What's the traditional 75th anniversary gift? Diamonds. But in a 21st-century pandemic, it's a new website like Fort Worth Opera's, filled with all kinds of digital initiatives to keep the music going when the in-person performances can't.
To start its historic 75th year, the opera company on August 13 launched FWO Green Room, a new site that features performances, seminars, masterclasses, a libretto workshop, and roundtable discussions with opera stars around the world.
"In this time of social distancing, as opera companies across the globe continue to explore innovative ways to connect with audiences and build dynamic relationships through technology, FWO is thrilled to offer a blend of entertaining and interactive online content for opera lovers and novices alike," the company says in a release.
Started in 1946, FWO touts itself as the oldest continually performing opera company in Texas, and one of the 14 oldest opera companies in the United States. In recent years, the organization earned a reputation as a champion of new works and bold initiatives — such as its Noches de Ópera (Nights of Opera) — its years-long commitment to operas in the Spanish language.
But 2020 has been a particularly tough year for the company.
In January, general director Tuomas Hiltunen resigned after just two seasons. As FWO continues to search for a new leader, Nelson Claytor, chairman of the Board of Trustees, is the acting general director and Joe Illick remains the artistic director.
Then, coronavirus dealt the company one of the biggest blows to the Fort Worth arts scene.
In March, the pandemic forced FWO to cancel the entire 2020 festival, scheduled for April 17-May 3. While other Fort Worth arts organizations had canceled upcoming concerts, the festival, essentially, was the opera's whole season. (While the company said all nine performances would be rescheduled when venues became available, none has been announced.)
Like many arts organizations, FWO scrambled to stay relevant to audiences by offering virtual content. The company hosted free YouTube premieres and Facebook watch parties of the operas Frida Kahlo and the Bravest Girl in the World and Feel the Tango, for example.
But its new Green Room is a more comprehensive digital initiative that FWO says is part of a total "reinvention" to reach modern audiences. It's here to stay.
"FWO Green Room is part of Fort Worth Opera’s ongoing desire to stay connected and engaged with our community during and after the COVID-19 pandemic," they say. "This exciting initiative will evolve throughout the company’s 75th anniversary season, as FWO continues to foster strong partnerships with our devoted patrons, inspire the next generation of opera lovers, and support the incredible artists who are the lifeblood of the performing arts here in North Texas and beyond."
Highlights of Green Room include:
Festival Artists Online, the company’s digital platform for concerts, intimate living room performances, and panel discussions. Starting the week of August 17, FWO will welcome internationally acclaimed artists Martin Bakari, Vanessa Becerra, Emily Fons, Devon Guthrie, Abigail Levis, Curt Olds, Luis Alejandro Orozco, Donovan Singletary, Efraín Solís, and Talise Trevigne to its virtual stage. Future performances, IGTV interviews, and scheduled conversations will be announced on the company’s official website and social media platforms.
An exclusive, six-week Virtual Audition Intensive led by Metropolitan Opera soprano Jennifer Rowley. She will help prepare young opera singers for the fall audition season ahead. "As a result of the ongoing pandemic, physical auditions have been replaced with video submissions and virtual performances for audition panels. Over the course of six sessions, Ms. Rowley and her renowned guests will offer invaluable guidance each week on how to deliver an impressive audition, while navigating the current digital landscape successfully," FWO says.
Beginning August 22, the sessions will take place over Zoom each Saturday through September 26, and simultaneously will be streamed to FWO and Rowley’s Facebook pages. Special guests will include David and Francisco Salazar of OperaWire, and production company La Cuarta Productions; and E. Loren Meeker, general and artistic director of OPERA San Antonio.
Fort Worth Opera’s celebrated new works showcase Frontiers. Always a popular event during its festivals, Frontiers will be presented in a slightly different format on Zoom. "Frontiers: FWO Libretto Workshop" will feature some of opera's most prominent literary voices, with a two-night exploration of storytelling led by Pulitzer Prize-winning librettist Mark Campbell and a prestigious panel of librettists, directors, and singers. The event will take place October 7-8. Details on submissions and more here.
A virtual performance by the Fort Worth Opera Chorus is in the works. The chorus "has become a force to be reckoned with over the past two seasons under brilliant new Chorus Master Alfrelynn Roberts," the company says. "Next month, FWO will unveil a stunning, inspirational choral performance from a revered 20th-century American composer, arranger, and choral director. Forty-two choristers will be highlighted on the company’s social media platforms weekly until this virtual choral project premieres, and information will be forthcoming."
FWO says that, while it was saddened to cancel its 2020 festival, the global crisis has reinvigorated the company.
"Now is a time ripe for reinvention," they say. "Challenges have yielded opportunities to connect with our local and artistic communities in ways that had rarely been mined before the pandemic. FWO looks forward to the moment when extraordinary artists can be flown to North Texas for live performances. In the interim, the company has invited many of the past season’s stars to join us virtually."