Lauded for her "large, robust, and flexible voice" (Bachtrack) and "sparkling stage presence” (St. Louis Dispatch), Katy Lindhart is an exciting young singer to watch. ... more
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Reimagining Opera in New Spaces: LoftOpera

In the first installment of our "Developing Audiences and Organizations" series, soprano Katy Lindhart profiles one of the crown jewels of New York City's independent opera scene: LoftOpera.

It’s almost impossible to talk about the burgeoning indie opera scene without dropping LoftOpera's name. Started in 2013 by Daniel Ellis-Ferris and Dean Buck, who met studying jazz at the New School, and by Brianna Maury, Daniel’s stepsister, who has a background in communications, LoftOpera attracts everyone from the well-heeled crowd of the Metropolitan Opera to opera industry insiders to hip twenty-something Brooklynites. LoftOpera isn’t the first company to experiment with making opera an immersive, intimate experience, but few do it better than they do.

I sang with Loft in 2016 as Female Chorus in The Rape of Lucretia and was especially blown away by the audiences. Young, engaged, and enthusiastic, this was opera as I had never experienced it as a performer. At LoftOpera productions, you are mere inches from the audience, which creates an intimacy that is difficult to achieve in a traditional opera house. I vividly remember connecting with the woman in the front row who sobbed through the epilogue, who later brought me a beer and hugged me like an old friend. Loft creates a special experience for their audience and for their artists. I was able to speak with Dean Buck, co-founder and conductor of several productions, about Loft’s challenges and triumphs, and how they became the darling of the indie opera world.

Since its inception, LoftOpera has managed to consistently do something that most opera companies still struggle to achieve: attract a new audience. Based on their analysis of their web traffic and ticket sales, 60% of their audience is under the age of 30, and these audiences are much more likely to attend an opera at a larger house after their experience at Loft. When I asked Dean about how they managed to attract a younger generation of opera fans, he spoke about creating the initial exposure in a space that was more familiar than the concert hall: “To this day, I've never taken an opera novice to an opera and had them say ‘well damn, that was a drag.’ It's a pretty inherently enjoyable art-form (in our minds at least). Nowadays a lot is about context: I've found people are incredibly open-minded if you present something to them in a context in which they are comfortable. We had seen that to be the case with the loft/warehouse environment and most forms of music, so thought, ‘hell, these people would probably be really into seeing an opera in such places.’” It isn’t always easy to work in nontraditional venues, though. Dean likened it to “finding an apartment in New York — you know you're going to have to make some sacrifices, you just want to find the least compromising situation,” but told me that ultimately the choices came down to “cost, convenience, acoustics, (and) reliability.”

While altering the venue to attract a new audience can go a long way, LoftOpera has continued to perform to sold out audiences primarily due to thrilling singing and adventurous productions. Thanks in part to the involvement of passionate musicians like conductor Sean Kelly and innovative directors like John de los Santos, Laine Rettmer, and Raymond Zilberberg Loft has developed a reputation for presenting exciting, intimate productions combined with a high level of musicianship. According to Dean it’s all about creating a different world for their audiences: “We're not trying to make a warehouse feel like an opera house. We want the audience to walk into a different place, one to which they have never been, and exist in the world that the performance is taking place. Making it less of a spectator situation and more of an interactive vibe, to use a buzzword. Each production is a different world unto itself and I hope that makes people want to come back and share that world with us.”

So how does a singer get in on the fun? Dean told me that in auditions, he is especially looking for a singer who has “a strong musical idea about the choices they make in their audition rep. I've heard so many people sing every possible variation on “Una voce poco fa,” and there's a point where it just becomes gratuitous. I want to hear someone care more about making music than being ‘impressive.’”

This season LoftOpera has produced widely lauded productions of Cosi fan tutte and Macbeth, and Rossini’s Otello, and in June they will stage Pergolesi’s Stabat Mater and selections by Vivaldi. Pagliacci and Bartok’s stunning Bluebeard’s Castle follow in the fall.

For all their independence and innovation, LoftOpera has the same goals as any other company: “to keep pushing ourselves to put out the best possible work we can. Keep growing the artistry, get to the point where we can pay union scale, and put on productions with a smaller mountain of stress.” Dean adds, “I think in our world we get a little too caught up with what we are doing differently than others. It's important for me to remember that we're making art like anyone else, and we need to build solidarity with the entire artistic community. We're all trying to make the world a better place.”

Lauded for her "large, robust, and flexible voice" (Bachtrack) and "sparkling stage presence” (St. Louis Dispatch), Katy Lindhart is an exciting young singer to watch. ... more