History of Opera in Rochester

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I Pagliacci

In 1999, Opera Theatre of Rochester became a division of the Rochester Broadway Theatre League and changed its name to Opera Rochester. Productions continued at the Auditorium Theatre, at Kodak’s Theatre on the Ridge, and the Eastman Theatre. Largely for financial reasons, more touring operas were introduced and fewer operas were produced in Rochester using local resources. Some singers who had been performing in the chorus wanted to continue to rehearse and perform together, and formed a new company called Rochester Opera Factory, which was primarily an opera chorus. Rochester Opera Factory was incorporated in 1999 and had its first performance with the Genesee Symphony in Batavia in December of 1999. The group of local singers, a combination of voice professionals and non-professionals, had its first performance of opera choruses and ensembles in spring of 2000. Rochester Opera Factory performed concerts twice per season for several seasons, and then performed its first small production (Gilbert & Sullivan’s The Mikado) in June of 2002, using a small student orchestra as accompaniment and exclusively local singers. Performances of opera scenes and additional full opera productions followed.

Until the summer of 2005, there were two opera performing entities (Rochester Opera Factory and Eastman Opera Theatre), one impresario company (Opera Rochester), two fundraising and supporting organizations (Opera Theatre Guild of Rochester and Friends of Eastman Opera), and one small endowment fund (The Rochester Fund for Opera.) The groups agreed on a common goal--more opera and better opera in Rochester. Beginning in fall of 2003, representatives of these six groups met to determine how to return high-quality professional opera to Rochester.

Don Giovanni

After much discussion and hard bargaining, they agreed that three of the groups would merge into one vibrant company in order to bring excellent professional opera back to Rochester. Mercury Opera Rochester was that new company. This merger of missions and organizations was unique among American regional opera companies.

Mercury Opera Rochester united Opera Rochester, Rochester Opera Factory, and the Opera Theatre Guild of Rochester. In order to bring this union about, the boards of directors of Opera Rochester, Rochester Opera Factory, OTR Guild and the Rochester Fund for Opera were all invited to join the board of directors of Mercury Opera Rochester. These previously separate groups worked together to implement the integrated mission of Mercury Opera Rochester.

Mercury Opera Rochester had six artistically successful seasons producing regional opera in Rochester, NY. Maestro Benton Hess, Distinguished Professor of Voice at the Eastman School of Music and Music Director of the Eastman Opera Theatre, was the principal conductor for the productions in January each year at The Eastman Theatre in Rochester. The 2005 /2006 inaugural season featured Puccini’s Madama Butterfly, followed by Bellini’s Norma, Mozart’s Don Giovanni, Puccini’s Tosca, Verdi’s La Traviata and finally Verdi’s Falstaff. The opera performances were a memorable experience for Rochester's audiences.

Gerard Floriano, Full Professor, Music Faculty, SUNY Geneseo NY, was the associate conductor for the spring and fall productions. He led the inagural performance of Mascagni's L’Amico Fritz as well as Mozart’s The Abduction from the Seraglio, Donizetti’s L’Elisir d’Amore, Rossini’s Il Barbiere di Siviglia and Copland’s The Tender Land, La Boheme and the Kern/Hammerstein musical Showboat.

The economic recession, starting in the 2007/2008 season, took its toll on the finances of the company and in June 2012, Mercury Opera Rochester ceased to exist.The Guild of Mercury Opera Rochester now continues its mission as the Opera Guild of Rochester, , a 501(c)(3) tax-exempt organization, supporting opera and opera educational programs in Western New York State.