In the summer of 2006, the local economy wasn't doing too well. The price of petroleum was slowly increasing, unemployment rates increased right along with it, and the infamous Labor Day flood, which caused millions of dollars in damage to Rockford's southeast side, was just around the corner. It was in this setting that a small light opera company began its first steps in our community.
I started the company because I was not seeing opera represented in the city. Although great opera performances have been occasionally given by the Rockford Symphony in not-too-recent years (Die Fledermaus in 2003, and La Boheme in 2006), they didn't feature local talent. Professionals from Chicago were imported, and local singers were limited to a very small chorus who had very little to do in the action. It was insulting. I wanted to do light opera - Gilbert and Sullivan and that kind of thing - but it wasn't being done here anymore. The last known local productions were given at Starlight Theatre in the 1980s, and The Mikado at Rockford East High in 1998, the one that got me started in this style. Beyond that, I know of no others.
So far, we've presented only three G&S operas and four potpourri concerts of selections from the operas, and a lot of works by the contemporaries of Gilbert and Sullivan. As the available talents of the group changed, so did the limitations of what shows we could perform. We would certainly like to present the more familiar operas in full detail, but it really depends on the talents and schedules of Rockford's performing arts community, and it always has.
Rockford Operetta Party's primaary goal is to increase the visibility of quality light opera for the entertainment of the residents of the Rock River Valley. Although the first production was in October 2006, we would not realize our first success until the following year. The first production was Patience by W.S. Gilbert and Arthur Sullivan, but it was held back by a number of things beyond my control. In 2007, our production of Jane Annie (by the authors of Peter Pan and Sherlock Holmes, no less!) would attract both national and international attention.
As the years went on, the Party presented a variety of light operas: some original operas such as Lindarella's List, obscure works (2011's Mirette by Andre Messager), and well-established hits (H.M.S. Pinafore in 2014, and Trial by Jury in 2016.) We even created a unique Christmas programme to present at retirement homes and the annual Nativity Display and Concert held at the LatterDay Saints church every December. The former Mendelssohn Club building has become the Party's permanent home since 2012.
The Party will present a concert to celebrate their decade-long existence. On November 19th, "Tenth Anniversary Celebration of Operetta", or TACO, will be presented at the Mendelssohn Center on Church Street. This programme will feature scenes and songs from all of our productions. I have put together a museum of company artefacts and souvenirs for guests to peruse and examine during the show. To add to the fun of the performance, one of the Party's charter members will give a toast during Intermission.
Rockford Operetta Party has featured more than sixty local musicians during the past decade. Though we have begun importing guest performers from Chicago and Madison in recent years for the full-length shows, the Party would like to depend on non-Rockford talent a little less often. The future success of such a goal depends largely on the musical and artistic public to support this. The city's classical music scene is shrinking, and the recent loss of the well-beloved RVC Studio Theatre will eventually have a terrible effect on the arts community.
Local performers are always encouraged to give light opera a try. We've drawn people from high schools, community choirs, church choirs, and theatre veterans. All of the operas are in English, so no one needs worry about knowing (or not knowing) French or Italian to enjoy it. The operas are frequently light, bright and pleasing, and we feature some very unique performances not equalled in Rockford or anywhere near here.
The TACO performance is on Saturday, November 19th at 7:30pm. Admission is $10. Please use the front door when arriving. Venue is handicap accessible, and all ages are welcome to attend.