Aerial stunts, fake fruit by the thousand, and a warehouse. Throw classical music in the mix and you won’t find yourself at the Met, but you will have a rager at LoftOpera.
“It’s everybody’s mission to bring something new to the art form,” Daniel Ellis-Ferris says. As founder of LoftOpera, Brooklyn’s performance company that generates hip yet accessible opera, he should know best.
Since its founding in 2013, LoftOpera has created a home — or the Brooklyn equivalent, various warehouses — for its artists, singers, and audiences. Next up is its tenth production to date, Le Comte Ory, running June 2–11 at The Muse in Bushwick. In Rossini’s comic romp situational humor and mistaken identities abound, two ingredients that jive nicely with LoftOpera’s vibe.
“It’s a pretty whimsical show,” Ellis-Ferris shared, “so there’s lots of room for wacky stuff to happen. (Director) John de los Santos has done work with us in the past that was more staid, but this one is more all-out. He’s really wonderful with comedy, and it’s definitely the most playful staging we’ve done.”
Playful and acrobatic. Because of the show’s partnership with The Muse, Brooklyn’s premiere circus school, some of its teaching artists will be featured in the production as aerialists, spiraling on floor-to-ceiling silks. Tenor Thor Arbjornsson, who plays Le Comte, will also be up in the air.
All this allows LoftOpera to attract a diverse audience. “We always work with pretty young casts,” Ellis-Ferris said. “Every now and then we get a Met singer who wants to do a fun project, but usually we’re working with people in the first third of their careers. It’s fun in that we’re working with people the moment before they cross over into that next part of their career.”
Despite working with young casts, LoftOpera prides itself on not parsing down its libretti or difficult scores. “We’re staying totally true to the Rossini,” Ellis-Ferris said of the upcoming Le Comte Ory. “Our music director (Sean Kelley) is a real Rossini specialist; he works on Rossini shows at the Met. He can conduct the whole show off book. The performers trust him when he can say in rehearsal, ‘You’re holding that eighth note too long.’”
This level of expertise helps prove LoftOpera’s case for performing superb classical music outside of venues normally accustomed to hosting the medium. “The fact is we’re using the warehouse party format and putting opera into it. We’re very much bringing the music into a place where the Brooklyn audience is already comfortable,” Ellis-Ferris said.
“They’re already going to venues like this to see music, and were just making that music opera,” he continued. “It’s not black box theater, it’s a warehouse party.”
Ellis-Ferris started LoftOpera in Brooklyn after graduating from The New School, but the hope is to grow beyond the Big Apple with Detroit and New Orleans as the next hopefuls. Surely there, and elsewhere in the country, artists and audiences alike will cling to Ellis-Ferris’ contagious and contemporary storytelling, inspiring — because what could be more so? — grassroots opera.
“I like to think we’re moving outside the paradigm and making something new,” he said. “The hope is that it creates a larger change, that people can create quality productions and it doesn’t have to just be in a repertory theater or the Met, and that these shows can get a good Times reviews and be valid performances.”
Put simply, Ellis-Ferris wants you to have fun. “We’re making fucked-up opera in a way where I’d want to see it,” he said.