For this year’s Philly Fringe Festival presentation of The Philadelphia Opera Collective’s “The Consul,” a piece by Gian Carlo Menotti, audience members won’t need a tux.
“We started our opera company to make it accessible to people not familiar with the opera world,” Michael A. Lienhard, of Sixth and Bainbridge streets, said. “It’s for someone who is not normally a theatergoer, but goes and says, ‘Hey, I didn’t think I’d like it but I did.’”
Founded by Lienhard and maestro Reese Revak, of 12th and Reed streets, last year, The Philadelphia Opera Collective is a group of local artists in the operatic field with the objective of making opera an art form for the masses.
“Last year when we did ‘Susannah’ half took place in a church, so the audience was surrounded by the opera,” Lienhard, who produced and performed in the 2011 piece, which was the group’s first, said. “This year opera singers will be able to make eye contact with the audience members. Typically, they are separated by a full orchestra.”
“The Consul,” an American opera that debuted in Philadelphia in 1950 at the Shubert Theater, explores political refugees suffering under an oppressive government. The political ties, Lienhard felt, were apt with the coming elections.
“It’s an American opera and it’s in English. We’re excited because it’s a beautiful piece of music and we feel it’s accessible for the election year. We have a wonderful director, Brenna Geffers,” Lienhard, who is producing the work, said of the show’s stage director, who resides at Clarion and Reed streets. “She is one of the biggest up-and-coming directors in Philadelphia and she is a brilliant mind. She creates a wonderful edgy world, and brings this opera to life in way people can really get into and feel.”
With shows 8 p.m. Sept. 7, 8 and 14, at the Jolie Laide Gallery in Old City, the 50-seat space will be ringing with emerging voices and Revak’s musical accompaniment.
“We are very excited because we have some of the most dedicated and talented artists in the city. Some of them, it’s their first opera, and I enjoy helping them along and nourishing some people. Then we have people like David Arnold who sung at the Met for years,” he said. “We have a wide range of talent. It’s exciting to be a part of it.”
Born in Easton, where, Lienhard said, “Crayola crayons are made and Weyerbacher beer, which is a delicious brewery,” comes from, he was surrounded by music from an early age.
“I did like Broadway and that sort of thing, but I grew up with opera. I had an Italian immigrant mother who came from Italy at about my age,” Lienhard said of mother Teresa, from Calabria, who emigrated from University in Rome to the States. “We always had opera playing in my house. I was attached to it and loved it.”
But his passions didn’t turn into personal aspirations until his junior year of high school, when Lienhard decided to give his own vocal chords a spin.
“I really liked to sing in high school and I was in a musical and a teacher heard me singing and said, ‘You could actually do this,’ so she started giving me lessons,” he said.
Two years of training earned Lienhard a spot at Temple University, where he studied vocal performance, knowing his aspiring career as a tenor would be an arduous one, and, hopefully, a fulfilling one, as well.
“I’ve been steadily improving as a tenor, just trying to learn as much as possible. I’m a 25-year-old tenor so I’m still paying my dues,” Lienhard, who finished out his master’s in the same subject this spring, said. “I have a heavier voice for a tenor and that causes some complications. With a lot more weight you have to learn to negotiate it with the voice. If you bring the whole kitchen sink up, you have a bit of a problem. You have to be strong enough to relax.”
Nearing the end of his undergraduate studies, Lienhard added an Italian minor to his course load.
“It was very important to me to be able to read and write in Italian. I could always speak it with my family, but I wanted to read and write for my career choice,” he said. “And for my grandparents … to be able to speak to them in a more refined way and really connect with them while I can.”
With many professional opera singers hitting their peak after their 30s, Lienhard is still training diligently and performing and producing along the way. The collective, which came into existence just prior to the 2011 Fringe and has started to perform impromptu concerts select Fridays at the Singing Fountain, 11th and Tasker streets, is a fulfilling professional step for the singer’s young career.
“We’re planning another concert through this company. I think it’s important to give everyone an opportunity, not just myself,” Lienhard said. “To give myself an opportunity, that is not the reason I’d start a company — I think our mission is much greater than that. Occasionally, I will sing with them. I’ve been lucky to do a decent amount for someone 25 and a tenor.”
With final rehearsals last week for the show that debuts tomorrow and also features locals Katie Ayash, its stage manager from 13th and Tasker streets, and Chad Somers, the leading baritone of 21st and Christian streets, Lienhard was focusing on “organization.”
“Opera companies are notoriously unorganized,” he said.
But he was confident opera fans and opera-newcomers alike will be pleasantly surprised with “The Consul.”
“What really makes us unique is the fact we are not just producing musical music. Any opera across the city can do that. What’s different about us and what’s unique is we take that music then we add the drama and try to marry music and drama and make sure there is a story being told,” he said. “This is not just indulgent singing for singing’s sake.
“We’re going to create an edgy visceral opera that is dynamic.”
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