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The Magic of Mozart Comes Back to Town
by Jan Jezioro
The Marriage of Figaro at Nickel City Opera
The Nickel City Opera (NCO) is returning for its seventh season to its home in the historic Riviera Theatre in North Tonawanda for two performances of its new production of Mozart’s Operatic supreme masterpiece The Marriage of Figaro (Le Nozze di Figaro) on Friday June 26 at 7:30pm and Sunday June 28 at 2:30pm.
So, why should Western New York opera lovers go to see Nickel City Opera’s Figaro? When asked that question, Valerian Ruminski, a Metropolitan opera bass-baritone and the founder and artistic director of the NCO, didn’t hesitate: “Because it will be the first genuinely professional production of a Mozart opera in the area in more than two decades.” Ruminski has worked hard to make the first six seasons of his opera company a success, and based on the results that he has achieved, the confidence of his statement is fully justified. Looking back, it seemed to be an act of reckless bravado, if not one of sheer lunacy, to attempt to establish a new opera company in Western New York in 2009, two years into the severest recession—which hit our area particularly hard—since the Great Depression of the 1930’s. Yet Ruminski has managed to successfully do so, using his own opera-world savvy, gained through a couple of decades of hard-earned practical experience.
When it comes to producing opera, it’s just as much all about the money as it is about all the many artistic components necessary to make an opera production come alive and engage the audience fully enough to make them want to come back “next year.” Ruminski is a firm believer in providing a genuinely quality experience, with high-caliber professional singers and musicians in an effectively staged production. If you can’t do it the right way, don’t do it. Generating a loyal following is crucial to the survival of the kind of opera organization that Ruminski describes as “festival opera,” that is an opera company, such as the NCO, which consistently puts on one or two opera productions, around the same dates, every year.
There is no arguing with success, and Ruminski has demonstrated the success of his low-budget, yet ever increasingly high artistic quality approach, beginning with his company’s initial production, The Barber of Seville in 2009. Ruminski cannily selected the last weekend in June to present his annual, main NCO production. As he writes in his The Nickel City Solution: Festival Opera for Under $100,000, published this past March, “June was the month because, in the opera industry, June was down time. Companies rarely staged operas in June. With that in mind I could hire industry professionals to work for less than half of what they were usually paid because a paycheck is a paycheck. If they want to make something in June, they might as well work for the NCO.”
Ruminski says that he wrote his book, which is available both in a paperback edition and in an electronic Kindle edition on Amazon, for people in the “opera industry” who might be thinking about launching a new opera company. Even if you have no intention of ever producing an opera, however, the book is a good read for anyone who loves attending and listening to opera, as it provides an invaluable insight into just how much blood, sweat and tears go into every live opera production. Especially noteworthy is Ruminski’s description of his continuing effort to ensure complete financial transparency for the NCO, in particular by continuing to post the company’s complete tax returns on line yearly.
Ruminski will be singing the title role of Figaro, which is somewhat of a rarity for him. The only previous time that he gave himself a title role was in the NCO’s 2013 production of Donizetti’s delightful comedy, Don Pasquale, where he displayed a nuanced comic sensibility, in what was probably the first local production of the opera since the end of the 19th century.
“Singing a role in Figaro is almost a spiritual experience for me and it is one of the few operas that’s makes me emotional,” says Ruminski. He has only sung the role of Figaro once previously, in a 1998 production, though he also appeared in the role of Dr. Bartolo in an Opera Hawaii production about six or seven years ago. “Although we look like we’re emotional when we are singing in an opera, we have to be emotionless to facilitate the technique of singing. I’ve been almost brought to tears during the finale of Figaro, since it’s as if you are in the eye of a sonic hurricane that you and the other singers are generating. It is a very powerful experience.”
Ruminski is continuing with his effectively proven method of recruiting singers with an emerging national reputation, like soprano Amy Grable for the role of Susanna, Figaro’s betrothed. At the same time, he continues to promote such gifted local talent as the rising young baritone James Wright, who will sing the role of Count Almaviva. Wright is a singer equally at home on the opera stage and in a lieder recital, as he has demonstrated most recently last month in a complete performance of Wolf’s Italienisches Liederbuch. Eastman School of Music soprano Jena Abati, who offered a memorably poignant interpretation of Musetta in the NCO’s La Bohème returns for this production as Barbarina. In a creative twist, the role of Cherubino, usually sung by a soprano, will be sung by counter tenor Ray Chenez, a Lockport native. Chenez has had to miss the early rehearsals, since he was called in at the last minute to replace an ailing singer at the Versailles Festival, in Louis IV’s palace complex outside of Paris, where he is singing the role of Marzia in Vinci’s Catone in Utica. Mark Freiman is the stage director, and Michael Ching, who has demonstrated the breadth of his talents on the podium in several previous NCO productions, will conduct.
Ruminski has long wanted to put on the world premiere of Shot!, an opera based on the assassination of President McKinley at the Pan-American Exposition in 1901, a newly commissioned work by Persis Vehar, a nationally recognized, award-winning composer and a longtime Buffalo resident. The project has been reluctantly placed on the back-burner for the past two years, due in large part to the much higher costs associated with having to build completely new sets for the premiere, and Ruminski’s fiscal prudence, one of the main reasons that the NCO has continued to thrive and grow for seven seasons. Ruminski has recently been in talks with the management of Shea’s Performing Arts Center, who feel that the premiere of an opera about one of the most significant events in the history of Buffalo should take place in our city, and he now feels confident that he is in a position to make his dream come through in 2016.
Tickets: $59/49; Senior (62+) $57/47; Youth $20. Information: 692 2413 or visit: www.nickelcityoperaco.com
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