Singers in a Strange Land
It is a privilege to share with you some of my thoughts in this issue of the Sacred in Opera Initiative Newsletter. Having been involved in opera since my teen years, I still search for the real meaning in what we opera lovers do. What moves us time and time again to invest our energy, money, effort, research and, yes, love, in this mysterious art form? Almost four hundred and fifty years ago, the small group of musical amateurs and professionals in Florence were certain they were creating something new, by re-creating an art form which was centuries old, and which was the center of Greek Culture and religion. Here we are today, still searching for the truest way to express our inner and/or sacred thoughts in a seemingly impossible task.
The title above is, of course, a variant of the passage from Exodus 22. But as we look at what we have accomplished in the years since the efforts of the Camerata, we see that in some way we are still attempting to find meaning and truth in an art form we love. Unfortunately, we often imitate Caccini in trying to get our version of the truth of the Euridice story (performed before Peri could present his Orfeo). But the importance of the Sacred in Opera Initiative is that it continually seeks to define and to redefine meaning in our human experience by expanding the definition of the word, “opera.”
Whether we prefer the challenging setting of the Haggadah by the late Elizabeth Swados, or the deconstruction of the story of the Magdalene in Mark Adamo’s controversial score, The Gospel of Mary Magdalene, we can rest assured the search for truth has not ceased. Furthermore, the addition of Taema by Richard St. Clair and Jody Nagel’s Fifty-Third Street, show that we are reaching far beyond the bonds of Judeo-Christian writings to examine ourselves in the light of other great religious traditions, including Islam and Hindu.
Today, all of our great humanist traditions are being questioned, and attempts are being made to discredit our democratic institutions. Our mission is to speak out, or rather sing out, in support of the humanitarian beliefs and practices which are so important to our survival. As composers, librettists and performers, we are like the DACA Dreamers, working in a land where our very existence is questioned by politics and war. But we know in our own artistic hearts that we are the continuing creators in the unfolding human experiment. Let us continue to sing, no matter how strange the land!
About our Contributor:
Richard Owens, baritone, has enjoyed a long career on the opera and concert stage, in arts administration and in teaching, in both Europe and the United States. He holds degrees from Trinity University (BM), Yale University (MM) and Southern Methodist University's Perkins School of Theology (MSTh), and completed advanced training in Opera and Lied at the Akademie für darstellende Kunst in Vienna. Mr. Owens founded the American Institute of Musical Studies (AIMS) in Graz, Austria, and served as its Artistic Director from 1968 until 1984, when he moved to Orlando, Florida, to serve as General Director of the Orlando Opera Company, a position he held until 1990. The Orlando Opera experienced dramatic growth during his tenure, greatly increasing its attendance and subscriber base, as well as its community outreach, number of performances, and engagement of international stars. He founded the Musiktheater Bavaria program in 2000, and served as its General and Artistic Director for many years.
Mr. Owens currently is Distinguished Adjunct Professor of Voice at Rollins College in Winter Park, Florida, where he has taught since 1992, and previously also served on the voice faculties of Baylor University, Southern Methodist University, Texas A & I University, North Texas State University, and the University of Central Florida. He has published books titled Towards A Career in Europe (a handbook for singers auditioning for opera houses in the German-speaking countries) and The Professional Singer's Guide to New York. He has been mentor to hundreds of successful opera singers and musical theater performers, many who have sung at the Metropolitan Opera, and in major Broadway productions.