Marble City Opera celebrates new performance, fourth birthday

Kelly Norrell
Features columnist

Marble City Opera has new reasons to celebrate.

The city’s chamber opera company that performs mostly in small, innovative spaces is about to unveil a new production. “The Stronger,” a one-act opera about two women who spar in a tavern, will be at Holly’s Gourmet Market, 5107 Kingston Pike, May 18-19. Seating for a special dinner will be at 6:30 p.m., and the performance that features sopranos Julia Metry and Denisha Miller will begin at 8 p.m. Tickets are $20, with dinner separate.

And, Marble City Opera is about to turn four years old. The feisty startup company that began in 2013 as a way to make opera more accessible celebrates a birthday in late May. It has a solid track record in Knoxville, under artistic director, co-founder and singer Kathryn Frady and new general director Brandon Gibson. It has staged sold-out productions of “La Traviata,” “Chocolate and Wine,” “Amal and the Night Visitors,” “Sweets by Kate” and many more in creative venues like bars, historic homes, churches and other spaces that match the story setting.

“Part of the creativity of Marble City Opera comes from the fact that we have no money. One thing we can’t afford to pay for is sets. So we put the production in the space where it makes the most sense,” said Frady.

Kathryn Frady, artistic director of Marble City Opera, sings the lead role of Violetta, a young woman dying of consumption, in its March production of Verdi’s “La Traviata” at Historic Westwood. The company is celebrating its fourth year of bringing opera into community spaces in May.
Kathryn Frady, artistic director of Marble City Opera, sings the lead role of Violetta, a young woman dying of consumption, in its March production of Verdi’s “La Traviata” at Historic Westwood. The company is celebrating its fourth year of bringing opera into community spaces in May.

On May 11, Marble City Opera and Saw Works Brewing Company, 708 E. Depot Ave., will launch Pint Sized Opera. On the second Thursday of each month, from 7-9 p.m., singers will perform at the brewery, which will offer beer specials. As patrons sip craft beer, they can enjoy “Libbiamo” (which translates to “Let’s drink!”), “Quando M’envo,” a flirtatious song from “La Boheme,” and the “Toreador Song” from “Carmen.”

“It is really exciting. Knoxville is just the right community for what we are doing,” Frady said.

It all started in 2013, when Frady and singer Kevin Doherty applied to the Atlanta Fringe Festival to perform the one-act opera “The Face on the Barroom Floor.”

“They wanted a company name, so we gave them ‘Marble City Opera.’ We were accepted, and all of a sudden, our name was on a website. We said, ‘Oh my gosh, we’ve formed an opera company,’” Frady said.

The company began making plans and raising funds. By October of 2016, it had gained nonprofit status and taken off in its mission of presenting short operas in intimate spaces in Knoxville.

A dazzling production of “La Traviata” at Historic Westwood mansion March 16-18, featuring Frady and Brandon Evans in lead roles, sold out and got rave reviews. The experience seemed to take the art of performing opera in an intimate space to a new level.

“The soprano is dying and she is singing the aria right next to you,” said Gibson.

The immediacy affected everyone there, including the great Mary Costa, who sang the lead role in Knoxville Opera’s production 40 years ago.

“She sat in the front row in every room,” Gibson said.

Frady said she would like for MCO to do three operas with chamber orchestras a year. “Right now, we are doing about three operas a year, but two with piano,” she said.

Plans underway now include an opera about world-renowned artist Buford Delaney, who grew up in Knoxville. To be written by Knoxville librettist Emily Anderson, the opera will be in the fall of 2018 to coincide with an exhibit of paintings at Knoxville Art Museum, Frady said.

Expanding the reach of opera is one of the best parts of what they do, said Frady and Gibson.

“We are drawing a new audience. In performing out in the community, we can reach people who wouldn’t otherwise go to the opera. But then they often do,” Frady said.

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