Intimate Opera was a small company that got tired of bouncing around from one small San Gabriel Valley space to another and decided to shoot for something higher.
A year ago, the company booked itself into the venerable Pasadena Playhouse, got some pros on board -- singer-turned-stage-director Stephanie Vlahos and a corps of friends from her Los Angeles Opera days -- and turned in a respectable, true-to-the-source production of Gian Carlo Menotti's short television opera "Amahl and the Night Visitors." Malcolm McDowell lent some theatrical star power by reading Dylan Thomas' "A Child's Christmas in Wales" as a prologue. More was promised -- including a "Madame Butterfly" in the spring.
Alas, "Butterfly" never happened -- the company couldn't nail down the dates at the Playhouse, nor a cast -- and with ambitions having outrun finances in a bad economy, Intimate Opera filed for bankruptcy a few months ago. But lo, a new company has sprouted from Intimate Opera's ashes -- more of a "loose cooperative of singers," as artistic director Vlahos likes to say. She calls it Opera Posse -- and Vlahos and friends will pick up precisely where they left off with a reprise of the "Amahl" production this weekend at the Pasadena Playhouse.
But first, how did Vlahos come up with that name?
"It's a group of singers, we're out West, we're on a mission," Vlahos said over coffee at an Old Pasadena coffeehouse. "I liked that kind of raw pairing. I've gotten emails from some who said, 'My God, really, Opera Posse? How awful!' There's something in that irreverent pairing that will catch some people's attention."
Most of the cast from last December's "Amahl" will return -- including mezzo-soprano Suzanna Guzman, tenor Greg Fedderly, boy soprano Caleb Glickman and conductor Jeffrey Bernstein -- as will McDowell. For Bernstein, "Amahl" was a personal milestone since he admits that it was the first opera he had ever conducted, despite years of experience working with voices. Now, he's hooked on doing more. "Like a good TV script, it's incredibly distilled," he said of "Amahl." "Given the constraints of scale, the emotions land perfectly, and that's the influence of television, where economy of scale is important."
At one time, it looked as if Jorge Mester would be available to conduct Saturday night (Bernstein had a conflicting engagement with his Pasadena Master Chorale). But Mester withdrew after finding that he had already been booked that night out of town, so another Pasadena Symphony/Pops alum, Rachael Worby, will step in. All will be donating their services.
With help from the Pasadena Arts Council's EMERGE Fiscal Sponsorship program, Opera Posse will be centered in Pasadena for now -- and Vlahos aims to use a wide range of venues in the city. She is intent upon making "Amahl" an annual tradition; she and Guzman have talked about performing a Spanish-language version.
Vlahos wants to explore ideas for bringing opera to people who have never seen it or were priced out of the big opera houses. One is OperaFusion, scheduled for June and modeled on the Edinburgh Festival Fringe; another is a one-person show with someone "quite significant."
"I'm talking to a number of wonderful singers, all of whom thus far are interested in the project and are interested in perhaps coming to Pasadena and doing a smaller event as a means of giving back" to their art form, Vlahos said, without revealing names. "They will get paid, but the fees will not be as fabulous as they typically are."
'Amahl and the Night Visitors'
Where: Pasadena Playhouse, 39 S. El Molino Ave., Pasadena
When: 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday; 2 p.m. Saturday and Sunday; 7 p.m. Sunday
Information: (626) 428-5609 or www.operaposse.com