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Wednesday, January 11, 2012

The Jewel Box Opera Company of New York City; an interview with Michael Capasso General Director of Dicapo Opera Theatre

Michael Capasso in the house of the Dicapo Opera Theare, photograph copyright Bill Ecker

Voice, Music and Drama are the three key ingredients to any given opera.  With the fragile state of the opera scene in Manhattan, there is one company other than the MET that has annually presented operas for 30 years to critical acclaim.  The Dicapo Opera Theatre presents 5 fully produced operas with orchestra each season, coupled with excellent young singers, many nurtured through their Resident Artist’s Program.  In addition to their regular fare, they will present 5 operas for children, 2 concerts involving their young singers and even 2 jazz concerts too boot.  They are a true New York City success story, working hard for the community, the City and they are doing their part to educate the public about the magic that is opera.   
  
I sat with Michael Capasso, General Director of the company to find out what they are doing to bring opera to the public during these difficult economic times.  “First and foremost, we offer a general admission of $50.00 per ticket, slightly discounted when purchased with a subscription.”  Considering the high ticket costs of a night at Lincoln Center, or Broadway; an evening performance, or matinee at Dicapo is a true bargain!  “This season we will produce 5 main stage works, "Tosca" the 30th anniversary production, "Iolanta" by Piotr Tchaikovsky, "The Consul" in honor of the 100th birthday of Gian Carlo Menotti, "The Most Happy Fella" and "La Traviata".  He maintains “We do everything a big company does, the only difference is the dots and the commas”.

Capasso is truly unique in today's opera world.  He hearkens back to the days of the San Carlo Opera, where Fortune Gallo, or “Lucky Rooster” as he was known, built an opera company from scratch and successfully toured the company across the Country for several decades.  Mr. Capasso did not come from a musical background.  While he says "Italian music" was played all the time on the radio and hi-fi in his home, it was his Grandfather who introduced him to Enrico Caruso’s records at the age of seven.  He trotted off to the library and checked out Francis Robinson’s book, Caruso, His Life in Pictures and decided he wanted to become the next great tenor.  His parents finally gave in to his begging and took him to the Metropolitan Opera to hear "L’Elisir d’Amore" and he became a passionate devotee for life.  Once he realized that he could not sing like his then hero Franco Corelli, he decided the life of an impresario like Rudolf Bing was pretty good too!  At the age of 22, while helping to run a successful construction company, he decided he would produce Tosca and with the help of his former high school music teacher, Diane Martindale, he realized his dream.  30 years later, he says, “I am still there, it’s challenging, but I’m doing what I love.”

Dicapo is not just pumping out standard fare.  Capasso bases his success on knowing what the public wants.  “We produce each season, 2 chestnuts, 1 unfamiliar work by a well-known composer and 2 contemporary pieces which are musically challenging, but not unlistenable.”  To achieve this mix, they have worked well with the important American composers, Tobias Picker, Paul Moravec, Robert Ward and Thomas Pasatieri among others to present contemporary works their audience will find palatable.  Capasso goes on to say, “In the last few years, we have presented 2 World Premiers, 1 American Premier and 2 New York Premiers.”  There are very few opera companies in America who can boast of that sort of diverse repertory and still fill their house at every performance! The Company then takes it a step further and brings these contemporary American works to Europe.  For the past three Summers, Dicapo has appeared at the Szeged National Theatre in Hungary and performed an American work. Each of the operas was broadcast throughout Europe by the French Mezzo Network; a cable network which reaches some 16 million subscribers.  He has toured Dicapo for years in New England under the moniker, The National Lyric Opera.  This year Dicapo is travelling to Long Island for the first time in years.  He produced Tosca earlier in the year at the Tilles Center at C. W. Post campus of Long Island University and will produce La Traviata there in May. The first opera was so successful that they have been asked to do 2 more next season!  Dicapo needless to say is one extremely busy opera company!

Dicapo is also very unique, in that they do not present their season on the West Side.  They produce all of their regular season works in a jewel box theatre on the corner of 76th Street and Lexington Avenue.  The beautifully appointed and comfortable house holds an audience of 204 patrons.  For first timers, it perhaps is slightly difficult to find, down a flight of stairs on the side of the St. Jean Baptiste Church.  There is not a bad seat in the house and the acoustics are among the best the City has to offer.  Capasso says, “We sell about 65% of our performances by subscription and the balance by single ticket sales and we are typically sold out!” So if you would like to take in one of Manhattan’s cultural gems, you have to act quickly before the tickets are gone!  Currently in rehearsal, their next production Menotti’s The Consul.  It runs four performances, January 26th and 28th & February 3rd and 5th. 


Load in day for the sets of The Consul, photograph copyright Bill Ecker

For tickets, visit,  Dicapo Opera Theatre Web Site , call, (212) 288-9438, or drop by the box office at 184 East 76th Street in Manhattan.
  

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