Putting the “Show” in “Show Boat”

Louisville is indeed rich with professional arts organizations – more so than many would expect for a not-so-big city in Kentucky. With Actors Theatre, Stage One, Kentucky Shakespeare, Louisville Orchestra and Louisville Ballet, there is no dearth of entertainment options put on by the absolute best in the industry. And in addition to the aforementioned companies, Louisville is also fortunate to host Kentucky Opera, the only professional opera company in Kentucky.

Kentucky Opera was founded in 1952 and has been growing ever since. The company produces three operas per season in Louisville’s Brown Theatre and boasts several ancillary programs throughout the year as well. It also offers several educational opportunities such as bringing pieces of the opera into the classroom to help students engage with the art form.

Showboat Illustartion FinalIn 2006, David Roth was named the general director of Kentucky Opera and truly brought the company into the 21st century. He was adored by audiences and performers alike, which made his passing in July 2015 all the more bitter.

Joseph Mechavich, who has been with the Opera since 2007 and has been principal conductor since 2010, has since assumed leadership; however, he is quick to praise Roth for his remarkable contributions to the forward movement of the company. “Under David Roth’s leadership, the Opera really tackled some wonderful masterworks – some masterworks that are rarely done and that need to be seen by audiences in the Commonwealth,” Mechavich contends. “And David was very committed to bringing those masterpieces – unheard of or rare masterpieces – to the patrons of Kentucky Opera.”

Indeed, Roth brought the company genuinely spectacular works that not only adhered to the astounding standards of the Opera but also engaged with younger, modern audiences. Mechavich certainly looks forward to cultivating the foundation laid by Roth and to upholding his legacy. “I think as we are getting our feet wet in planning the 16/17 season, we’re reminded of our commitment to what our duty is as an opera company – in terms of bringing these masterworks in an artistic sense and also in a financial sense,” he describes. “We really are committed to the foundation, the repertoire, the stories and the music that resonate with our patrons of Kentucky.”

But before the Opera can really dive into next season, there’s still one show left in the current season: “Show Boat,” a classic American musical by Jerome Kern and Oscar Hammerstein II. Mechavich is the first to acknowledge that many may wonder why a professional opera company is producing something that isn’t, well, an opera.

“I think David believed, and I certainly believe, that our great tradition here in this country, American music theatre, and opera are directly related,” he muses. “There are opera companies around the country that are embracing our own musical theatre traditions because number one, it attracts a new audience because it’s not traditional opera. But more importantly artistically, it brings a serious story that is surrounded by spectacle, which is the same sort of motive, same sort of germ cell that is in opera.”

Moreover, the very premise of this particular show seems strikingly operatic in its construction. “Show Boat is this amazing story that has conflict and struggles of love, but it still has everything you would attribute to an opera: big chorus, big tunes, a full orchestra – every one of those elements are in ‘Show Boat,’” Mechavich emphasizes. Additionally, the performers themselves are of the superior quality patrons have come to expect from the Opera. “We have assembled an outrageously outstanding cast,” he affirms. “David and I were both very committed to hire singer-actors. So what you’re going to see in ‘Show Boat’ are amazing voices that have amazing acting chops to really bring this show to life.”

The excitement is building for “Show Boat,” running February 18-21 in the Brown Theatre, and for Carnevale 2016, the Opera’s annual fundraiser, taking place this year on January 30. For more information on “Show Boat” or the company in general, visit kyopera.org and be sure to get out and support one of Louisville’s most exquisite arts organizations. VT