Panopera showcases singers’ talents in a virtual concert

  • Kate Saik and Alan Schneider, co-producers of Panopera, in Schneider’s studio in Florence. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

Staff Writer
Published: 7/1/2021 8:30:02 PM

FLORENCE — In the face of canceled live shows, the artist-led Western Massachusetts group Panopera took to video to capture the wide variety and repertoire of 10 soloists, with the compilation of performances — “Rhapsody,” a virtual concert of art song, zarzuela, operetta and opera arias — now available on YouTube.

With the performance supported in part by a grant from the Greenfield, Shelburne, Buckland, Ashfield and Colrain Cultural Councils, Panopera members said they wanted to make the program available to be viewed by residents across the Valley. The 80-minute program can be viewed at youtube.com/watch?v=Lmo625U76lc.

The 2020 season was set to be the first year Panopera would perform two full concerts, but both were canceled amid the COVID-19 pandemic. According to member Alan Schneider, the group had originally been planning to use the grant funding from the Franklin County Cultural Councils for live performances, including of the Purcell opera “Dido and Aeneas” at Memorial Hall in Shelburne Falls in May 2020.

“The pandemic put an end to that, and instead we produced a concert recording that premiered on YouTube this March,” Schneider said. “We’re all trained, classical singers so one of the things we do besides opera and solos with large concerts is chamber music — classical song, which usually involves a single singer and a pianist. So we decided on that as a subject, and we decided on making not a livestream, but rather a film.”

Fellow Panopera member Kate Saik assisted in recording, editing and arranging the YouTube premiere. The 10 soloist performances were each filmed in February, in a warehouse space in Florence owned by Schneider. Each performer was scheduled at different times over the course of a few days to film them each singing, in front of a curtained backdrop and accompanying pianist Clifton J. Noble Jr., who played alongside each performer.

“It was kind of the perfect format to pretty much let our core group of singers really just do what they love, and demonstrate the type of music that really speaks to everybody as individuals and to what they’ve been working on for the past year,” Saik said.

Each performer in the video is identified, along with their singing repertoire and the song they perform. The full list of performers: Rachel Abrams, mezzo-soprano; Emily Baker, soprano; Charlie Berrios, tenor; Elaine Crane, soprano; Ramsey Kurdi, baritone; Cailin Marcel Manson, baritone; Roselin Osser, mezzo-soprano; Katherine Salk, soprano; Alan Schneider, tenor; and Jermain Woodard Jr., baritone.

“It ended up being a hodgepodge of operatic arias to art song,” Saik said. “We had some stuff that would fall in between those genres, like chamber music, concerto, or something in between musical theater and opera… I think we got a really great response to that because you’re seeing individuals really allowing themselves to show what they love.”

One of the principles of Panopera, Saik said, is to give the individual performer power in planning their performances. With typical performances, a director is in strong control of certain aspects, and she said they aimed to “put the creative power back into the individual artist’s hands” through this project. She said this lent itself to the title of “Rhapsody” in a way, because “there is a bit of a rapturous feeling” that is evoked by the performances.

This rapturous feeling of musical performance is what drew both Saik and Schneider to opera. Saik said she was always a fan of musical theater, and found her love for opera and orchestrated performances as a teenager. She said she began to further understand “how the orchestra embodies the unsaid emotion” hidden in the layers of operatic performance.

“As an actor — somebody who does this essentially to communicate with other people, to evoke empathy from your audience, to tell stories that make them feel something — you start to understand how 50 instruments playing together is actually expressing these deep, rich layers of emotion and storytelling that can’t be put into words,” Saik said.

Schneider echoed these sentiments, saying the composer of an opera often “has provided the subtext for you, and it’s something you can react to and something you don’t have to make out of whole cloth. … It’s right there to access and to use to strengthen your performance.”

Panopera has members from across the Pioneer Valley, and from as far as Hartford, Connecticut, and Brattleboro, Vermont. For normal performances, Saik said, the group holds a concert with a full orchestra. They usually hold one large opera performance each January at the Academy of Music in Northampton. In recent years, Panopera has also held a large concert with an orchestra in February with the Northampton Arts Council at Smith College.

Schneider said 2020 was set to be the first season in which the group would have presented a second, smaller opera performance, but they are now looking toward 2022 for potential to hold this second opera. The group is also planning to perform and film a recital, but this time it will be a “hybrid” performance with a small in-person audience allowed.

More information can be found on facebook.com/Panopera, on Instagram @panopera, and at panopera.org.




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