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Our motto: "Critical thinking in the cheap seats." Unbiased, honest classical music and opera opinions, occasional obituaries and classical news reporting, since 2007. All written content © 2019 by Paul J. Pelkonen. For more about Superconductor, visit this link. For advertising rates, click this link. Follow us on Facebook.

Monday, June 17, 2013

The Superconductor Interview: Eric Einhorn

The director brings Blue Monday to Harlem's historic Cotton Club.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
The sign of the historic Cotton Club. Image from FotoPedia.
In order for opera to evolve, it has escaped from the stuffy confines of the opera house.

The last five years have seen an uptick in the number of companies willing to take chances and present opera outside its usual venue. From coffee barges moored off of Red Hook to the landscaped walks of the Bronx Zoo, opera is busting out all over.

One young company that is taking advantage of this trend is Eric Einhorn's On Site Opera, a troupe devoted to performing rare repertory in unconventional locations. This Tuesday, OSO will present its second show: George Gershwin's jazz opera Blue Monday on the hallowed dance floor of The Cotton Club in Harlem.

"I've been a freelance stage director for about ten years," he says. "In my work regionally I love working in big theaters and working with great singers and designers. But everything wonderful happens in regional opera. In every city, there are those great buildings, those masterpieces that cry out for use."

"When you're selecting  venue and repertoire my personal buzz-word is venue relevance. What really works is when you make that pairing perfect. Opera  companies are playing around with this 'site-specific' model, whether it's the bulk of their season. As a small company, the cost of a venue is a gigantic line item."

In launching this company (with last year's Bronx Zoo staging of Shostakovich's The Silly Little Mouse) Mr. Einhorn had to ask some serious questions. "Why should I start an opera company? Why is anybody coming to see my production of Aida? How can I tell the story in a way that's different? What kind of company am I going to start? And what can I construct? It developed into this artistic mold."

"It had certain budgetary pluses from the start," he admits. "I started with the Shostakovich, because I wanted to do a market test to see if it worked, if I could do it, if the company could support it. It took! Environmental opera is a wonderful thing."

"The club is L-shaped," he explains. "It's set up with the focal point being the band, at the corner of the L. It is all throughout the club but it is about finding those correct site-lines, balance, a lot of brass a lot of wind. It's challenging every step of the way you but it's worth it. I really think it's one of those things where everyone has got to do their part."

In putting the show together, Mr. Einhorn sought collaboration with the Cotton Club All-Stars (the historic jazz club's house band), the Harlem Chamber Players and the Harlem Opera theater. Conductor Gregory Hopkins and choreographer George Faison are also key collaborators. "I wanted to team up with another organization," he admits. "For small groups it's important to work together and pool our resources. I reached out to Harlem Opera Theater with its mission of supporting African-American singers in standard repertory. The collaboration really took off!"

Blue Monday is not one of Gershwin's best-known works. (As Mr. Einhorn pointed out, "It doesn't even have an entry in the New Grove.") His first stage effort, it is a one-act drama that owes something to the verismo of Leoncavallo's Pagliacci even as the story is told using the musical idiom of jazz.

Blue Monday is a piece I've always wanted to do," he says, "since I was introduced to it by my very first voice teacher. He even gave me this LP of this little Gershwin opera. The piece stayed with him, and came to mind when Mr. Einhorn started looking for OnSite Opera production number two.

I ask myself sometimes: "what score have I bought--that I just bought on a whim--that I want to do?" I live in New Jersey--I'm on the staging staff at the Metropolitan Opera--and I was stuck in traffic in upper Manhattan. I was thinking: "Where can I do a piece like Blue Monday?" And it hit me: Gershwin at the Cotton Club. What's better than that?"

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