This June, Petaluma’s venerable Cinnabar Theater will stage Ruggero Leoncavallo’s legendary 1892 opera “Pagliacci” — a tragedy about a jealous clown and his unfaithful actress wife — marking the first time the company has performed the piece since 2006.
It will also mark the final opera at Cinnabar for the foreseeable future.
In announcing the company’s 2017/2018 season (see sidebar), Artistic Director Elly Lichenstein explained the conspicuous absence of an opera — for only the second time since the company’s founding in 1973 — as being a sad economic necessity.
It’s a necessity, she hopes, which will only last a season or two.
The last time Cinnabar was forced to cancel its annual opera was in 2011, when post-9/11 jitters were keeping audiences at home, a problem that exacerbated a serious financial crisis following the loss of tens of thousands of Petaluma TOT funds (Transient Occupancy Taxes).
“We came very close to losing everything that year,” Lichenstein recalled. “So we reorganized our schedule and left out the opera we’d been planning to do.”
This time, the reason for not scheduling an opera is once again financial.
“Opera is very expensive to produce,” Lichenstein said. “For our space, you need a crack orchestra of no fewer than 11 players. You need to hire singers from all over the Bay Area and beyond.”
Cinnabar, founded in the early ’70s by the late Marvin Klebe and his wife Jan, produced its first opera in 1973, and quickly established a stellar artistic reputation, firmly grounded in the company’s mission of staging intimate chamber-productions of the world’s greatest operas, always performed in English to make them as accessible as possible. Klebe, an acclaimed opera singer from San Francisco, always envisioned Cinnabar as a place where opera would thrive alongside new works, classic plays and musicals, and world premieres of all kinds. Over the years, the little company has produced more than fifty operas, everything from classics such as last year’s “Carmen” and favorites like “The Marriage of Figaro,” “Falstaff,” and “La Traviata” to newer works like Conrad Susa’s 1973 “Transformations” and Tobias Picker’s 1996 “Emmeline.”
Of course, theater of any kind is expensive to produce, Lichenstein points out.
For its upcoming season, the company expects to spend between $22,000 (to produce the play “Good People”) to $53,000 (for the musical “Man of La Mancha”).
Producing an opera can often cost much, much more.
Professional opera singers being in high demand around the country, Cinnabar routinely has to fly performers in from Idaho, Maryland, Boston, New Jersey, New York City, and Detroit. For this year’s “Pagliacci,” the company will bring in a singer from Portland, Oregon.
“When they come from out of state,” Lichenstein explained, “you have to put them up somewhere, and find transportation for them. When they come from the Bay Area, they have increasingly problematic issues with travel. These days, it can take them up to three hours just to get to a rehearsal from the Sunset District in San Francisco. This means it’s become increasingly difficult to lure the right voices up from an area we’ve always relied on, compensation aside.“
In addition to the rising costs of presenting opera, Cinnabar is once again facing a sharp drop in anticipated contributed income.
Cinnabar’s 2017/2018 season announced
It’s a bit ironic that - in a season which, for only the second time in 44 years, no actual opera will be staged at Cinnabar Theater - two of the planned productions happen to be about opera. Here’s the full season, as announced on Wednesday, April 24th
Man of La Mancha by Dale Wasserman, Joe Darion, and Mitch Leigh (September 1 – September 17, 2017) – The beloved tale of a slightly-cracked Spanish landowner who believes he is the chivalrous knight Don Quixote, and the people whose lives he touches as he battles giants and attempt to save damsels in distress. It’s the musical that gave the world the song ‘The Impossible Dream.”
Quartet by Ron Harwood (October 13 – October 29, 2017) – A comedy about four retired opera singers squabbling and competing at a home for elderly musicians.
My Way by David Grapes and Todd Olsen (December 15 – January 7, 2018) – A musical tribute to Frank Sinatra, with four performers singing more than fifty of Ol’ Blue Eyes’ greatest hits.
Good People by David Lindsay-Abaire (February 2 – February 18, 2018) – A Tony-winning dark comedy about desperate people, working class dreams, and Bingo.
Amadeus by Peter Shaffer (March 30 – April 22, 2018) – Who killed Mozart? In the popular hit play, the seething court composer Antonio Salieri delivers his last confession, describing his rivalry with – and possible murder of – the hedonistic genius Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart.
The Fantasticks by Tom Jones and Harvey Schmidt (June 8 – June 24, 2018) – The longest-running off-Broadway show in history, this fanciful tale of friendship, fatherhood, love - and getting kicked around by life - contains the songs “Try to Remember” and “Soon it’s Gonna Rain.”