Act 1: Opera in the Rock
October 28 - November 3, 2019
By Cait Smith
Opera has evolved over the last several decades, bringing together audiences far and wide to witness performances like no other. From the songs and costumes, to the storylines and imagery, opera illustrates just how fascinating it can be. Arkansas is holding to these standards with Opera in the Rock as a source for theatre entertainment. “Opera in the Rock is reviving opera as we know it into a rich art form. It’s really important to keep it alive and going,” said Executive and Acting Artistic Director of Opera in the Rock, Kate Sain.
For a period of time, Little Rock was without an outlet for professional opera. A young group of singers noticed this gap and went forth doing something about it. In the spring of 2012, Opera in the Rock opened its doors. Their mission was simple – to give local performers a job opportunity in the arts. “Everyone is paid, they’re not volunteer workers or community help,” explained Sain. Soon after, Opera in the Rock held their first production “The Magic Flute” accompanied by the Arkansas Symphony Orchestra. In 2017, Opera in the Rock did fully staged productions of “The Barber of Seville” and “La Bohème.” And just last year in May, they held a full staged production of “Troubled Island” by William Grant Still with an entire African American cast. With all the productions they host, they never lose sight of their main purpose. “We focus on collaboration and diversity in the art form. […]. We’re really working with all the major art organizations in the area to do events together,” stated Sain. They also strive to give local operas singers exposure and encouragement to go to art-based schools or programs.
After getting her BA in Music and Jazz Studies at Columbia University in New York, Sain worked under Wynton Marsalis at the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra for over ten years. She has also collaborated with artists and composers such as Stephen Sondheim, Alan Menken, Willie Nelson, and Norah Jones to name a few. After a successful journey in New York, Sain returned home and obtained her Master of Music in Vocal Performance with an emphasis in Opera from the University of Central Arkansas. In 2017, Sain got in the Opera in the Rock mix only working part-time until the position for a new Executive Director opened. “My former teacher Christine Donahue was a board member for Opera in the Rock. Because of all the experience I had in New York, she knew I’d be a natural fit,” said Sain. Now as the Executive and current Artistic Director, Sain is really enjoying her role. “Since taking over, I love how creative I can be. I love putting programs together and casting auditions,” she said.
Sain is focused on growth within the company. As of last year, Opera in the Rock was designated the only Professional Company Member of Opera America in the state of Arkansas. “We had to go through a vetting process to be able to get the approval but it’s important, especially in a place where we are trying to keep opera alive in the state,” she explained. Sain and her staff are also looking to expand their statewide presence, develop lasting relationships with other art organizations, produce more than one opera production in a year, and more importantly continue to raise funds for the company. “We need to keep finding those sponsors that really believe in opera as an art form,” Sain said.
To learn more about Opera in the Rock, visit their website oitr.org or Facebook at Opera in the Rock.
In the meantime, their next production “Souvenir: A Fantasia on the Life of Florence Foster Jenkins” hits the stage for one night only on Nov. 2, at 7:30 p.m. Set in 1942, the life of Florence Foster Jenkins is explored. Jenkins is a wealthy New York Socialite who has promoted herself as an opera singer even though she’s talentless. Jenkins is notorious for throwing concerts for her friends, in which she sings off-key. Jenkins has fabulous confidence, however, not so much a fabulous voice to match. Along the way, Jenkins teams up with Cosmé McMoon in hopes of achieving success. Throughout their partnership, the two become the talk of the town for hilarious off-key recitals and eventually gain stardom. This cast of just two will be played by Christine Donahue as Florence Foster Jenkins and Timothy Smith as Cosmé McMoon. General admission is $50, student admission is $25 (ID required). To purchase tickets, visit tickets.therep.org. You can also call the box office at (501) 378-0405.
PHOTO CAPTIONS: (All photos are provided)
1. Arkansas’ only professional company in the state, Opera in the Rock, is promoting opera as entertainment and education. They’re also enriching the cultural life of Arkansas by giving local and regional performers the opportunity to use their talents for good. Christine Donahue and Timothy Smith perform on stage in the play “Souvenir: A Fantasia Life on Florence Foster Jenkins” which will hit the stage Nov. 2, at 7:30 p.m.
2. Opera in the Rock hosts smaller one acts like “Souvenir: A Fantasia on the Life of Florence Foster Jenkins” to help with funds for the company.
3. Christine Donahue, Assistant Professor of Voice at the University of Central Arkansas. Donahue has performed with numerous opera companies throughout the United States, Canada and abroad including New York City Opera, Cleveland Opera, Houston Grand Opera, etc.