San Diego may have their Comic-Con, and Las Vegas, of course, has the Consumer Electronics Show, among many others, but for 2017 at least, Santa Barbara has the hospitality edge. On January 5-7, the Fess Parker DoubleTree Resort on Cabrillo will host the annual convention of the National Opera Association (NOA). Three full days of talks, workshops, performances, and competitions will have our waterfront echoing with some of the world’s greatest music.
Although the conference’s programming caters to the many opera professionals who will travel from all over the country to be here, there’s one event in particular that’s open to the public to enjoy at the bargain price of just $10 a ticket. The Dominick Argento Chamber Opera Competition will be at the Music Academy’s Hahn Hall on Friday, January 6, at 7:30 p.m. Portions of the three finalist chamber operas will feature talented students from UCSB’s Opera Theatre program, and a distinguished panel of judges will declare one of these compositions the winner of a prize that leads to a full production at next year’s NOA conference in New Orleans.
For UCSB Associate Professor Benjamin Brecher, NOA’s choice of Santa Barbara for its 2017 annual convention represents the culmination of years of effort developing the UCSB Opera Theatre program, followed by months of hard work planning the event. With the Dominick Argento Chamber Opera Competition at Hahn Hall, Brecher hopes “to show opera directors and producers from all over North America the quality of teaching and students we have here.” The Department of Music is bringing in Sara Widzer, a veteran stage and opera director from Los Angeles, expressly to prepare the students for their big night.
As for the chamber operas they will perform, the three finalists underscore the vitality and dynamism of an art form that has grown in both interest and productivity among composers in this century. Tom Cipullo’s After Life follows on the success of his first opera, Glory Denied, which was recorded at the Fort Worth Opera Festival and released in 2013 by Albany Records. Where Glory Denied took its story from the real-life experiences of Colonel Jim Thompson, the longest-held POW in the history of the United States armed forces, After Life imagines a conversation between the spirits of Pablo Picasso and Gertrude Stein. When a victim of the Holocaust shows up to add another perspective, these two titans of modernism must reconsider what they think they know about life and death.
In Letter from Quebec to Providence in the Rain, composer Jeremy Gill has taken a play of the same name by the prolific Don Nigro and turned it into a short opera for four singers and a chamber ensemble. This piece is short enough for it to be performed in its entirety on Friday night.
Joseph Turrin’s The Scarecrow adapts Nathaniel Hawthorne’s wonderful late story “Feathertop” as the point of departure for a two-act piece, of which we will see Act One. Turrin’s range as a composer is reflected in the varied forms in which he has worked, from film and theater scoring to jazz and electronic music. With this piece, he will show what he can do with Hawthorne’s dark ironies.
The judges — Michael Ching, Robin Guarino, Henry Price, and Kostis Protopapas — will render a decision at the conclusion of the evening, a circumstance that ought to make for genuine excitement. Since these three operas were chosen out of 45 pieces that were nominated this year, they are already elite instances of the form, and Brecher and his singers are determined to deliver the most compelling possible version of each. “It’s about giving the best presentation we can and doing something that will make the composers proud,” he said. What’s more, he’s enthusiastic about the concert setting, where there will be a live audience alongside the panel that makes the decision. “What we will have is not just a committee sitting in a room somewhere and making their choice,” said Brecher. It will instead be a full evening of music in front of a live audience, a situation which is certain to inform their judgment.
For those with the inclination to dive deeper into the NOA convention, there will be additional events, including the association’s annual vocal competition — with judges Marilyn Horne, Laverne Monte, and John Churchwell on Saturday morning in the Fess Parker Grand Ballroom — and loads of interesting lectures and workshops; however, to access these, you will be obliged to register. If you do, look out for Opera Santa Barbara’s Kostis Protopapas, who will give the keynote lecture on Thursday, and UCSB’s Simon Williams, who will be interviewed Saturday on operatic acting. Many of the talks will be illustrated with live vocal performances, as singers work with their teachers to explore the field of opera through analysis and practice. For more information or to register, visit noa.org.
The Dominick Argento Chamber Opera Competition will be on Friday, January 6, at 7:30 p.m. at Hahn Hall (1070 Fairway Rd.). To buy tickets, go to www.music.ucsb.edu/news/purchase-tickets or call the Associate Students ticket office at (805) 893-2064. Any remaining general admission tickets will be available at the door.