by Chris Davis
Last night I dropped in on a dress rehearsal for Ghosts of Crosstown, a collection of five monologue-based operas, each of which was inspired by the long-abandoned Sears building in Memphis' Crosstown neighborhood. The rehearsal was moved inside due to weather conditions, and the wind whipped dramatically through the empty space which was even more dramatically lit by floor torches and shop lights. As rehearsals go, it was bumpy and everybody knew it would be given the conditions. Lights failed one after the other, but the artists pressed on. And for all of the weather-related distractions, the voices were gorgeous, and the individual pieces could still be entirely captivating.
Ghosts, which was commissioned by Opera Memphis kicks off the company's second annual Midtown Opera Festival.
OM's general director Ned Canty says Memphis is "gonna be bursting at the seams with opera" for the next two weeks. But even if Ghosts was the only thing left on the season, this bouquet of contemporary composers tied together by ribbons of poetry and prose from the hand of Memphis playwright Jerre Dye, it would be an event worth celebrating.
The 10-day festival was conceived by Canty as a nexus for opera fans and the opera curious, where both groups could mix and sample a variety of classical and contemporary works in bite-sized chunks. In addition to several free concerts, kids' shows, and panel discussions, this year's ticketed events showcase works by Mozart, Richard Wargo, and Gian Carlo Menotti.
Dye doesn't know if he'll make it back to Memphis to watch his first foray into opera come to life in the shadow of the hulking Sears building that inspired it. He's currently in Chicago working with the Route 66 Theatre Company's extensively reworked production of his play Cicada, which opens next week.
"I'm so glad I did this," Dye says of his collaboration with Opera Memphis. "First of all, I got to be a writer, which is what I like to do. But how can I describe the collaboration with all these composers?
"They were all so different," he says, explaining what a mental workout it can be adapting your process to the needs of five unique composers. Steven Osgood of the Metropolitan Opera is heading up the creative team, which includes composers Anthony Davis, Kamran Ince, Nathaniel Stookey, Jack Perla, and Zach Redler. Dye worked with Ince on the piece "Abandoned," which has been selected as a best new work by Opera in America and will be performed at OIA's conference in June. "Abandoned" is sung from the perspective of the Sears building, alone at night, pleading with the sun to return.
Ghosts of Crosstown at Sears Crosstown Building Friday, April 4th. Pre-show talk at 6:30 p.m., curtain at 7:30 p.m.
"The Double Bill: The Impresario and The Music Shop at Playhouse on the Square, Saturday, April 5th. Pre-show talk
6 p.m., curtain at 7:30 p.m. For more information on the Midtown Opera festival, go to operamemphis.org.