By Emily Stonehouse
It’s the dawn of a new era, these post-pandemic days. While some are feeling immense relief and others are entering with trepidation, the arts world is one industry that is feeling the highs and lows of this new chapter.
“It was a season not without challenges,” said Valerie Kuinka, co-artistic director of the Highlands Opera Studio, “but we were officially back in full operation.”
Since its creation in 2007, the opera studio has welcomed hundreds of artists to the region not only to perform, but to learn, train, and network in the professional opera world.
The season traditionally includes multiple public performances, master classes for the participants and the public, free community events, programs catered to youth and young professionals, and a series of formalized staged operas.
“These are some of the best young opera singers across the country,” said Kuinka. “We always have people say to us that they had no idea the level of professionalism from the participants. This is a professional opera company, and as good as anything you would find in an urban setting.”
After a pandemic-driven hiatus, Kuinka was proud to share that the 2023 season was back in full form, with multiple performances, master classes, and community events. Unfortunately, while the events offered mirror the pre-COVID days, the audience numbers did not.
“Our numbers are still down,” said Kuinka, “which is a big frustration. But if you include our live stream, the audiences have been bigger. But we are still nowhere near pre-pandemic.”
Kuinka noted that one silver lining of the pandemic was the opportunity to pivot into a new realm of sharing opera. The opera studio received an OTF Resilient Communities grant, which allowed them to upgrade their technology and offer much of their programming online throughout the season. “It’s really helped us spread our wings a little more,” said Kuinka, referencing the opportunity for anyone to access the content online.
While she is proud to offer all the material from the season for free on the Highlands Opera Studio YouTube channel, Kuinka encourages those interested to attend a performance in real-life, because she believes that is truly how opera is meant to be experienced. “The human voice is one of the purest ways of sharing the human experience,” she said.
For information on the Highlands Opera Studio or to watch the 2023 season’s performances, visit www.highlandsoperastudio.com or check out their YouTube channel.