If you're an opera lover, evenings at the Metropolitan Opera and the New York City Opera are already on your itinerary. But there are several small opera companies in New York City that put on marvelous productions in intimate venues at affordable prices.
Some of the companies do full-blown productions with an orchestra; others offer concert versions. Some present new works, while others do only traditional operas. The venues range from church basements and school auditoriums to charming little theaters, where you can hear the performers up close. Find out for yourself by attending a performance.
Gotham Chamber Opera (tel. 212/868-4460; www.gothamchamberopera.org)
The Gotham Chamber Opera specializes in premieres and lesser-known works performed in interesting site-specific settings. Some of the most remarkable productions I've seen in years have been by this company: Respighi's La Bella Dormente Nel Bosco with Basil Twist's puppetry and Haydn's Il Mondo della Luna in the Hayden Planetarium at the American Museum of Natural History. If you love opera, it's worth arranging your trip to be in New York when the Gotham Chamber Opera is doing a production.
Dicapo Opera Theatre (184 East 76th St.; tel. 212/288-9438; www.dicapo.com)
This company presents an annual season of fully-staged operas with a 30-piece orchestra in its own beautiful theater on the Upper East Side. Dicapo does classic works and contemporary operas as well as an "Opera for Kids" series.
When the beloved Amato Opera closed after 60 years, opera veterans from the company went on to form two new companies: Amore Opera and Bleecker Street Opera.
Using some of the old sets, costumes, and props from the Amato Opera, the Amore Opera Company focuses on traditional opera with fully-staged productions. It also offers family-friendly "Opera-in-Brief" comic opera performances.
The Bleecker Street Opera, run by Mr. Amato's niece, is dedicated to presenting new operatic works by living composers. This company sponsors a New Opera Composers Forum and gives the public a chance to hear new operas such as Strange Fruit by composer Chandler Carter (www.chandlercarter.com).
Chelsea Opera (tel. 212/260-1796; www.chelseaopera.org)
The company produces standard, modern, and new works with professional singers and a chamber orchestra at St. Peter's Church in Chelsea. By making opera affordable, the company serves the community and attracts first-timers. Chelsea Opera also runs a concert series at The New Church on East 35th St.
Opera Manhattan Repertory Theatre (tel. 917/583-4335; www.operamanhattan.com)
OMRT was created to give young and emerging singers a chance to "put on a show." In addition to being in the spotlight, they make the costumes and paint the sets. The company also gives opportunities to first-time musical directors and puts on a One-Act Opera Festival.
Harlem Opera Theater (tel. 212/592-0780; www.harlemoperatheater.org)
Harlem Opera Theater's mission is to present classical music and opera to the underserved Harlem neighborhood. The music of Handel, Mozart, and Puccini is presented along with the works of African-American composers of classical music and spirituals. The performances feature emerging talent and professional classical singers from the Harlem community.
Opera Company of Brooklyn (tel. 212/567-3283; www.operabrooklyn.com)
The Opera Company of Brooklyn develops young talent and introduces new audiences to opera. (Many of their singers have gone on to work in regional opera companies across the U.S. and in Europe). Best of all, it has a BYOB policy -- that's right, you bring the drinks, they provide the glasses and snacks!
Regina Opera Company (Regina Hall, 65th St. &12th Ave., Brooklyn; tel. 718/259-2772; www.reginaopera.org)
Regina Opera performs traditional operas in Italian and French, as well as operettas in English. These are fully-staged productions with professional singers and a 30-piece orchestra. The company, which has been at the Regina Hall location for 40 years, also gives Sunday matinee concerts and free concerts at public venues.
The Bronx Opera Company (tel. 718/365-4209; www.bronxopera.org)
Every year, The Bronx Opera presents two productions -- a well-known opera (in January) and a rarely-performed one (in May). These are sung in English by talented performers with a full chorus and The Orchestra of The Bronx. In addition, the company presents concerts of opera excerpts throughout the year. Since several of the singers have gone on to illustrious careers, you might be listening to potential divas.
Saturday Night Opera Treat
Taci Opera Nights (Papillon Bistro, 22 East 54 St.; tel. 212/866-0111; www.caffetaci.com) Minimums: Dinner ($35), Bar ($15); no cover charge.
In the upstairs lounge, on Saturday nights "from 8pm till late," you can hear young professionals as well as established singers in Taci's showcase. ("Taci" is Italian for "be quiet," meaning give some respect to the performers).
With such a wide variety of operatic offerings in New York, there's no need to wait for the Met's season to begin. And, if you've never been to an opera, these companies make it affordable enough to give it a try.