Volume 74, Number 36 | January 12 - 18, 2005

Villager photo by Lynne Hayden-Findlay

Rehearsing for “Cavelleria Rusticana,” Chelsea Opera’s second production, which will play Jan. 26-29 at St. Peter’s Church, 346 W. 20th St., are (left to right) Maestro Carmine Aufiero, musical director and conductor, Leonarda Priore, Chelsea Opera co-producer, who sings the role of Santuzza, and Denise Knowlton, who sings the role of Mamma Lucia.

A night at the opera in Chelsea becomes a reality

By Albert Amateau

A new grand opera company came onto the scene in Chelsea last spring through the determined efforts of two accomplished singers.

Lynne Hayden-Findlay and Leonarda Priore, sopranos who met six years ago when they were with the American Singers’ Opera Project, decided to realize their vision for a small company that would produce fully staged opera productions with an orchestra.

“We were fortunate to know Carmine Aufiero, a wonderful young musician who has a remarkable background of conducting with orchestras and opera productions. He is our musical director and conductor,” said Hayden-Findlay.

Hayden-Findlay and Priore are co-producers and stage directors and take singing roles in the productions.

The two founders mounted their initial effort last June with Puccini’s “Suor Angelica” (“Sister Angelica”) at St. Peter’s Church in Chelsea. They cast it by networking with singer friends and colleagues. The success of “Suor Angelica” encouraged them to plan a production of Pietro Mascagni’s “Cavelleria Rusticana” (“Rustic Chivalry”), which will play four performances Wednesday through Saturday Jan. 26-29 at St. Peter’s, at 346 W. 20th St.

“Cavelleria” is a short opera usually performed in a double bill with Leoncavallo’s “Pagliacci” as a curtain raiser. But in the Chelsea Opera production, a selection of six scenes — from Mozart’s “Magic Flute” and “Marriage of Figaro,” Puccini’s “La Boheme,” Richard Strauss’s “Der Rosekavelier” (“The Knight of the Rose”), Verdi’s “Rigoletto” and Bizet’s “Carmen” — will open the bill.

Casting for this production was on a much broader scale than the June presentation. “We had extensive auditions and we’ve cast singers from as far away as Chicago and Kansas City,” said Hayden-Findlay, who is staging “Cavelleria.” Rehearsals are unusually intense. Rather than rehearsing one or two times per week over a long period, the cast rehearses daily for four solid weeks.

“The rehearsal will give the singers the chance to delve beyond the surface of their roles, which is unprecedented for a company of this size,” said Hayden-Findlay.

While principal singers and orchestra musicians will be paid for the performances, Chelsea Opera depends on hard-working volunteers, including chorus singers and key staff members.

“We have more than 50 volunteers — including me, Leonarda, Carmine and our set designer, Peet Foster,” said Hayden-Findlay. For costumes and props, the company is being equally resourceful and frugal.

“We’ve found costume pieces in thrift shops and furniture on the street,” said Hayden-Findlay. “One man’s trash is another man’s treasure,” she added. Donations by cast and staff members and by admiring firms are also helping. A suspender company sent Chelsea Opera a box of their product to provide suspenders for the peasant chorus in “Cavelleria.”

Staff and cast members also double in the production. Priore, co-producer of Chelsea Opera, alternates in the role of Santuzza in “Cavelleria,” and Alex Britton, who alternates in the role of Alfio in “Cavelleria,” also assisted in the set design.

Priore and Hayden-Findlay expect Chelsea Opera to be a permanent institution. The company has recently joined the Greenwich Village Chelsea Chamber of Commerce and has just received its notice of incorporation from New York State. The co-producers are in the process of filing for nonprofit status to be able to receive tax-deductible contributions.

Until Chelsea Opera gets its tax designation, the company is being sponsored by PRISM Chamber Orchestra, which has 501c-3 status. Tax-deductible contributions may be made to the company by checks made payable to PRISM Chamber Orchestra with Chelsea Opera Project noted on the memo line.

Tickets for the Jan. 26-29 performance, $20 for adults and $15 for seniors and students, may be reserved at ChelseaOpera@aol.com or by phone at 212-260-1796.

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