A new arts organization in Arlington seeks to empower young vocalists through opera
Opera Arlington aims to create a space for early career vocalists to earn their bona fides without paying exorbitant dues that programs for young artists normally charge.
The fledgling arts group that aims to make Arlington the premier opera city debuts Friday at Tate Springs Baptist Church.
Six vocalists will sing arrangements of Christmas carols classics, including “Silent Night” and “Joy to the World,” as well as other songs.
“We intend on showcasing repertoire all the way back from the Middle Ages through modern,” says Bree Nichols, Opera Arlington's founder.
The performance is the first public introduction to the troupe, but not the troupe’s first introduction to the city. Members of Opera Arlington have performed at private shows, or “salons,” and the group has for months fundraised for its inaugural season in 2023.
Similarly, Nichols is no stranger to kickstarting local opera organizations. She cofounded the Stafford Opera Troupe in 2016 with much of the same goals: to make opera performances accessible to the wider public, and to make opera careers attainable for people trying to break through a selective industry.
“We have a huge population of very, very gifted singers in this area, and we have the opportunity in Arlington, which is such an amazing arts town with such a booming cultural center going on downtown, to make this a place where artists can get their start and not have to be paying a lot of money for that opportunity,” Nichols says.
Nichols, who earned her doctorate in musical studies from the University of North Texas, saw better-working programs and opportunities for emerging vocalists in Europe while on a Fulbright grant in the Czech Republic.
European countries, she says, have governmental and cultural support for the arts, making it easier to begin a career. She described returning to the U.S. as a “sad wake-up call” because the industry’s selectiveness creates a higher barrier for entry.
“If you’re not fighting, and fighting to put your name out there, no one’s going to call you,” Nichols says.
She wants to raise the curtain for performers to be treated and paid as professionals. Nichols says she’s heartened by the environment for arts in Arlington, including the city’s 2020 designation as a music-friendly community by the Texas Music Office, Theatre Arlington and the Levitt Pavilion.
“For a city of Arlington’s size, there’s a really huge arts presence and culture presence,” Nichols says. “I can see this as a place where our organization will really fit right into that scene and bring this element of opera that is not there yet in this town.”
Nichols and five other vocalists will perform Friday, including her husband, Jason Nichols. He says the events pricing -$15 plus fees for people ages 13 and up, and $7 for those 12 and under- is part of Opera Arlington’s ethos of accessible arts, and one of the less expensive professional Arlington holiday performances.
The repertoire also comprises works from iconic composers including Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky, Gustav Holst and Felix Mendelssohn.
“People were saying, ‘This is where you need to price it at,’” Jason Nichols says. “We heard them, but then we also talked to, like, real people and talked to them about what can they afford, especially considering everything that’s been going on? You know, realizing this is where people are at.”
Megan Koch, a soprano, and board member, says she wants attendees to leave the performance Friday knowing Opera Arlington’s goals—to become part of the community.
“We want to include people in the music and we want to expose them to some really beautiful art that perhaps they haven’t been exposed to before,” she says.
Erica Vernice Simmons, a featured soprano soloist in the Christmas Concert, says Opera Arlington has the potential to become another Fort Worth or Dallas opera.
“It’s about the community investing and wanting it for itself and supporting it,” she says. “It can be as great as we want it to be.”
Future Opera Arlington shows
Fundraising efforts will go towards production costs, operations and artist fees for a lineup of performances around North Texas and beyond.
Planned shows include a “pocket opera,” or mobile production of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s “Così fan tutte,” or “Women are Like That.” Opera Arlington’s mainstage production of Antonin Dvořák's “Rusalka,” based off Hans Christian Andersen’s “The Little Mermaid,” is slated for fall 2023. The group also plans to host artist recitals and concert and gala performances.
Nichols says the group is still looking for homes to host salons, where hosts provide the piano and party and performers take it from there.
“We’re kind of bringing that to life in a modern context,” Nichols says.
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