New Garden Grove Opera Plans to Present the Whole Thing at Its Debut

Looking for a smart business investment? Open a hamburger joint or a cookie shop or even an upscale Italian ice cream store. But for Pete’s sake, don’t try starting an opera company.

You’ll just see your money sweep down the biggest, widest, deepest cosmic black hole of the arts there is. And what thanks will you get?

But people never listen.

Don Hayes, 41, of Garden Grove is the latest pure-hearted opera fool to rush in where MBA-trained angels fear to tread.


Hayes and a group of friends have formed the Garden Grove Opera company and have announced two February performances of . . . what?

Will it be sure-fire repertory, such as Puccini’s “La Boheme” or “Madame Butterfly,” Rossini’s “Barber of Seville” or Mozart’s “Marriage of Figaro”?

Not a chance.

OK. How about Wagner’s “Flying Dutchman?” Verdi’s “Il Trovatore?” Donizetti’s “Lucia di Lammermoor?”



Perhaps such esoterica as Handel’s “Rodelinda”? Hans Werner Henze’s “The Bassarids”? Ethel Smyth’s “The Boatswain’s Mate”?


The answer is Rossini’s “Semiramide”!


Well, the Overture to Rossini’s tale of the queen who kills her husband does appear pretty regularly at concerts and on recordings. Similarly, the Queen’s aria, “Bel raggio lusinghier,” is familiar from recordings. But the whole opera?

That’s the point, director Hayes said.

“Many people have heard of it, but how many have seen it?” Hayes asked in a recent interview. “We felt that it would be a good vehicle for Karon (Poston-Sullivan, who will sing the title role). It will show what she is capable of doing.

“Also, it is such a beautiful score, and one of the few operas Rossini wrote a full overture to. We felt it would attract a lot of people.”


Garden Grove Opera is scheduled to present Rossini’s “Semiramide” next year on Feb. 9 and 11 at the Don Wash Auditorium. In addition to Poston-Sullivan, heard recently in the Master Chorale of Orange County’s performance of Britten’s “War Requiem,” the cast will include tenor Paul Johns as Idreno, the Indian prince. The mezzo role of Arsace, the Queen’s erstwhile lover, will be announced.

The conductor will be James Sullivan, who happens to be married to Poston-Sullivan. Gil Morales will be set designer, David Darwin, lighting designer. Hayes will direct.

The opera will be sung in Italian.

Hayes, who directs productions at local colleges and is working as assistant director for the Grove Shakespeare Festival’s upcoming production of “Cyrano de Bergerac,” said Garden Grove Opera is “an idea that was born a couple of years ago.” It came up after the people involved got to know each other while staging Donizetti’s “The Elixir of Love” for Riverside Opera.


“We found we were a great team working together and wanted to do more. We discovered that there are a lot of talented people not being used by local companies--for obvious reasons.”

What obvious reasons?

“The most obvious is that companies wish to attract audiences with more familiar names in the genre, as far as singers, set design, lights and direction are concerned,” he said. “We have a fine set designer, Gil Morales, who is very much a fan of opera but has not been asked to do much opera.

“Usually the companies--both Los Angeles Music Center Opera and Opera Pacific--truck in those names. I happen to like those companies very much. I think they’re fine. I see everything they do.


“But we wanted to do an opera where people here had the opportunity to design and create the production, and also we did not want to do any opera which the two major companies might be doing. . . .

“So that is going to be our basis and will establish what we’re doing. We don’t want to be competitive with any company. That’s why we do different repertory.”

The team shows a wide range of opera backgrounds.

Sullivan was artistic director of Riverside Opera for three years until 1988. Before that, he was founder and music director of the Arizona Opera for about 10 years.


Hayes worked with him in Arizona in an apprentice program in which he staged puppet adaptations of operas.

Before that, Hayes, who moved in 1963 to Garden Grove from his native Kansas City, was essentially a theater man. He said he had directed the Scheherazade Players, a Garden Grove theater group, for 12 years.

“We were, to my knowledge, one of the only groups that ever staged (Wagner’s) ‘Ring’ cycle--all four parts--as a play,” Hayes said. “We did one a year. We would do a series of plays, and each season we would end the season with the next installment of the Ring. . . .

“We also stuck in some of the musical segments, ‘Siegfried’s Rhine Journey’ and the ‘Ride of the Valkyries.’ But basically we presented it as a play.”


The group also presented other operas--Massenet’s “Werther” and Bartok’s “Bluebeard’s Castle"--as plays.

“ ‘The Ring’ was very successful for us,” Hayes said. “It generated a great amount of interest.”

The group broke up in the mid-70s, however, when he went to Arizona Opera, he said.

Hayes hopes Garden Grove Opera will offer two or three productions a year, once the company is off the ground.


“We hope to incorporate at least one of the classic genre, one of the more modern genre, maybe an operetta,” he said. “We plan never to do a musical--unless we need to!”

So far, however, there isn’t much of a budget (Hayes declined to make figures public), the organization has only just completed its filing of paper for nonprofit status and has formed a 14-member steering committee.

Still, he hopes to “break even, at least.”

“Opera never pays the bills,” Hayes said. “So I will continue to work jobs at various places.”