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By Libbey Paul
As a little girl I dreamed I would one day become the iconic Barbra Streisand; my backup dream was to croon like John Denver. Alas, I was not born with a voice that naturally lends itself to sharing, as my brothers were quick to remind me. When my girls were born, I finally found an audience who not only tolerated my singing, but invited it, and even sang along. And now my girls are mini-musicians in training.
Which brings me to the subject of this post. One of the things I love most about Oak Park is its commitment to the arts, not only in the schools, but in the community at large, from the Academy of Movement and Music to Brooks BRAVO, from Pro Musica Youth Chorus to the Madigral and Schola Choirs at Grace Episcopal, from Oak Park Concert Chorale to the Symphony of Oak Park / River Forest. And I could go on. But let me focus on a new game in town, which I find inspiring on multiple fronts: Verismo Opera Club, led by Bradley and Yasmeen Schuller, a dynamic husband and wife team.
Here’s a quote from a Verismo Opera Club blog posting that captures well what I find so intriguing about the group:
Verismo is Realism. La Boheme is based on a book which was inspired by real people. But the Verismo Opera Club is not only focused on Realist opera as a genre: it is focused on the realities of today...
- We are offering high quality opera at an affordable price. We have left in the most important parts while cutting out the expensive ones. The orchestral reduction to piano is appropriate given our venue and means. Our pianist, Anatoliy Torchinskiy is a virtousic concert pianist and the audience will not miss much of the sound quality.
- Our vision is based on building community. We support our cast and understudies and care about them as people. We encourage our older singers to mentor the younger ones. Our club rules inject a sense of values into business as usual.
- We are on the cutting edge of the internet's social media network. We plan to engage our online fan base in new ways with Facebook, Twitter, blogs, and so on.
“Truth” -- quality and affordability -- community -- cutting edge communication -- do tell! I had the opportunity to talk with Brad Schuller recently, who is the founder and artistic director for the group, and a respected tenor in his own right. He earned a degree in Vocal Performance from DePaul University, and has over a decade of professional musical experience, performing over 30 operatic roles throughout his career.
Why Oak Park?
Not only do the Schullers have a personal connection with Oak Park (Yasmeen grew up here, and the couple now lives here), the village’s rich cultural diversity and commitment to the arts attracted them. According to Brad, Oak Park has among the highest per capita of Lyric Opera subscribers in the Chicago area. Pair that interest with the lack of a local opera company -- bingo, you’ve got opportunity!
Verismo, Italian for “realism,” not only applies to a genre of opera, it also describes Verismo Opera Club’s core mission, which “...is to engage our audiences by producing relevant, truthful, and emotionally direct performances...The journeys that these characters take us on should resonate with us all as we go through our day-to-day existence.”
The Club aspires to be the next tier down from a Lyric Opera -- with a twist. “Face it, not everybody can afford $200 tickets,” said Brad. He marvels at the quality of the singers Verismo is able to attract. He attributes it to supply and demand. “There are not a lot of opportunities for young, talented singers to get practice and experience. People are putting in a lot of effort to help build the company so that they can continue to build their own resumes.” Tickets for the inaugural season range between $20-32.
Getting It Done
In addition to starting and running the Opera Club, both Schullers have day jobs. Brad added a business degree and MBA to his musical training. He and Yasmeen are both wearing a lot of hats and are still learning. She is running the business from a marketing and branding standpoint, while Brad is the artistic director.
They are surrounded by people who are equally passionate and committed. People like board member Robert Emery, who has been actively engaged building a movie screen and designing and building set pieces. As Brad says, “By day, he’s an intellectual property lawyer, but he’s hooked.” Stage director Aaron Hunt has been busy writing a new family friendly adaptation of Magic Flute. Jennifer Cox, assistant stage director, tracked down an Olympic rhythmic gymnast to teach the dancers how to move.
2010-11 Inaugural Season
Following the successful production of "La Boheme" in August of 2010, Verismo Opera Club launched their inaugural 2010-2011 season in November with a well-reviewed performance of favorite Puccini arias from operas such as "Turandot," "La Rondine," "Il Trittico," and "Manon Lescaut."
Verismo has their first performance of 2011 on Friday, March 25, with Mozart’s “Magic Flute,” billed as “whimsical, magical experience” appropriate for families. So of course, we’re first in line to see the show on the Friday before we escape for spring break. My girls love musical theatre -- are they ready for opera at ages 11 and 8? I’m betting that the 90-minute production (in English and with a narrator) will light their imaginations, and my husband and I will be serenaded all the way to North Carolina, our spring break destination!
Join us at the show on Friday, March 25, at 7:30 pm or enjoy the Sunday matinee on March 27, at 3 pm. Oakpark.com readers can get a special discount of 15% off. Either use discount code OAKPARKDOTCOM or click on the link below to receive the discount: http://magicflute.eventbrite.com/?discount=oakparkdotcom. The discount expires on March 21, 2011.
Verismo Opera Club performs at the
Arts Center of Oak Park
200 North Oak Park Avenue
Oak Park, IL
Catch the rest of the season:
Puccini at his best in this dramatic story of love and loss. Performers accompanied by piano in Italian with English supertitles.
Friday, July 29, 2011 at 7:30 pm
Sunday, July 31, 2011 at 3 pm