The operatic offerings in Boston cover a wide swath of territory, but they do so in a curiously fragmented way. Lacking a large, dominant company that can embrace the repertoire comprehensively, the city boasts instead a variety of smaller, more specialized organizations that stake out various discrete points on the opera map.
The latest entry is OperaHub, whose inaugural production of Mozart's "Idomeneo" goes up June 15 and 16. Billing itself as "Boston's freshest chamber opera company," OperaHub is the creation of four recent college graduates: conductor Jordan Rodu , stage director J. Jacob Krause , mezzo-soprano Cabiria Jacobsen , and soprano Brittany Duncan . The impulses that underlie the organization are squarely democratic: They are committed to making opera accessible to all, and not just artistically.
"First and foremost, we are committed to making our productions affordable," wrote Duncan by e-mail earlier this week. And they put their money where their mouths are, so to speak: The two "Idomeneo" performances are free. (Tickets must be reserved, and donations will be accepted). Future productions will be either free or inexpensive, she added. Given the huge costs that opera productions routinely incur and the resulting steep ticket prices -- they can hit $375 at New York's Metropolitan Opera -- that's no small matter.
Of course, OperaHub's production will look and sound a bit different than what usually goes on at most opera houses. Musical accompaniment will be provided by a string quartet and piano (in Jordu's arrangement of the score), as well as a small chorus. The venue will be different, too: Performances will take place in the Lothrup Auditorium at the Community Church of Boston in Copley Square. It is a black-box theater, with no stage. "The performers will be on the same level as the audience," Duncan wrote, "interacting with and bringing the action to them in a way that doesn't usually happen in opera."
That impulse to get opera out of its traditional venues and break down the barriers between audience and performer is growing stronger, and it's part of OperaHub's mission. Krause, the director, elaborated on the point in describing his staging. The set is minimal, and the action takes place in an aisle running through the center of the room, with the audience seated on either side. "There is a very different feel to the show for the audience member as they will have every perception used," Krause wrote by e-mail. "Have them see the singers, be able to see the emotions and feel what they're feeling as the events occur. " Opera, he adds, "shouldn't be something to watch, it should be an experience to take part in."
"Idomeneo" might seem an odd choice for the first production of such an intrepid group. One of Mozart's first mature opera seria , it takes place on the island of Crete just after the Trojan War and tells a somewhat convoluted story of illicit love and narrowly averted filicide. Plot twists ensue, and the mercy of the gods is invoked. There's even a sea serpent that destroys a city.
Yet it's a piece that's both traditional (in that it's Mozart) and uncommon (in that it's less frequently performed than his better known operas), and the combination seems to appeal to OperaHub's members. Asked why they chose it, Duncan replied, "We liked the sea monster. No seriously, it's fairly malleable as a piece, not really being part of the traditional Mozart canon -- we felt it would easily mesh with our musico-dramatic aesthetic. And it's got great music."
They hope to present one or two productions next season, and they're considering a variety of smaller projects, including cabaret performances and an opera fashion show. One wonders what else they can come up with to force the stuffiness out of the genre and keep its boundaries moving.