Hubbard Hall Opera Theater opens Wednesday night with 'The Marriage of Figaro.'
CAMBRIDGE, N.Y. — Hubbard Hall Opera's artistic director knows audiences will flock to one of the company's August productions.
She hopes just as many people will discover the troupe's other offering.
Hubbard Hall Opera opens its seventh season on Wednesday evening with a pay-what-you-will performance of Mozart's "The Marriage of Figaro."
Artistic Director Alexina Jones is confident the venue's patrons will be anxious to hear the operatic staple.
"We try to choose a classic and then a little bit of a lesser known work," Jones said of her programming choices for the 2014 season. "We did 'Cosi Fan Tutte' and 'The Magic Flute.' Returning to Mozart is always great. Audiences want to hear Mozart."
But Jones thinks they will also want to hear Puccini's "Gianni Schicchi," which opens on Thursday. The two operas will be performed in repertory on consecutive weekends.
"The Puccini is a really funny opera," Jones said this week. "It's so good.
"Puccini is so much more modern than Mozart. ... He writes these through-composed pieces. Instead of being a memorable song, it creates moods much more palpably than a Mozart piece does for modern audiences. It's more like watching a musical, I would say, or more like watching a movie, honestly, where you have thematic, mood music going on."
Jones founded Hubbard Hall Opera to take advantage of the restored opera house that dates back to 1878. The opera company shares space with a community theater company, a children's theater company and various eclectic events, including a monthly community drum circle with North Berkshire's Otha Day.
Jones grew up in Germany and has lived in the Washington, D.C., area. She attended Skidmore College in Saratoga Springs, where she met her husband and formed a connection with New York's Capital District.
Hubbard Hall Opera is a "company in progress," she said, and this summer marks the first time it is staging two full orchestra productions. Last year, for example, it did one show with a 25-piece orchestra and one with a piano.
"It's kind of a pickup orchestra," she said. "They are mainly local or have been local at some time in the past and like to return to the area in the summer. I think I'm housing one player for a couple of nights when he doesn't want to drive 90 minutes home."
Hubbard Hall's singers come from all over the world, Jones said. She holds auditions in New York City with an eye toward bringing in a mix of opera veterans and rising stars.
"I have a goal of using local singers where I can, but more so I try to focus on bringing young singers into the fold. I'm putting together young singers with more established singers to create a teaching environment.
"I was a one-time young artist myself. And sometimes you go to these programs, and you don't get a lot of stage time. In this program, you get a lot of roles under your belt."
One Hubbard Hall alumna who made the most of the experience was Roza Bulat, who sang Fiordiligi in Hubbard's inaugural production, "Cosi Fan Tutte." Bulat has gone on to appearances at New York City's Carnegie Hall and Steinway Hall.
Last summer's production of "The Barber of Seville," featured up and comer Abigail Levis, who was named Debut Artist of the Year in 2012 by New York's Joy in Singing Foundation.
"As an opera singer, often you're not ready until you hit 35 [years old] or so," Jones said. "Working in Hubbard Hall, a smaller house with great acoustics, you can sing some of those roles even if your voice isn't quite there. It gives singers a step up if they have those roles on their resume."
The venue has advantages for the audience as well as the performers, she said. Hubbard Hall Opera knows it is not doing opera on the scale of Cooperstown's Glimmerglass Festival, and it doesn't pretend that it is.
"It's a different experience at Hubbard Hall," Jones said. "You're not going to grand opera. ... This production is sort of in the round. You can sit on the sides, and you're right up close to the singers. I think it's entirely different than going to Glimmerglass or Opera Saratoga. It's more in your face.
"Intimate is a word we use all the time. But you can be intimate in a small hall and the performers are still up on stage. At Hubbard Hall, that's not the case. The performers might brush past your feet as they go to their performance space.
"It's really more inclusive of the audience. We use the whole room we're performing in."
Cambridge, N.Y.'s, Hubbard Hall Opera Theater debuts "The Marriage of Figaro" on Wednesday, Aug. 13, at 8 p.m. with performances on Aug. 15, 16 and 21 at 8 p.m. and Aug. 23 and 24 at 2 p.m. "Gianni Schicchi" will be performed on Aug. 14 at 8 p.m. with a 5 p.m. pre-show talk and dinner and again Aug. 16 and 17 at 2 p.m. and Aug. 22 at 8 p.m. More information at hubbardhall.org.
Both productions are sung in Italian with English supertitles.
Gianni Schicchi: HHOT from Samantha Leigh on Vimeo.