An Interview with Urban Arias
Posted by Melissa Wimbish
UrbanArias is one of our candidates for the Best Indie Opera category in this year’s Operagasm Awards. A five-year-old opera company dedicated to producing short, contemporary operas, their mission is to expose DC-area audiences to engaging, accessible and entertaining operas. They strive to provide a venue at which both established and emerging composers can present their shorter works. By “short,” we’re talking 90 minutes or less; and by “contemporary,” these works are all written within the last forty years. Here’s an excerpt of an interview with the Artistic Director, Robert Wood.
How does working with a small ensemble of singers and instrumentalists differ from working on larger works?
In small works, you need to cast singers and engage players very carefully. When there are only two singers and four players involved, one weak link, or unenthusiastic performer, can pull the whole show down. In a larger piece, if someone in a small role or a player without a lot of solos isn’t great, the audience won’t notice as much because that person is not a fifth of the whole opera.
What do you think Urban Arias brings to the DC/VA arts scene?
No one else is doing what UrbanArias does: producing only short operas that were written within the last 40 years and casting them with nationally-known artists. I think we bring very high-quality opera to the area, which embraces the avant-garde in other artistic media, and which is turning out to embrace us as well. I also think we’re an excellent addition to the rich complement of opera that exists in the DC area already – Washington National Opera, Washington Concert Opera, Opera Lafayette, the In Series, to name a few – each of us brings a specific take, or a specific kind of repertory to the area, and I think audiences enjoy that.
What do you hope the audience takes away from their experience?
I hope that opera lovers find that they enjoy new work and that they hear and appreciate singers they may not already know; and I hope that newcomers to the art form leave the theater thinking that opera is much more approachable and interesting than they may have thought it was.
What can we expect to see from UrbanArias in the future?
Conductor Robert Wood founded UrbanArias in 2009. Under his guidance, the company has achieved national recognition as an innovator in the field of opera, and has given over 70 performances in Arlingon, DC, and New York City. He has conducted UrbanArias’ productions of Glory Denied (Cipullo),Before Breakfast (Pasatieri), The Filthy Habit (Hilliard),Photo-Op (Cummings), Paul’s Case (Spears), and Three Decembers (Heggie) to great acclaim.
Maestro Wood made his debut with the San Francisco Opera in 2004 with Verdi’s La traviata. He recently conducted Die Fledermaus at Hawaii Opera Theater, and Roméo et Julietteand Carmen at Opera Colorado.
Mr. Wood was appointed Conductor in Residence at the Minnesota Opera from 2006-2008, leading productions ofL’italiana in Algeri, Le nozze di Figaro, La donna del lago,Rusalka, and, most recently, Il barbiere di Siviglia. Mr. Wood has also conducted concerts at San Francisco Opera featuring Stephanie Blythe and Lawrence Brownlee, and with the Merola Opera Program’s young artists. Additionally, he conducted L’italiana in Algeri at Vancouver Opera, Die Entführung aus dem Serail for Hawaii Opera Theater, The Love for Three Oranges at Indiana University Opera Theater, La cenerentola at New Jersey Opera Theater, Lakmé at Minnesota Opera, and The Nutcracker for San Francisco Ballet. Mr. Wood’s collaborations with the Wolf Trap Opera Company include Le Comte Ory andDie Zauberflöte. Other conducting engagements include H.M.S. Pinafore with the Indiana University Opera, and a recording for ODC Dance in San Francisco of Jack Perla’s On a Train Headed South.
Mr. Wood spent many years on the staff of San Francisco Opera where he led performances ofLa traviata and L’italiana in Algeri, and assisted productions of La bohème, Il barbiere di Siviglia, Don Carlos, Hansel and Gretel, The Merry Widow, and Tosca. He has also appeared as conductor for many productions with Opera San José including Tosca, Faust, Manon,Carmen, L’elisir d’amore, Rigoletto and La bohème, and as guest conductor with the San José Chamber Orchestra. Mr. Wood held the position of Chorus Master at The Santa Fe opera from 2001 to 2004, and acted as cover conductor for Beatrice and Benedict, La belle Hélène,L’italiana in Algeri, and Lucia di Lammermoor. At The Santa Fe Opera, he also received critical acclaim for the choral contribution to the world premiere of Bright Sheng’s Madame Mao, and the American premiere of Kaija Saariaho’s L’amour de loin. Mr. Wood also served as Chorus Master for Opera Company of Philadelphia’s production of Les Pêcheurs de perles in 2004, and has appeared at Chicago Opera Theatre and the Florida State Opera, where he conducted Gluck’s Orfeo.
Mr. Wood was a 1998 Merola Opera Program and Western Opera Theater participant, and spent several years in Vienna studying voice and singing in the Arnold Schönberg Chor.