‘Unatamed!’ Sings the Praises of Opera’s Wild Side

A scene featuring the Innkeeper, from dell’Arte Opera Ensemble’s 2016 production of Jules Massenet’s “Manon.” Photo by Nina Bova.

BY TRAV S.D. | No matter what you do in life, you’ve got to start somewhere. If you’re an opera singer, that may not be so easy. The dell’Arte Opera Ensemble hopes to address that. From Aug. 12-27, the company will bring its 15th Annual Summer Festival (this year titled “Untamed!”) to downtown performance behemoth La MaMa.  

This is the festival’s first year at the historic Off-Off Broadway theater. “We had been looking at their rehearsal spaces but then learned that there was an opening in the Ellen Stewart [i.e., La MaMa’s largest theater space] in August,” said Christopher Fecteau, dell’Arte Opera’s executive director. “We couldn’t turn that space down. It’s so big but it also has this raw, rustic feel that works really well for what we do.”

As for what they do, dell’Arte’s mission provides “emerging opera artists with training and performance opportunities necessary to bridge the gap between the conservatory and a flourishing career.” Since its inception in 2000, nearly 500 singers have taken part in dell’Arte’s programs.

“When I first arrived in New York in 2000,” Fecteau recalled, “I quickly realized that there were few small companies that help young singers get debut role opportunities. That’s the hardest thing for opera singers. You have to have done a role before you can get cast in it professionally. So we give singers a chance to do that in a repertory company, where they get to perform in both well-known and lesser-known operas. The name arose to reflect we’re an ensemble that’s concerned with the craft of the work. We’re trying to create a sense of ongoing continuity over several seasons. We start singers out in smaller roles then they eventually come up to principal parts.”

The dell’Arte Opera Ensemble’s Christopher Fecteau. Photo by Brian Long.

“Untamed!” will open with two full productions: Francesco Cavalli’s 1651 “La Calisto” and Leoš Janáček’s 1924 “Příhody lišky Bystroušky” (“The Cunning Little Vixen”). The productions reflect the festival’s theme of wild nature, but are also strong showcase vehicles for the dell’Arte company.

“The Cunning Little Vixen,” Fecteau said, “is a well-balanced show, with lots of smaller roles. It gives everyone a chance to perform and sing in the Czech language, which is important because Czech operas are increasingly becoming part of the modern repertoire. Whereas “ ‘La Calisto’ is a 17th century work which sets the conventions of opera for the next 300 years, the touchstone of everything they’ll sing later in their careers, Mozart, Puccini, on and on.”

Fecteau explained that dell’ Arte chooses a different theme for its festival every year and this theme, “Untamed!,” is meant to spotlight the unpredictable, wild characters of opera, and explore parallels between human, animal, and supernatural realms.

In addition to the two full-length, fully-staged operas, “Untamed!” will also present recitals that allow ensemble members to sing lead parts. “Untamed! Opera Scenes” (Aug. 18 & 22) will feature excerpted scenes from “Carmen,” “Idomeneo,” “La clemenza di Tito,” “Rusalka,” “Die Entführung aus dem Serail,” “A Midsummer Night’s Dream,” and more. The festival will be capped off on Aug. 26 with “Wild Things,” a recital featuring songs about the animal kingdom and other wild creatures, performed by members of dell’Arte ensemble and cover artists, accompanied by dell’Arte musical staff.

The dell’Arte Opera Ensemble’s “Untamed!” Opera Festival runs Aug. 12–27, with evening performances at 7:30pm and matinees at 2pm. At the Ellen Stewart Theatre at La MaMa (66 E. Fourth St., btw. Bowery & Second Ave.). Tickets are $26–46, with festival discounts available. For the full performance schedule and reservations, visit dellarteopera.org or call 646-632-2340.