“People have more fun when they drink and learn about opera,” says Viswa Subbaraman, Skylight’s new artistic director. Let’s face it, in this city, you can pair drinking with just about anything and attract a crowd.
Skylight Music Theatre is offering a new series called Opera 101 that begins this Wednesday, September 4 at 7:30 p.m. at Hotel Foster (2028 E. North Ave.) The free event – requiring no opera-going or musical experience – will continue on the first Thursday of every month through May. The novice lesson led by Viswa involves live performance, an open discussion on the different parts of an opera and how to listen to opera – and of course, cocktails.
Viswa started a similar series with his opera company in Houston, targeted for people who knew nothing about opera. He admits it might be dumb-ed down at times for the aficionado, but he plans to talk about opera in a general sense and explore what other companies in Milwaukee are doing, not just at Skylight.
Flying to Milwaukee for a week each month, Viswa began his tenure at the Skylight last September to create the 2013-14 season, taking over for the beloved Bill Theisen, the Skylight’s artistic director since 2004. Inspired by the ideas of freedom and revolution, the season begins with classics like Beethoven’s Fidelio and Les Miserables and ends with Hair, exploring each show with a different lens.
Prior to Skylight, Viswa was the artistic director and founder of Opera Vista, an innovative and contemporary opera company in Houston. He was kind enough to answer a few questions so we can all get to know him a bit better.
Girl About Town: As the founder of your own company, was it difficult stepping into a company with established artistic practices?
Viswa Subbaraman: No, you learn different ways of doing things. Part of the fun is picking and choosing what you can add to and what things you let be the company tradition. We are melding new ideas.
GAT: What attracted a Texas boy to the Midwest?
VS: I grew up in West Texas, in the middle of nowhere. I had never been to the Midwest before and I really wanted to come to Milwaukee because of the Skylight. It’s probably the only company in the country that does it all, in terms of musical theatre. I’ve also really fallen in love with the staff – no one wants to let one detail slide.
GAT: Do you have experience with other forms of musical theater?
VS: Well, I am an orchestra conductor that started an opera company, but I’m an opera guy all the way. You usually start with an instrumental or vocal background before you conduct. I started as a violinist, got a degree in music and then went into conducting.
GAT: Why do you think opera is such a difficult art form for some people to grasp?
VS: Opera is wrongly maligned. I don’t get it. It has developed a stuffy, elitist vibe and that’s not what it’s for. Opera in its original form was really racy and reactionary. I think creative thinking really needs to come back to opera. Right now, we are working on Beethoven’s opera Fidelio and choreographing it like a Bollywood film. I really just want to be able to take away that fear of going to the opera.
GAT: Who is your favorite composer?
VS: I’ve always had a soft spot for Beethoven. As a humanist and as a person, he was fascinating. He is a true product of the enlightenment. His Ninth Symphony is dedicated to the brotherhood of man and he was such a crazy romantic.
GAT: What’s your favorite thing about Milwaukee so far?
VS: The people here are very nice and a bit quieter, there isn’t as much commotion.
Obviously, he wasn’t around for the Harley 110th anniversary last week. For more information on Opera 101 and the Skylight, click here.
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All images courtesy of Skylight Music Theatre.