Opera Glows in Greenville: Two Companies Focus on Separate Artistic Missions

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Paul Hyde | Talk Greenville Magazine

Artistically, Greenville has it all: museums, galleries, several theaters, choral ensembles, two ballet companies, a fine regional symphony orchestra, Broadway touring productions and excellent performing venues, including the first-rate Peace Center.

Until recently, however, something was missing: opera.

Greenville lacked an organization offering that art form of soaring sentiment which combines so many of the other arts — instrumental and vocal music, theater and often dance.

Not to worry, though. The gap in the Greenville arts scene has been filled. Our community recently enjoyed the debuts of not one but two fledgling companies bringing operatic entertainment to the Upstate.

The Greenville Opera appeared on the scene this year with a couple of galas and a performance of operatic excerpts at Artisphere, downtown Greenville’s celebration of the arts. Meanwhile, Greenville Light Opera Works (GLOW) stepped into the spotlight for the first time in April with Mozart’s comic opera “The Impresario” at The Warehouse Theatre.

Those expecting strife and conflict of operatic proportions between the two organizations may be disappointed. The two companies don’t directly compete but rather complement each other. They’ve each staked out their own artistic territory: Greenville Opera offers more traditional operatic fare while GLOW presents lighter operetta and musicals. Both companies have big ambitions, and both report that the Greenville community already has enthusiastically embraced their goals.

Greenville Opera

Creating an opera company “has been my dream since we moved to Greenville in 1996,” says Jim Broussard, director of Greenville Opera. “I decided to go ahead and try it — and the response has been tremendous.”

Broussard, a familiar figure on the Greenville music and theater scene, believed for a long time that Greenville had an abundance of operatic talent, but little or no showcase for that talent.

“There are local singers who don’t fit the musical theater niche,” says Broussard. “They are classically trained singers who were just dying to do this sort of thing.”

Most recently, in August, Greenville Opera offered a fully staged production of Mozart’s “The Magic Flute” with chamber ensemble at Christ Church Episcopal’s Finlay Hall in downtown Greenville.

Next on the company’s agenda is a Masquerade Ball, featuring operatic excerpts, on Oct. 29 at the Poinsett Club ballroom. That will be followed by two one-act Christmas-themed performances in December in the Christ Church sanctuary: “Good King Wenceslas” and “St. Nicholas” were written by British composer Richard Shepherd, with librettos by Mark Schweizer, who is based in Tryon, N.C. Performances take place Dec. 10, 11 and 12.

Rossini’s “Barber of Seville” is on tap for spring 2011, and the company has scheduled “La Traviata” for August of next year. Broussard plans to mix traditional ideas with operatic innovations: “Barber,” for instance, will be staged in the round, while “Traviata” will be offered in an updated version — a 1960s style reminiscent of AMC’s popular and award-winning show “Mad Men.”

In all productions, Broussard uses both local talent and guest singers. All performances are in English. (For more information on Greenville Opera performances, call 864-271-8773, ext. 129, or see the website www.operagreenville.com.)

Broussard, a tenor, and his wife, Tina, a soprano, have extensive operatic experience themselves: both sang for several years in Europe before moving to Greenville. Both are from Texas — he’s from the Beaumont area, she’s from Dallas — but they actually met while performing in Zurich, Switzerland. The couple moved to Greenville when Tina Broussard was appointed voice teacher at Furman University. Jim Broussard now serves as the director of music ministry at Christ Church while Tina teaches at the Governor’s School and is associate music director at Christ Church. Meanwhile, both have been active in the Greenville theater community, with Jim serving as music director and stage director at Centre Stage and S.C. Children’s Theatre and Tina performing with local theaters, the Greenville Symphony and several other regional orchestras.

Broussard has other bold plans in store for the Greenville Opera, including school programs with short operatic presentations. He also hopes to start an apprentice program, with young singers brought to Greenville to train and perform in the company’s productions. “It’s a great way to foster young talent,” says Broussard.

Broussard admits that the current economic climate is not ideal for getting an opera company off the ground, but public interest has been strong.

“The appeal of opera is that it encompasses all the arts — singing, drama, instrumental music and costumes,” he says. “It’s one of the hardest art forms. There are so many factors involved. The key is to start small and grow an audience.”

Broussard adds that an outpouring of public support suggests a bright future for Greenville Opera: “The interest,” he says, “certainly is there.”

Greenville Light Opera Works (GLOW)

Greenville Light Opera Works (GLOW) is the brainchild of Dr. Christian Elser, who arrived two years ago in the Upstate with his fiancée, Jenna Tamisiea.

“With Greenville being so culturally rich, I was surprised to find that there was no opera company,” says Elser, a veteran performer who came to the Upstate to teach voice and direct the opera program at Presbyterian College in Clinton.

In creating GLOW, Elser believed a mixture of musical theater and light opera would possess wide appeal. “Our entire point is to bring in a broad audience,” says Elser.

Two performances of Mozart’s “The Impresario” were sellouts at the Warehouse Theatre in April — an impressive debut for GLOW and a suggestion of Greenville’s strong interest in comic opera and operetta.

In May, GLOW performers were heard singing familiar selections from such shows as “Oklahoma” and “Annie Get Your Gun” at the Pickens Pumpkintown Opry.

Upcoming GLOW performances will take place at Centre Stage. Included are fully staged productions of Gilbert and Sullivan’s one-act “Trial by Jury,” paired with a Gilbert and Sullivan revue (Nov. 12-14, 19 and 20), and Johann Strauss Jr.’s “Die Fledermaus” (scheduled for May 2011).

Elser and Tamisiea divide up the duties of running GLOW — “Between us, we’re one full-time employee,” quips Elser — with Elser serving as general director and Tamisiea as artistic director/director of education. Both Elser and Tamisiea also maintain active schedules as performers, and in fact they first met while singing in a production of Gilbert and Sullivan’s “The Sorcerer” in Tulsa, Okla. They plan to marry in October at the Wyche Pavilion.

Elser and Tamisiea have some clever stagings in mind for the two upcoming productions. “Trial by Jury,” about a jilted woman suing her playboy fiancé, normally takes place in Victorian England. GLOW’s production will be updated to a South Carolina courtroom, replete with contemporary references. The ingénue will be a “high-maintenance Lindsay Lohan- or Paris Hilton-type with a Pomeranian in the purse” says Elser.

“Die Fledermaus,” meanwhile, will be updated from the bustle dress-style of 1890s Vienna to a flapper-style 1920s, says Elser. All performances will be sung in English. Like Greenville Opera, GLOW will feature a mixture of local talent and invited guest performers. (For more information on GLOW’s upcoming performances, call 864-233-6733 or see the website www.greenvilleopera.org.)

Inspired by the enthusiastic local response, Elser enjoys envisioning future productions. He mentions such possibilities as Gilbert and Sullivan’s “Mikado” or “The Pirates of Penzance,” Franz Lehar’s “The Merry Widow,” Donizetti’s “Don Pasquale,” Stephen Sondheim’s “Company” and Meredith Wilson’s “The Music Man.”

GLOW also is offering collaborative performances with other organizations and in-school performances of “Hansel and Gretel.”

Elser says there’s no lack of performers and behind-the-scenes tech talent in the Upstate, thanks to Furman University, Converse College, Bob Jones University, Greenville Tech and other Upstate institutions.

Audience response, meanwhile, has been enthusiastic. “The Upstate has been fantastic,” says Elser. “People have been coming out of the woodwork to help. They’re willing to accommodate us in any way. They really want us to survive. I’ve been thrilled with the response.”

Greenville Opera and GLOW are not the first opera companies to provide regular operatic performances in the Upstate. More than 20 years ago, Douglas McCoy, the late, longtime director of Centre Stage, founded a company called the Savoyards. That company sadly folded in the early 1990s. But Greenville Opera and Greenville Light Opera Works plan to build on the Savoyards’ tradition — and establish lively new ones as well.

View the story in the magazine.

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