La Cage au "Fort"

The past, present and future of Brooklyn's emerging 'indie' opera scene.

Anyone who thinks of opera as an art form of the past hasn't heard of the American Opera Project.

That's because for the past 10 years, AOP has been working hard to revitalize contemporary American opera.

"Simply put, the mission of AOP is to be an incubator for contemporary musical theater," said Charles Jarden, the group's general director and chairman.

Holding true to this calling, the AOP—a consortium of writers, musician, composers, and vocalists—has been a driving force in musical theater, helping the underground opera scene in Fort Greene develop its voice.

Just ask any composer who has worked with them through the years.

"There's no doubt about it. The impact the [American] opera project has had on the advancement of contemporary American theater is incredible," said Daniel Felsenfeld, composer of "Nora, In The Great Outdoors."

Felsenfeld, who credits a great deal of his success as a composer to the opera workshops offered by Jarden and his cohorts, stressed the AOP was a connecting point for emerging artists to the opera community at large.

"They provide composers like myself with unfettered access to some of the biggest names and voices in the industry today," he said.

And Felsenfeld wasn't the only composer to sing such high praise of the Brooklyn-based American Opera Project.

"The AOP's South Oxford space is an invaluable staging ground to workshop a piece prior to production, which helps a company significantly reduces development cost and saves valuable time when brining a piece to the theater," said Mohammed Fairouz, who at age 25 has already had his works produced multiple times.

An operatic force to be reckoned with, the AOP began in 1988, with just a few opera enthusiasts who had a dream.

"At the time there was a big dance and music movement taking place in SoHo and we wanted to create something similar for Opera," Jarden said.

Using the example of the Lucinda Childs Dance Company of SoHo, the American Opera Project went to work, developing an independent opera company, which today is something of a rarity, according Felsenfeld.

"There really aren't a whole lot of groups like the AOP, though there should be one in every city. That's how important the work they do is," Felsenfeld said.

On a mission to bring the brilliance of opera to everyday men and women, American Opera Project forges ahead.

"Not everyone has the ability to see the opera at Lincoln Center or the Met. So we bring it to them at venues like Fort Greene Park and small community theaters around the United States and the world," said Matt Gray, producing director at the American Opera Projects.

Mindful that there's still a long way to go before opera is once again at the forefront of pop culture, Jarden looks forward to many more years of helping to advance the future of opera. 

"What we'd like people to realize is that opera is still a relevant and viable form of expression, just as it was in the heyday of the grand operas, with themes that are universal and timeless," Jarden said.

"We need to get the word out that there is something very special going on right here in Brooklyn," Gray added.


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