Somewhere along the way, opera in America all in all ossified.
A reactionary mindset insisted on a limited repertoire of traditional operas, audiences aged, and productions grew budget-breaking. Even Peter Gelb, head of the esteemed Metropolitan Opera in New York, observed recently: “Grand opera is in itself a kind of a dinosaur of an art form.”
None of that is news to a younger generation of classically trained singers.
“We started with the idea: What if we offered just ounces of opera?” says soprano Julie Fiore, founder and executive director of indie ensemble One Ounce Opera.
Take this weekend’s “Fresh Squeezed Ounce of Opera,” a showcase of new short works. The five mini-yet-complete operas are each 1o to 20 minutes in length.
The quintet of micro-operas — staged with some costumes and props and with singers accompanied by a solo pianist — will be performed in the East Austin warehouse arts space known as the Museum of Human Achievement.
“Now Boarding” by Tori Ovel is a 10-minute musical story of a chance encounter at an airport. Jesse McMilin’s “A Miller’s Tale” is based on Chaucer’s “Canterbury Tales.” And Liam Wade’s charming “Part of the Act” — originally commissioned by Washington National Opera — charts celebrity and illicit romance in the 1920s vaudeville world.
“There’s so much about opera that can be for everyone,” says Fiore. “People don’t need to feel compelled to put on the fancy dress, go to a large hall and then feel like they can’t laugh or clap when they want to.”
Fiore and her One Ounce cohorts went rogue four years ago, with the desire to reimagine what opera can be in the 21st century and reawaken the art form for a young generation. Fiore crafted a motto: “Opera isn’t obsolete. Popular opinion of opera is.”
One Ounce shows are cabaret-style and vaudevillesque in feel. They pop up in clubs, museums and galleries — and even on city sidewalks.
“If what we present is often on the lighter side, that doesn’t mean we don’t take the art of opera seriously,” says Fiore, who teaches voice and piano through her private studio. “We do take opera seriously. We love it. We just don’t take the formality of the traditional opera performance seriously. Accessibility is everything.”
So is availability — and not just of accessible concerts for new audiences to attend.
Traditional organizations get mired down by traditional expectations. And so, in search of performance opportunities, Austin’s growing ranks of classically trained young professional musicians with alt-classical inclinations, like those with One Ounce, make their own scene.
Local Opera Local Artists is another group staging opera in new ways and in new venues, like the award-winning “La Femme Boheme,” an all-female version of the Puccini classic.
Fiore sometimes imagines explaining opera to an imaginary neighbor who knows nothing about the art form.
“Opera is just a technique of singing — people on stage singing with vocal instruments that are powerful and beautiful,” Fiore says.
“What (the imaginary neighbor) would hear is the beauty of the human voice. Yes, the stories in most operas might seem a little simple. But everything surrounding that story will make it seem that much bigger, and we’ve all had moments like that — where ordinary things feel bigger to us. And we’re still moved by that.”
“Fresh Squeezed Ounce of Opera”
When: 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday, 4 p.m. Saturday
Where: Museum of Human Achievement, canopy, 916 Springdale Road.
Tickets: Admission by suggested donation of $20. Reserverations suggested.