April 20, 2015 by
Photography by Andrew J. Baran

Originally published in March/April 2015 Omaha Magazine.

Soprano Renée Fleming once lamented “My worry is that opera will become a historic art form as opposed to a living, breathing thing.”

We’ll leave any judgments on the notion of “historic art form” to posterity, but the January 16 Opera Omaha A Flowering Tree Gala was big-big-big in the way of itself being a “living, breathing thing.”

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Commandeering an abandoned wing of Crossroads Mall, the immersive experience in the cavernous, stunningly decorated space was equal parts performance piece and installation art, each delivering a magnum opus worth of “wow” factor.

“We wanted a location that would reflect the opera’s main theme, that of transformation,” says Opera Omaha general director Roger Weitz. “Our aim was to turn the most familiar of spaces—a mall—into something completely new, completely original. We go to these lengths because going to a gala should be not unlike going to an opera: a social environment for people to experience music and theatre in a way that is a daring, original, and moving. Above all, it should be fresh and relevant. Opera has the power to be all these things, and I want all of Opera Omaha’s major undertakings to reflect these values.”

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Ensemble members from such prestigious companies as Joffrey Jazz Contemporary, the L.A. Dance Project, and the Cedar Lake Contemporary Ballet were joined by recent Juilliard grads in performing modern dance movements, sometimes while being showered from above by indoor rain. Shamu and Gallagher were famous for dousing the most avid of front-row fans; now Opera Omaha has introduced its own decidedly lithe and lyrical version of a Splash Zone.

Among other cast members performing that night, the dancers were joined by both the Opera Omaha Chorus and Canadian soprano Andriana Chuchman, who sang the title role in A Flowering Tree. They were accompanied by pianists Timo Andres and Richard Valitutto.

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Members of the creative team included James Darrah, the Los Angeles-based director, production designer, and visual artist, along with designers Adam Larsen, Emily McDonald, and Cameron Mock.

Event chairs Mogens and Cindy Bay hosted the sold-out crowd of 400 in raising over $250,000 for the opera company.

And in words that this writer could never have imagined being put into print, the Opera Omaha Gala (a gala, for cryin’ out loud) was for one brief crescendo of triumphal glory the drop-dead hottest ticket of the season.

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