“I would argue that perhaps what’s going on in opera are some of the most real and deep experiences out there,” singer-songwriter of the moment Rufus Wainwright recently told the British rock-music magazine Mojo, “especially now, with American Idol and everything.”
Sedona got the message early. Four times a year, the Arizona Opera League of Northern Arizona, a nonprofit volunteer group formed in 2000 and now a couple of octaves shy of the 175-member range, has been gathering in private homes to hear world-class singers put forth memorable arias in an intimate setting. Perhaps more important, the group has taken an active role in nurturing both the next generation of opera professionals – by financing scholarships at the highly respected opera program at Northern Arizona University in Flagstaff – and fans, by paying the way for local students to see fully staged opera performances at Arizona Opera in Phoenix, and spearheading a program that brings the education director of the Arizona Opera, Mary Jane McCloskey, into four area schools, presenting 1,200 students with an interactive program to spark curiosity and explore the pleasures of the arts.
To fund these programs, the Opera League annually sponsors its Art and Architecture Home Tour, to be held this year on May 21-22 at eight showcase living spaces in Sedona. For the $25 admission/donation, the visitor receives a map and a schedule of events that sets them off on a self-directed tour of discovery. Within each home, participating art galleries will underline architects’ creativity by filling interiors with tasteful exhibitions of their artists’ finest works, not to mention tasting menus by celebrated chefs. The accents are provided by Tiffany table settings, opera performances in selected homes, interior design tips, including a Feng Shui expert, and more. On Saturday night, May 21, attendees gather for a Black-Tie Gala (at the Indian Creek Ranch home of Georgia Frontiere, owner of the NFL’s St. Louis Rams), which for the first time will have a western theme, a casino, and, naturally, additional opera performances.
The tour is the brainchild of Hal Lang, who brought the idea to Sedona after success with fund-raising in previous communities where he’d lived, including organizing galas for the benefit of the Houston Opera. The Northern Arizona Opera League has been the beneficiary of the Sedona Home Tour for the past five years.
It might surprise some to realize how well positioned Sedona is as an opera hub. The NAU program, led by director Nando Schellen, is to the north in Flagstaff; the Arizona Opera in Phoenix is reaching new heights under artistic and general director Joel Revzen. Albert DiLorenzi, president of the Opera League since August 2004, argues that a thriving audience for arias bodes well for development in other areas.
“States where there is a high concentration of art, whether it’s opera or symphony or ballet or galleries or museums, tend to be the locations of choice for talent that’s going to drive the economy,” he contends. “Workers today are mobile; they’re looking for the best place, where they want to be. At the company I worked for [telecom firm Nortel Networks, for 32 years] it was a major issue, choosing desirable locations to attract talent. Arizona has a ways to go in that regard compared to some other states. But I think support behind that concept is starting to emerge.”