The Show Must Go On

F or years, the New Haven Symphony Orchestra produced an outdoor concert series in New Haven parks. These elaborate shows, as many as nine per summer, came to feature celebrity performers such as Marvin Hamlisch.

Also for years, the International Festival of Arts & Ideas presented concert versions of great operas on New Haven Green. These opera concerts, which for several years were performed by a touring version of the Metropolitan Opera Company and later shifted to shows by East Village Opera, Yale School of Music and others, became one of the established regular features of A&I for over a decade.

Those summer classical concert traditions faded, for the most obvious reasons. Producing shows which involve dozens of classically trained musicians… playing intricate symphonic compositions… on fragile instruments… outdoors… for free… can be expensive and logistically intense.

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Things weren’t made any easier when the permanent bandstand on the Elm Street end of the Green was demolished, and not replaced, several years ago. Sponsors of shows out there now have to arrange their own stage platforms, and that’s trickier to do for an orchestra than for smaller acts.

Fortunately, the NHSO has been embraced by the Music on the Green series presented by Yale-New Haven Hospital. Two summers ago, the symphony did a theatrical version of the family-friendly classical works “Peter and the Wolf” and “The Carnival of the Animals” with the Pennsylvania-based Really Inventive Stuff. This year it returns with an intriguing program billed as “Dueling Divas.”

Elaine Carroll, who’s been the symphony’s executive director for two years, proclaims that this is “an incredibly exciting time” for the orchestra, which will be celebrating its 120th anniversary during its forthcoming regular fall-to-spring concert season. In recent years, Carroll says the symphony has strived to present “more music in more places,” offering repeat performances of its major concerts. As a result, she says, “we’ve earned more money.” The NHSO has also been the beneficiary of major bequests, including a multi-million dollar one from the Richard L. English Fund constituting the largest gift the symphony has received in its entire history.

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There is even dedicated support for outdoor concerts, thanks to the Helen H. Roberts Trust, but the main reason for fewer outdoor gigs is that they’re especially hard to pull off. We haven’t even mentioned the biggest and most immutable factor presenters must contend with: weather. Tempests and windstorms and heat waves aren’t just the onstage conceptual settings of many operas and symphonies. (“Ride of the Valkyries,” anyone?) In the real world, weather conditions can devastate the most well-laid outdoor concert plans.

The likelihood of a heat advisory warning this Saturday, following a week of high temperatures in the city, led to the decision to move the concert indoors to the Shubert Theater. The show will still be free. The Shubert can hold almost 1600 people, who will be admitted on a first-come, first-served basis. Just as with the outdoor concert, whole families are strongly encouraged to attend, and there will be special activities for children.

“The main reason to go inside,” Carroll says, “is out of concern for the audience. But for the instrumentalists, it will make a huge difference.” Excessively dry, or moist, weather can affect how classical instruments sound. An air-conditioned concert hall such as the Shubert will be a boon to all.

Of course, it will be the same program indoors as was planned for the Green: “Dueling Divas,” with soprano Jamilyn Manning-White and mezzo-soprano Toby Newman singing opera selections by Mozart (Le nozze di Figaro), Bizet (Carmen), Dvorak (Rusalka) and others, backed by a 38-piece orchestra.

“We love being outdoors, playing for people from all different walks of life,” Carroll says, adding, “I hope that now [that] it’s at the Shubert, people will still feel free to bring their children.” The New Haven Symphony Orchestra is known for its attempts to build a multi-generational audience. When a parent purchases a ticket to a regular NHSO concert at Woolsey Hall, the “NHSO Kids Tix” program lets them bring a child or teenager (up to age 18) along for free. The symphony’s Family Series, which for years has done events at the Shelton Intermediate School, will have an additional local venue in the near future: Davis Street School in Westville. The symphony will also continue to bring special “Young People’s Concerts” to six cities around the state.

The regular NHSO “Classics” Season kicks off in October with “Tchaikovsky Triumphant,” featuring not just that composer’s bracing fifth symphony but works by Felix Mendelssohn and contemporary composer Christopher Theofanidis. Carroll says the entire 2013-14 season will contain unannounced “surprises,” including special guests—“musical and other than musical.”

But first, “Dueling Divas.” “The idea of doing opera for this event was William’s,” Carroll says, referring to William Boughton, who has been the conductor and music director of the NHSO since 2007. Many of the salvos will be comical, such as the “duet for two cats” from Rossini’s Otello, for which the libretto simply reads, “meow, meow, meow…”

That’s “miao” in Italian, for purists.

New Haven Symphony Orchestra presents “Dueling Divas”
Free | 7 p.m. on Saturday, July 20 at the Shubert Theater, 247 College Street, New Haven (map)
(Relocated from the previously announced site of New Haven Green.)…

Written by Christopher Arnott. Photographed by Harold Shapiro.

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Christopher Arnott has written about arts and culture in Connecticut for over 25 years. His journalism has won local, regional and national awards, and he has been honored with an Arts Award from the Arts Council of Greater New Haven. He posts daily at his own sites and New Haven Theater Jerk (

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