Saturday, June 22, 2024

St. Louis Opera History

When soprano Paula Ingram and baritone Ron Peo sang for Soldan High School students in 1989, Opera Theatre of St. Louis was younger than some of the kids. It sprang up in 1977 during a renaissance for regional opera companies that staged works in English, like Chicago’s Lyric Opera. When fashion shifted to supertitles (and Italian, French, or German), Opera Theatre stood its ground. Its artists sang, and still sing, in English; they want everyone to go to see La bohème and feel sung to. Baritone Robert Orth told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch in 1999 that when he first sang Gounod’s Roméo et Juliette in English, “the audience loved it. They just roared. When I did it in French, it got polite applause.” (And besides, he said, no one can understand those bleating rock musicians, and they sing in English.) From the start, OTSTL strove to make opera modern and relatable, not a historical reenactment. That’s still its work, whether in schools; in conservatories, truffle-hunting young talent; or in the theater, where Terence Blanchard’s melodies and David Henry Hwang’s words fill the same air as Mozart’s and Puccini’s.