is the grass any bluer...

is the grass any bluer...
on the other side?

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Bluegrass Opera's Lorne Dechtenberg Embraces Energy in Diversity

After an on-stage summer filled with local artistic diversity, Bluegrass Opera promises to keep the full spectrum fever going this week.  

The presentation of new works by contemporary composers is nothing to new to the group, however, and everyone involved with the venture is excited about Friday's opening night of its double header, especially their fearless leader.

Lorne Dechtenberg has been the Artistic Director of the Bluegrass Opera since it was founded in 2008, and explains how the group was formed.  "I was a doctoral student at UK at the time. I saw that there was no professional opera or musical theater being done in town (aside from touring productions), and that there was no ensemble in town that was focused on performing new works by living composers, and I strongly believed that both those things needed to change. The basic concept for the company was hatched as I was having lunch one afternoon with four wonderful Lexingtonians who are all passionate about music, and who I'm proud to say are all members of our board of directors today: Judy Lesnaw, Jan Friedell, Lori White, and the one-and-only Phyllis Jenness (founder of the Lexington Singers and former head of the UK opera program)."
Julie-Anne Aguhob

The unique aspect of Bluegrass Opera is appealing to those who may desire to explore opera beyond the bounds of classic composition.  Dechtenberg points out that the company's niche is "we are the only performing arts company in the United States that is dedicated exclusively to the performance of new works for the stage (operas, musicals, and everything in between) and that never charges composers money to submit their works. It's also important to understand that the Bluegrass Opera is not just about 'opera' - today the lines between opera, operetta, light opera, and musical theater are more blurred than ever. We are about making music, bringing people together, and moving them with the energy that music has the unique ability to transmit. Ask any of our cast members, and they'll you that what we doing is far from stereotypical 'opera.'"

Lorne tells me that his interest in opera began when he was fairly young.  "I've been a singer all my life (literally - my parents tell me that I used to hum before I could talk). I've been making music professionally since the age of 12, but I didn't develop an interest in Western classical music until I started college at the University of Houston. I was a composition major, but my primary instrument was (and still is) my voice. During my time as an undergraduate, I sang in a number of operas, musicals, and other dramatic musical works."

"When I began my masters degree in composition (still at Houston), I was no longer taking voice lessons, so I was not eligible to sing in the university opera productions. So I asked our opera conductor, Peter Jacoby, if I could study conducting with him and work with the opera in that capacity. He asked me, half-joking, 'didn't anyone ever tell you that, when you start graduate school, you're supposed to pick a single focus?' (He knew that I had already been thrown out of two schools for being too multifaceted, and that I was determined not to change.) Sure enough, he took me under his wing, making me his Assistant Conductor and giving me weekly lessons for the duration of my degree."

Jessica French

"Of course, my doctorate is in composition, and that's a huge part of my activities as well. My stage music output includes four operas, three musicals, and a pilot for a musical sketch comedy TV series (most of which have never been performed in their entirety - but that's the situation that virtually every non-famous composer faces). There are great works out there, but most companies can't afford to gamble on a new work and risk jeopardizing their bottom line. So they do Figaro. They do La Boheme. But I believe that, if dramatic music is to remain a living, exciting art form and not simply become a museum, we can't afford not to gamble on new works. That's why the Bluegrass Opera does what it does - because no one else will."

Dechtenberg considers himself lucky that he seems to be well suited for the task - "I write this music, I conduct this music, and I perform this music."  

Confirming my belief that I had seen him somewhere before, recently, in fact perhaps in Stephen Curren's musical interpretation of Gurney Norman's masterpiece this past Spring, he stated, "Yes, I was in Divine Right's Trip at the DAC - I played 'The Greek' and a couple of other characters, though the creators have asked me to sing the title role in their upcoming demo recording)."
"Doctor Dave Dampier" Delivers Again

So now, it is the night before opening night, Dechtenberg has led his troupe through rehearsals and they are putting the finishing touches on two exciting new works.  "We're doing With Such Friends... (music by Tom Schnauber, Libretto by Jeff Duncan) and Sutures and Love (by yours truly - the piece was formerly titled Sex, Drugs, and Aliens).  Both Tom and Jeff will be coming to Lexington for the performances, and I'll be conducting both pieces. With Such Friends... is set in Russia in 1910 (based on Gogol's short story The Squabble), and my piece is set in a cosmetic surgery clinic in the present day.
Lorne's multi-faceted style continues to weave its thread through the performances, which will include an array of local talent, including the accompaniment.  "Our orchestra is comprised of musicians from all musical walks of life, including college students, Philharmonic members, and talented amateurs from the community. In May, I conducted the premiere of a symphony I had just finished writing, and we had the same sort of variety -- the entire Lexington Community Orchestra, along with a coalition of musicians from the Philharmonic and UK -- and watching students and teachers, amateurs and professionals, side by side is an amazing thing -- the energy is absolutely incomparable!"


Coming Up
August 13 & 15, 2010:

World Premiere
Double-header 2.0:

With Such Friends...
Music by Tom Schnauber Libretto by Jeff Duncan


Sutures and Love
by Lorne Dechtenberg

Tickets on Sale Now!

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