Good News for UrbanArias . . .

This week UrbanArias received its Letter of Determination from the IRS, which means we are now a recognized 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization.

We’re delighted that we have achieved tax-exempt status, which is retroactive to our incorporation last October — it makes our lives much easier on the business side of our operation.  We can do all sorts of things now:  apply for foundation grants, accept donations on the website (which I’ll set up shortly), even get our web hosting for free courtesy of DreamHost!

Our website will soon undergo a major update, as we announce repertoire and dates for our April, 2011 UrbanArias Festival, and as the “support” and “about” headings get fleshed out with new material . . . plus, we have some great pictures from the Lucy rehearsal process we will upload, thanks to photographer and friend Karen Redmond.

We look forward to keeping all of you informed!

Bob Wood

Yes, Classical music should be enjoyable!

I applaud Anne Midgette’s recent article in the Washington Post regarding classical music at the White House.  Her ideas for future White House classical programming are wonderful (and one day could perhaps include UrbanArias!), but her warning that classical music can stifle its own growth by taking itself too seriously is one we should all take to heart.

People want to be entertained.  This is not to say that symphonies and opera companies should dumb down their programming, or rely exclusively on gimmicks to get people in the door – but I do think there is a lot of room for “audience-aware art”.  Why not pay attention to the Zeitgeist, and offer audiences pieces they can easily enjoy?  Why indeed is “accessible” a dirty word in some circles?  “Accessible”, “entertaining”, and “sophisticated” are not mutually exclusive qualities – certainly the operas of Mozart are perfect examples.  And in our day, think Jake Heggie, Stephen Sondheim, Ricky Ian Gordon, and Tom Cipullo, just to name four composers.

UrbanArias received many enthusiastic comments after our production of Tom Cipullo’s ten minute mini-opera at the Kennedy Center, and the comments centered around four things people found enjoyable:  excellent singing, an American opera with text they could clearly understand and whose story they found touching and relevant, a musical palette they were drawn to, and (dear to our hearts at UrbanArias, as we’re making this our credo) an opera that has an impact in short form.

I think that paying attention to those four elements will be the key to success at UrbanArias, and will allow us to take our place in American Opera of the present and future.  By presenting short, moving, approachable pieces that are well-sung and -acted, we can help new audiences explore an art form that has so much to offer – and perhaps also reinvigorate the interest of opera fans who are yearning for something new that does not need to command their attention for 3+ hours.

At any rate, we continue to feel we’re onto something, and we look forward to giving our audiences even more reasons to find classical music enjoyable.


Dear friends,

We at UrbanArias could not be more thrilled with the performance of LUCY last Saturday at the Kennedy Center.  What a perfect way to launch the company!

Emily Albrink and Michael Anthony McGee sang wonderfully, Michael Baitzer played beautifully, and Pat Diamond’s staging was simple, elegant and touching.

It was a busy couple of days, and our first foray into the world of producing; I’m amazed it all ran so smoothly!

An overview, for those of you who are curious about the antics of a start-up opera company:

Monday, April 5

Transportation consternation.  We have set pieces that Pat has skillfully arranged for us to use free of charge – but how to get them to the Kennedy Center, and where to store them for a few days?  U-haul?  Possible, but not cheap once the days add up . . . fortunately, our board president Susan Derry came to the rescue with her mother’s van (used for her estate sale work).  Susan was our miracle worker, as later events would prove . . .

Tuesday, April 7

Bob flies to Denver for a gig with Opera Colorado.  We all keep murderous schedules.  And – we thought it was important to practice running UrbanArias from a remote location in case of . . . well, whatever.

Wednesday, April 8

Bob still in Denver, Susan muscles the furniture into the van with some help from Unviersity of Maryland grad students (thanks guys!), collects the wigs, and accidentally purloins a bench from UMD (natural, really — Susan and I were brought up on the Opera Bench school of staging — every opera has at least one bench).

Thursday, April 9

Many phone calls.  Train and plane schedules noted and organized.  Have we told enough people about this?  Maybe another email blast . . .

Friday, April 10

Bob flies back to DC.  Michael Anthony arrives in DC by train.  Everyone converges on UrbanArias HQ (Bob’s house) for a whirlwind rehearsal – musical work, staging, costume fitting, more furniture schlepping . . . pure synergy.  Anything is possible when you hire good people!

Saturday April 11

The big day . . . Susan and Bob get lost with the van in the bowels of the Kennedy Center on their way to delivering the furniture.  The KC crew is extremely helpful, however, and we’re good to go in no time.  The cast assembles for the sound check and run-through on the stage – it looks and sounds great (especially considering it’s 10 a.m.)!  VocalArtsDC’s Gabe Estrin deftly keeps us all organized.

One advantage of having an early sound check: we can adjourn to UrbanArias HQ for a quick photo shoot courtesy of Karen Redmond, who snaps some great pics we can use on the website.  Emily and Michael Anthony are alternately patient and vivacious as necessary; Susan has now assumed the role of costume mistress (ironing) and then wig mistress.  Now how many opera companies have board presidents who can pin curl?  I ask you.  Not to mention a board secretary who has an extra cummerbund.

Back to the KC for lunch, and then we’re on!

The performance is fabulous; Tom Cipullo has come down from New York to see us perform his work and is very pleased (even though I cut a measure after Michael Anthony’s aria – gotta watch that producer like a HAWK or he’ll pull some shenanigans)!

Receive applause, chat with fans, proceed to 600 Watergate for some well-earned libations – and to plan what’s next.  No rest for the wicked!

Thanks to all who came, and we promise you’ll see more of us soon.

Bob Wood

Almost there!

We’re less than 48 hours away from our debut at the Kennedy Center!  Everything is coming together nicely . . . producing sure is different from conducting, though.  Coordinating load-ins, moving furniture, lots of paperwork . . . we have an excellent team, however, and I know we’re going to present a memorable ten-minute extravaganza, and we hope all of our new fans can join us!

Tom Cipullo’s “Lucy” is a beautiful, lyrical, poignant, funny mini-opera.  It’s amazing what depth he’s achieved in such a short space.  It’s the story of an elderly woman who imagines a young man coming to visit her – a sweet and interesting take on memory, imagination, and whether or not a person’s concrete surroundings are as important as what goes on in her mind.  Musically, Tom gives us a wonderfully melodic score, with a few Puccini-like  phrases that clearly reflect this woman’s soul.  The aria for the Young Man is a real jewel – I predict that any young baritone in the audience will be writing Tom for a copy.

I look forward to hearing it all in rehearsal tomorrow, at UrbanArias HQ (my living room – hey, we have to start somewhere!)


Welcome to UrbanArias!

Opera. Short. New.

We like it, and hope you will, too!  Please browse the site and feel free to drop us a line.

This blog will be your most immediate source for updates on the UrbanArias festival – our performances, fundraisers, joys, sorrows, successes, excesses – essentially a chronicle of our progress as an opera company, and a window into what happens in an opera start-up.

It will be passionate, glorious, and occasionally seamy, just like the art form we produce.

We look forward to hearing from you!

Robert Wood