Honoring Two Arts “O”s

What may be a surprise to some — certainly not to Louisville natives — is that the city boasts one of the richest and most cultured arts scenes in the country. Local theatre is booming and is more diverse than that of many bigger cities. However, as incredible as theatre is, it’s not the only artistic game in town. Whether it’s performing or visual art, there are worse places to be than Louisville for both artist and audience member, and two of the city’s most venerated artistic institutions that cater to those ends are the Kentucky Opera and the Louisville Orchestra.

The Kentucky Opera was founded in 1952 by Moritz von Bomhard, a long-time patron and champion of the arts in Louisville. The Kentucky Center for the Performing Arts, both the state and city’s premier arts venue, houses a theater in the facility in his name. Active for over 60 years, the Kentucky Opera has had countless general directors and just as many performance spaces, the Bomhard being one in the past and The Brown Theatre serving as its current home.

In January 2006, David Roth was announced as the new general director of the Kentucky Opera, and through his leadership, the organization enjoyed a renaissance, a reinvigoration of passion and a re-dedication to its mission of bringing superior opera to the state. Roth’s untimely death earlier this year saddened many for not only the loss of a great man but also the future of an arts organization that was once again beginning to blossom.

Kentucky Opera’s most recent production, “Three Decembers,” is not the first production in the season to follow Roth’s death, but its content is powerful and, perhaps, able to offer some comfort and closure to the organization’s patrons, Roth’s family and friends and, of course, any combination thereof.

Some may be familiar with “Three Decembers” by its working title, “Last Acts.” The chamber opera, an opera intended to be accompanied by a smaller ensemble rather than a full orchestra, is set in the month of December in 10-year increments (1986, 1996 and 2006). It chronicles the life of an actress named Madeline as she struggles with connecting with her two adult children. Kentucky Opera’s execution of the piece is simple and effective, evidence that Roth’s spirit remains alive and that the Opera is still capable of presenting fresh, seldom-done, beautiful and accessible opera to the Louisville community.

The Louisville Orchestra is also enjoying some much deserved attention thanks to the talent and leadership of Teddy Abrams, now in his sophomore year as music director. This organization has quite the history as well. The Civic Arts Association hired Robert S. Whintey in 1937 to create and conduct a semi-professional orchestra then called The Louisville Philharmonic Society. The name was changed to The Louisville Orchestra in 1949, and the organization has gone through several ups and downs in its history, the most recent and noteworthy of which being the strike and subsequent dark season just a few years ago.

As recent as these were, it is difficult to imagine them happening to the same organization that Louisville now enjoys as its primary source of live, quality, classical music. The Orchestra’s most recent offering, The Music of Led Zeppelin, is a part of its pops series, a dedication to present popular music in a way that is both fun and introductory to the instruments of classical music. Conducted by Bob Bernhardt, Louisville Orchestra’s principal pops conductor, the evening was as lively as rock concert but was coupled with the studied finesse that one expects from the Orchestra.

It is an exciting time for Louisville as every facet of its arts community seems to be firing on all cylinders. Both the Opera and the Orchestra are creating excellent work and bringing in new audiences that will serve as the foundation for the community’s future for years to come. The same cannot be said for many similar institutions in the country, and the sky is certainly the limit to what these organizations are able to achieve next.

Recently, Kentucky Opera has undergone further evolution. In January 2006, David Roth was announced as the new general director of Opera, succeeding Ms. Sandler. Roth had been with Fort Worth Opera since 2000 where he balanced the artistic and fiscal responsibilities as both director of production and director of finance. During his tenure with Kentucky Opera, Roth continuously strove to push the artistic levels of the company with debut productions and artists.

From its humble beginnings in 1952, when the budget of $10,000 produced three operas, Kentucky Opera has grown to a respected regional company with an annual budget in excess of $2.4 million. With the addition of Kentucky Opera Studio Artists Program and other growing outreach programs, the company is well positioned to take its place as a leader in the region and the nation in the dynamic field of opera. VT