Three months ago, when Cinnabar Artistic Director Elly Lichenstein reluctantly revealed that the theater’s 2017/2018 season would not include a new opera production, she had no idea the reaction from longtime supporters would be so strong.
“People reacted strongly to the news about losing opera for this season,” says Lichenstein, who made the decision — marking only the second or third time since the mid-1970s that there would be no opera production — for financial reasons. Simply put, opera is extremely expensive to produce, and for a small theater company like Cinnabar, the hopes of recouping costs from tickets sales alone are not even remotely possible.
“Arts organizations, unfortunately, are almost all non-profits for a reason,” explains Diane Dragone, Cinnabar’s Executive Director. “We have 120 seats, maximum. We can only sell so-many tickets, and we are not willing to cut the quality of our operas in order to make them more profitable. When you consider the quality of the artists we bring in, you know, that costs a lot. Especially when you factor in housing and transportation costs, which do happen when we bring in particular artists from out of the area who is perfect for a role.
“So, we depend on our angels,” she continues, “the sponsors and underwriters and donors who make it possible for us to do the kind of work we do, by generously partnering with us through individual donations. We also count on people supporting our public fundraising events, like Taste of Petaluma.” (See below)
And speaking of angels, not long after the wrap of last May’s highly inventive, critically-acclaimed “Pagliacci” — thought to be the last opera at Cinnabar for at least a season or two — Lichenstein was approached by unexpected supporter, a first-timer at Cinnabar, who’d seen “Pagliacci,” and wanted to express his thanks.
“It’s a member of a very prominent philanthropic family, who wishes to remain anonymous,” says Lichenstein. “He’d never been here before, but he came to “Pagliacci” several times. And when he found out we were not planning to do an opera for the next season, he said, ‘This can not be.’ He is various serious about bringing opera back, no just for a year but always. It’s signed on the proverbial dotted line. Opera is coming back to Cinnabar in 2018.”
According to Lichenstein, the arrangement promises a donation of $20,000 per year, in perpetuity, to support the company’s opera program. The money is intended to be matching funds, with the community providing another $20,000 in targeted opera program donations. And yes, Lichenstein affirms, that is how much it costs to stage a professional opera, even in a 120-seat house.
“This is very good news,” she says. “It’s just what we needed — for our own psyches, anyway — knowing that someone from the outside sees the value of what we’ve been doing, and is as passionate as we are about bringing opera to audiences.”
So, with opera now back on the table, Lichenstein says she plans to produce Rossini’s ever-popular “The Barber of Seville,” sometime in 2018.
“It’s a fun show, a celebratory show,” she says. “We have the right cast, right at our finger tips, and it’s such a good opera.”
Now, she notes, the real work begins — raising the full $20,000, every year, to match the benefactor’s donation. Lichenstein feels confident it will happen.
Taste of Petaluma
Cinnabar Theater’s annual Taste of Petaluma event is more than just a way to celebrate the culinary arts with thousands of hungry foodies. Indirectly, the sprawling event also supports the theater and musical arts as well.
“Taste of Petaluma is one of the most fun events we produce,” says Diane Dragone, Executive Director of Cinnabar Theater. “But it also provides a small but significant percentage of our operating costs for the year. For every tasting bracelet we sell, that money goes straight into sets and costumes, royalties and rights, and paying our artists.”
The downtown event – in which visitors use the aforementioned “tasting bracelet” to sample specially prepared dishes representing dozens of restaurants, breweries, wineries, caterers and other food purveyors – is produced with a decidedly Cinnabar emphasis on entertainment and fun. A large number of local musicians are showcased on various stages around the downtown area - and even on the free trolley that will deliver tasters from one end to the other - providing an auditory backdrop for all that snacking and sipping. It’s an appropriate enough blend, given Cinnabar’s reputation for presenting first-rate musical, operas and concerts. And with the beloved local theater’s mission of supporting emerging artists, the event also serves as a showcase for numerous local talents.
This year’s lineup will include 17-year-old singer-songwriter Elizabeth Boaz (on the Trolley from noon to 1:30 p.m.), guitarist and ukulele artist Gary Sugiyama (Riverfront Gallery, noon to 1:30 p.m.), string-band Homebrew (Water St. Beer Garden noon to 1:45 p.m.), female-fronted power-poppers Whirl (Water St. Beer Garden, 2:15 to 3 p.m.), Raks Rosa Dance Company, Theater Square 1:15 p.m. to 1:45 p.m.), and rockers the Mike Saliani Band (Theater Square, 1:45 p.m. to 3 p.m.).
“We are always wanting to provide new audiences for local singers, actors and other talented people,” says Dragone, “and we do that in as many ways as possible. Here at the theater and wherever else we can, including out in the community at events like Taste of Petaluma.”
For more information, visit Tasteofpetaluma.org.