Big opera sound, small scenes

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A newly created non-profit organization is looking to bring Richard Wagner’s operas to New Hampshire audiences with two shows this summer.

Peter Furlong is a part-time resident of New London, opera singer and co-founder of the Berlin Wagner Group. He worked professionally as an opera singer for decades in New Hampshire, Colorado, New Mexico and more recently in Europe.

For many opera singers, as they get older, their voice “matures,” Furlong explained. This may mean that the Italian opera pieces they have performed no longer suit their voice. Roles in German operas, like Wagner’s, fit better with their new tones.

However, he found that companies performing these Wagner plays were reluctant to cast actors with no prior experience. So about five years ago he co-founded a group overseas that helps those maturing performers who were looking to transition to the Wagnerian style gain experience in order to be considered for professional roles.

The band includes German music director Byron Knutson, co-founder; pianists Kathryn Southworth of Concord Community Music School and Jeffrey Brody; and singers Benjamin Bloomfield and Meredith Mecum Bloomfield.

It is this group that also incorporated a branch in New Hampshire this year. The performers will showcase their skills while bringing to the stage an art form that is not often accessible to Granite Staters.

“Our intention is to enrich and strengthen New Hampshire’s classical music community through fun and original programming,” Furlong said. Without going to New York or Montreal, there are few opportunities for residents to see live professional opera.

“We believe that the performing arts are for everyone and that everyone has the right to access and experience the performing arts, live, regardless of income level or socio-economic privilege” , Furlong said. He calculated that 80% of the projected audience is considered to be in New Hampshire’s low-to-moderate annual income level (based on census data).

Beyond the gigs this summer, Furlong hopes the band can expand into Maine and Vermont. He would also like to start an educational symposium for young dramatic voices to study opera in a sort of week-long masterclass.

“We’re also trying to build awareness,” he said.

The band has two gigs scheduled in New Hampshire this season.

New London gig

On July 23 at 7 p.m., the band will perform at the Sawyer Theater at Colby-Sawyer College in New London.

This concert entitled “Ring in One Evening” will highlight Wagner’s Ring Cycle, centered on one of Wagner’s most famous pieces “The Ride of the Valkyries”.

Furlong said the opera’s works, based loosely on Germanic heroes and Norse sagas, remain relevant today, as seen in the Marvel franchise, which recently released “Thor: Love and Thunder” with these same characters.

The hope is that the performers will be able to distribute themselves among the audience for an almost surround sound effect.

“The audience is immersed in what’s going on,” Furlong said.

Furlong and the Bloomfields will be joined by a choir from Vermont for this production. The musical director will be Southworth.

Tickets for this show will be $20 for adults and $5 for children/students with ID.

berlin concert

On July 30 at 7 p.m., the Berlin Wagner Group will perform at the St. Kieran Center for the Arts in Berlin.

This show is “Gods, Myths and Some Marvelous Legends”, which will include a piece from the Ring cycle but be a lighter introduction to Wagner, Furlong said.

“A lot of the music you know today is due to Wagner,” Furlong said.

The compositions in this program will show how Wagner was among the first to use musical themes for individual characters. This style was adopted by John Williams for his “Star Wars” compositions; Yoda has his own theme, as does Leia and Darth Vader, as well as many other characters.

The cast for this show will be smaller, with just Furlong and the Bloomfields, accompanied by Southworth, without an ensemble.

Tickets for the Berlin show are $15 in advance and $18 at the door.

Both performances will have a narrator role. For more information or to purchase tickets, visit berlinwagnergroup.org.

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