mozart’s beloved “The Magic Flute.” Smith says the dynamics of opera as an art form have changed in recent years.

“Over 40 new American operas premiered in 2015, whereas a couple decades ago there might be one or two a year. You can’t be a modern American opera company and not perform some of the new repertoire,” says Smith from the Margaret C. Winston Madison Opera Center downtown. “Since I started at Madison Opera, we’ve performed several 21st-century operas, and this season we have one that will be less than 2 years old.”

She went on to explain part of what drives the overall planning of the three-opera season. “We know we don’t have one audience,” she says. “Some people may not want to see ‘Charlie Parker’s Yardbird,’ while others will only want to see ‘Yardbird.’ I plan for there to be at least one opera in the season that is perfect for every different taste.”

But there’s so much going on at Madison Opera that has nothing to do with ticket sales such as student matinees, a thriving high school apprentice program and more for youth.

An example is the company’s Night at the Opera with Big Brothers Big Sisters of Dane County. During the spring show, a group of “bigs” and “littles” attend an orchestra dress rehearsal, where they enjoy pizza and meet a principal artist. “It’s their private party on the circle level of Overture Hall,” says Smith. “They have as much fun as we do!”

“Charlie Parker’s Yardbird” is a major coup for Smith, who saw the world premiere (given strong reviews by the national press) in Philadelphia in 2015. “It’s a brilliant blend of opera and jazz, with a fascinating story, and I knew it would be perfect for Madison,” Smith says. But while new works are part of the lifeblood of a company, they are more expensive to pull off, she adds. “Living composers, of course, get royalties, whereas Mozart does not.”

“Yardbird” will offer new opportunities for the kind of community activities that Madison Opera has been doing so well, with partnerships and events planned, ranging from a jazz afternoon at the Madison Opera Center to discussions at community centers.

Come April, some Mozart magic is sure to delight lifelong fans and some first-timers, but by then the plans for Madison Opera’s next season–with all the activities for the whole community–will be well underway.

Madison Opera’s lineup
Romeo et Juliette: Nov. 4 and 6, 2016
Charlie Parker’s Yardbird: Feb. 10 and 12, 2017
The Magic Flute: April 21 and 23, 2017
Opera in the Park: July 22, 2017