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Intimate Opera in residence at Pasadena Playhouse

September 9, 2010 | 11:43 am

Tosca-intimate For 14 years, the Intimate Opera Company was on the move, appearing around the San Gabriel Valley in places including a bookstore-coffee shop, a retirement community and a hotel ballroom.

No more. The company says it's becoming the "opera company in residence" at the Pasadena Playhouse.

"For Intimate Opera to perform at the playhouse is the fulfillment of what we've been working on for years — which is to find a real theater to present productions that capture the theatricality of opera and the intimacy," says Wendy Kikkert, founder and general director of what now is known as Intimate Opera of Pasadena.

"Being a company in residence means that as opposed to an ordinary type of rental you hope to live there for awhile," says Sheldon Epps, artistic director of the playhouse, which emerged from Chapter 11 bankruptcy in July after financial problems prompted closure of  its mainstage in February. "If things go well, as I anticipate they will, then hopefully the company will live in the theater for awhile."

Intimate Opera's desire to find a home created what Epps calls "a moment of synchronicity" with the playhouse's desire to become "something that more resembles a performing arts center, a concept that has been with me almost since the day I got here over 13 years ago."  As an example, he notes his theater's relationship with Furious Theatre Company. "We intend to keep using the playhouse for our own work but when we are dark I would love to expand the programming to include opera, dance, concerts or jazz."

He adds that "we know arts organizations are challenged by the economy. We have needs. Intimate Opera has needs. To get together and serve each other and work with each other — collaboration is the key." 

Kikkert, a mezzo-soprano, began Intimate Opera to give local singers opportunities to perform while offering audiences a look at emerging talent. Shows were presented in English with minimal scenery. Music was provided by a piano and, since 2006, a chamber orchestra. Even though the new space will require the company to "bump things up," says Kikkert, "we will keep making opera accessible."

"The large sensibility in opera doesn't allow you to see what's really unique," says artistic director Stephanie Vlahos. "The great beautiful stories are what's so grand about opera. We allow you to look, see and connect with the people."

The company's first playhouse production will be Gian Carlo Menotti's "Amahl and the Night Visitors," which will run Dec. 16-19. The director will be Vlahos, a mezzo-soprano who began her career as a resident artist at Los Angeles Opera. The Thursday and Friday casts will include mezzo-soprano Suzanna Guzman, tenor Greg Fedderly and bass-baritone Cedric Berry. The Saturday and Sunday casts will be announced in October.

"With 'Amahl' we are broadening our mission," says Kikkert, "giving younger artists the chance to work with great, established performers."

A second production will be presented in the spring. Intimate Opera will hold a Sept. 30 "friend-raising party" at the playhouse that will include an abridged version of Donizetti's "The Elixir of Love." Reservations are required and available at

Besides the Intimate Opera programs, the playhouse has announced that Pasadena Dance Theatre will present a production of "The Nutcracker" in December and that the new musical "Dangerous Beauty" will open early next year.

Epps says he's had discussions with Pasadena Dance Theatre as well as Intimate Opera. "Maybe 'The Nutcracker' will become sort of a yearly experience at the Playhouse," he says.

-- Karen Wada

Photo: Tracy Saliefendic as Tosca and Sang Wook Kwon as Scarpia in Intimate Opera's April 2010 production of "Tosca." Credit: Intimate Opera of Pasadena.


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